Interview: These New Puritans

These New Puritans - 4

by Tom Mitchell

These New Puritans’ third album, Fields of Reeds, a myste­riously haunting but uplifting record, was released in June to rapturous acclaim. Indigo caught up with Jack Barnett, the frontman and mastermind behind TNP, to discuss how the album came about, dynamics within the band, music in the digital era and… Boogie Nights.

You must be sick of interviews surrounding the new album by now. What’s your schedule like at the mo­ment?

I’ve actually just got back from holiday and this is the second interview I’ve done in ages, so you get me fresh and forthcoming! Since the album came out we’ve done a micro-tour of Tokyo, LA, Paris and London; took a little break to work on videos and artwork and play a few little festivals. Then we’ve got a few dates around the UK in October and then our European tour starts in Moscow in November.

So when you’re at a point like this, in between the album being released and the forthcoming tour, are you still writing?

I’m always doing demos and noting down ideas, I ac­tually made a few demos a couple of weeks ago, but it’s hard doing things sporadically like that because you fall out of habit.

When you’re writing does everything fall into the realm of being TNP, or do you have certain ideas that are specifically TNP where others are definitely not?

Well, what I come up with isn’t always necessarily TNP but I would say the majority is. Previously, it would have only been about 20 per cent that I would work into TNP stuff. I recorded loads when I was younger and TNP was only a narrow aspect of that which I worked on with my brother George and friend from school Tom.

The opening track on Field of Reeds was originally called ‘The Way I Do’ and features ‘an amateur singer half-recalling fragments of a song’ which caused some legal trouble with Burt Bacharach and Hal David. What happened and when was it that you found out?

Believe me you don’t want to mess with the Bachar­ach! Or Hal David! That track came about because as I was writing I happened to be between two rooms and in one room there was someone singing that song whilst doing the washing up and in the other room I could hear the piano being played. We found out at the mastering stage so there wasn’t much we could do music-wise. We could have left it with the song name that I wanted to give it and risk being sued tens of thousands, or we could change the name to ‘This Guy’s In Love With You’. I’ve come to terms with the name change now. I quite like it because it’s something completely different from any TNP title so it adds another flavour to the album.

Could you talk us through the TNP songwriting proc­ess? Did things differ this time around?

This time around I wrote everything in isolation, with George and Graham (Sutton, producer) having input once I’d played stuff back to them. When I’m in writing mode that’s all I’m doing, so I need the outside opinions to help me filter what I’m coming out with and get it all together as an album. When we’re actually recording, the group dynamic shifts the music around a bit because of the individual performances, especially George, as he’s such an unusual drummer. He doesn’t play like anyone else. He’s a bit more like a drum machine: he programs himself! There’s one song [on the new album] called ‘V (Island Song)’ where it sounds like there are two drummers, but it’s all George.

“I do genuinely think that simply having music as a large database deval­ues it. It turns finding and enjoying new stuff into something like having a boring I.T. job.”

How involved are you with the artwork for the band? Do you see the production of something that’s a tan­gible physical object as something that’s important to you and your music or not?

The artwork side of things is left up to George so he sorts out our videos: their themes, who’s going to shoot it, etc. I’ll come up with some ideas and sketches and then leave it to him.

It’s weird thinking about how important physi­cal copies of music are to me, and I’m sure there are many others like me in today’s world because I download and stream a lot, even though I’m really fond of the physical product. I do genuinely think that simply having music as a large database deval­ues it. It turns finding and enjoying new stuff into something like having a boring I.T. job.

I think that’s why we feel it’s important for us to make the physical copies of our music significant ob­jects. If it’s obvious that if we care about how you ex­perience our music then you’re more likely to want to invest time in listening to it. It comes back to the fact that the most important thing for this band is to make the music we want to make, and damn the con­sequences! I think that on paper we’re ridiculous­ly commercially unviable. I think everything we’ve done with the past two albums is completely at odds with pop culture. When we’re recording, sometimes I think “hmm, maybe this is too obscure…” but then I turn on the TV and see a game show about diving presented by Tom Daley and I think maybe that’s ok, maybe we should be disconnected from the main­stream!

If we were to make a playlist of our interviewees’ new music recommendations, what would yours be?

I’ve got to say ‘Boogie Nights’ by Heatwave. The key­boardist, Rob Templeton, wrote ‘Thriller’ and ‘Beat It’ and all the Michael Jackson greats. But ‘Boogie Nights’ was his first hit! The video’s so funny, you have this core funk band all looking the part with this huge Chubby Checker-looking drummer spill­ing everywhere grooving away and then this nerdy white guy Rob Templeton playing the keys… defi­nitely worth a watch.

Photograph: Willy Van Der Perre

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