Interview: These New Puritans
Published on August 22nd, 2013 | Jonny Abrams
It’s fair to say we were somewhat effusive in our praise of These New Puritans’s third album Field of Reeds, describing it in our four-and-a-half-quail review as “disquieting yet mesmerising, like one of those dreams that stays with you throughout the next day without your ever really being able to describe it in any kind of satisfactory detail.”
We did try to describe it, though. Wouldn’t have been much of a review otherwise.
Anyway, we got These New Puritans drummer George Barnett – twin brother of front man Jack – on the blower to ask him about this astonishing piece of work, which includes contributions from a real life hawk and the lowest bass voice in Britain…
Have you been playing many festivals this summer? If so, any particular highlights?
We wanted to play all festivals next year. We’ve played a few but only after getting a reaction, people saying, “Hey, we’d love you to come and play here.”
We’re really looking forward to Festival Number 6. It sounds really good to me, got quite a good line-up.
How do you manage to lug that massive Japanese drum around?
We actually haven’t done that yet for this record, but we used to hire them. Believe it or not, when we were in Japan we couldn’t even get hold of them. They’re that kind of rare!
One of the first shows we played for [previous album] Hidden, at Bush Hall, we had a really small stage and the taiko drum took up more space than the whole drum kit, I think. Insane.
Not every band is willing to go that extra mile…
We’re touring as a seven-piece at the moment, so we’re going all out!
Field of Reeds has been very warmly received, rightly so. Did you feel like you were onto something special while you were making it?
I was actually quite confused because I was hearing so many different things. Then when the final nine songs came together, it was like, “Oh okay, yeah.” It made more sense.
Before it was unmixed and stuff like that, it was almost a different record. There were so many different things going on.
Did you have any reservations about it at any point?
There were a few little arguments between my brother and I!
I’ve read that the album comprises of three separate movements. Are you able to articulate the points of separation in any way? Or is it open to interpretation?
I like people to come into it on their own rather than telling them how to think and feel about it.
Jack put those three movements together so I can’t really comment on it too much, but yeah it kind of feels like that to me. It’s on three separate sides on the vinyl.
That’s just how it stacked together in the end. We recorded more than nine songs. It was sort of like being Michael Jackson; he only put out his very best material, never put out any crap.
We cut it back to nine songs and they just sat well like that.
Will the rest of the material see the light of day? Perhaps as an EP?
I’ve got no idea. I’d quite like to do an EP though, yeah. Let’s see what happens.
Is it true that Jack made you do seventy-off drum takes for one of the tracks?
Yeah, for “Fragment Two”. It’s quite dynamic and shuffly, all that opening of hi-hats fractionally all the way through, the feel of it…it took forever, and Graham [Sutton, producer] is quite a hype man so he was getting me to power on through.
It was completely exhausting, but in the end it sounds great. We wanted the record to feel like you’re in a room with musicians, and I think it does. Especially that song.
According to Seph, one of our Rocksucker Radio DJs, he read somewhere that you guys write songs by drawing them as non-musical diagrams first. “Song maps”…
If you see the booklet, it’s full of peaks and troughs, stuff like that… Jack has different ways of writing music; I think he’s read a bit about the early ways of doing it.
There are different ways of doing it, I suppose. I personally might not be able to understand those diagrams but there definitely is many a diagram.
Were you there when the hawk was in the studio?
Is it true it went for the assistant engineer a couple of times?
(Laughs) That’s quite funny. Yes, I suppose it did. There’s been a lot of focus on the hawk but it’s only on 0.01 per cent of the album, that hawk sound.
It’s the same as any other instrument: it’s just what the song demanded.
It’s understandably a talking point, though. Not every band gets a hawk.
I suppose there is that. I didn’t want it on the press release because it makes it sound like a novelty. It’s not, it’s purely musical.
Does Adrian Peacock speak in a deep voice or is it a surprise when you hear him hitting those low notes?
He’s a man that looks like he has a deep voice (laughs). He’s very tall, a big guy. Good telephone voice when we rang him up to see if he’d be interested in working with us.
Even at this early stage, have you discussed where you might go next? Might we get that “Disney pop” album Jack said he was working on a while back?
I think people take Jack quite seriously because they think he’s a serious guy, but he’s not really. Well, he is quite serious, but not that serious. So I think that might have been a quote that was read the wrong way.
I’d like to do an EP next but we have this massive tour going on; loads of England, then Russia, France, Germany, Spain, Mexico… Basically we’re just concentrating on doing that, and then I want to do some bigger shows.
I mean, these shows are big in themselves – there’ll be eight people onstage or something ridiculous – then after that I suppose we’ll try and move on to something else. We’re constantly writing music.
Finally, which other albums from 2013 have you enjoyed?
It’s weird, we don’t really listen to music much when we’re making our own record. If you’re completely disconnected and into the thing you’re doing then I don’t think there’s any need to be listening to other music.
I can’t think what albums I’ve listened to, but I’m in Spain at the moment so I’ve been having Spanish radio on. Jazzy Spanish radio.
George Barnett, thank you.
Field of Reeds is out now on Infectious Records.