Interview These New Puritans: ‘We Don’t Particularly Fit Into Anything’

Rather than damning their past, Jack Barnett and co. used early beginnings to inspire their game-changing third album, 2013’s ‘Field of Reeds’.

Musicians don’t tend to hit the jackpot when they’re 18. Lorde might seem a thousand times wiser than anyone twice her age, but for the most part it’s a spotlight-stealing turn that wins attention, not a perfectly thought-out tour de force. Goodness knows These New Puritans have evolved since they started out. When Jack Barnett and co. took on stages with their debut ‘Beat Pyramid’, they arrived awkward and shuffling, confident but aware that this wasn’t the end-point.

“I don’t think many of us recognise our 18 year old self,” says Jack, speaking from Portugal on the last leg of his band’s European tour. “The things we do at that age… it’s a monument to our own stupidity and foolishness.”

The self-presumed leader of These New Puritans doesn’t always speak fondly of his first work. Pegged in with Late of the Pier, Klaxons et al. in wedging spiky guitars alongside abrasive beats and heady electronics, it’s a testament to its own, extremely weird period of time. Cast this up against ‘Field of Reeds’ - the group’s 2013-released, third album - and it’s like comparing bands decades apart from each other. It’s like placing a wild prediction of what the future might look like, up against actual reality.

Some remnants of the early TNP days remain, however. “The stuff I was writing before the first album actually has more in common with the latest record, where writing is just for the fun of writing music,” claims Jack. There might be a huge contrast between grand halls in Berlin and grubby bedrooms where drum sections were recorded “on a karaoke mic”, but some of the leftover DNA from the band’s late teens remains.

One element that’s always run in the group’s blood is their ability to shun categorisation. Even with ‘Beat Pyramid’ and the percussive-heavy ‘Hidden’, they almost intentionally stood out, casting their own shadow rather than standing under somebody else’s. “We don’t particularly fit into anything,” Jack says, stating the obvious. As this aspect has persisted, the group have invited more people into their world. Celebrating oddities on a grand scale, ‘Field of Reeds’ represents the biggest realisation of These New Puritans’ singular standpoint. “A lot of people coming in don’t have a clear idea of where we’re heading, sometimes it takes time,” says Jack, referring to sessions around their latest album.

“It’s always different. Sometimes I’ll give a really detailed explanation of what I’m expecting, right up to the last phonetics on a vocal part. Sometimes it’s just a matter of knowing what a certain person can do and allowing them to do it, allowing them to exceed your own expectations.”

Jack struck gold when he approached Portuguese singer Elisa Rodrigues to join in on the action for ‘Field of Reeds’. “As I sat down, I realised some parts weren’t meant for my voice,” he recalls. “As I was going along, I also stumbled upon parts that could start a dialogue, between a male and a female voice.” He admits that it was a “great leap of faith” on her part, to work with a group she’d barely heard a single note from before. “It must be odd having these strange English people asking if you want to record…” But together, Rodrigues applies something to ‘Field of Reeds’ that hadn’t reared its head on previous albums.

It’s summed up by Jack as a sense of “beauty.” Elisa’s voice carries “a soul and a purity,” he asserts. “It’s a beauty and the beast kind of thing. I can just get on with my area of expertise, which is extremely limited - might even be non-existent.”

Rounding off a series of gigs on the back of ‘Field Of Reeds’, Jack looks fondly on the past 12 months. “I’m really enjoying playing with [the record] live - it’s the most fun we’ve had with it,” he claims. Compared to the minimal, beats plus microphone set-up that defined their debut shows, this is a completely different band, a prospect that Jack’s 18 year old self wouldn’t have even begun to consider at the time. Progression’s in the name for These New Puritans. As good as ‘Field of Reeds’ is, and as much as it’s defined by exactitude and constant, untarnished precision, there’s already a sense that Jack’s moving on to the next chapter. “The way we do it, we have a good idea of how the songs work before we start performing them,” he says. “There’s a script, I guess. If you step outside you might find something that’s better or different. It seems to be the way we do it.”

Taken from the new, free Xmas Special DIY Weekly, available to read online or to download on iPad now.

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