The career path of These New Puritans has been a tricky one to predict. Emerging onto the British scene amid a plethora of like-minded post-punk revivalists with 2008’s ‘Beat Pyramid’, second album ‘Hidden’ – NME’s Album Of The Year in 2010 – set the group apart from the crowd, and they’ve been growing and surprising in equal amounts since.
Since 2013’s ambitious ‘Field Of Reeds’, the band – led by modern renaissance man Jack Barnett – have holed themselves up in Berlin, working from a studio formerly used by East German authorities for Soviet propaganda during the Cold War. There, Barnett and co have been working on new material with the likes of Massive Attack‘s 3D and composing music for a production of Aldous Huxley’s dystopian classic Brave New World. It’s safe to say what comes next will be anything but the expected.
NME spoke to These New Puritans’ Jack Barnett ahead of the band’s Red Bull Studios presents These New Puritans show at London’s Koko on Oct 21.
NME: It’s been nearly a year since you last played in London. What should fans expect from this show?
Jack Barnett: “I’ll be a six-piece line-up, including the first time a guitar has appeared with These New Puritans for several years! There will be a video element to the performance, too – the first time we’ve done anything like that. It’s something we’ve worked on quite a bit for this gig, trying to just take it further away from the usual rock’n’roll gig thing of, ‘Oh, the lights have changed from green to blue,’ or whatever. We’re using projections and mirrors and smoke, which makes it sound like Penn & Teller or something, which we can only hope and pray for.”
Will there be new music too?
“Yes, about a third of the set will be new stuff. A couple of things we’ve never played live before too, and a few more which we’ve played once, but which are now in different forms – the next step for those songs.”
Is the new music likely to appear be on your next album?
“Who knows how much of it will end up on the next album, but basically: yes. I’m terrible at articulating what the new music is like, but there’s a certain element of it which is about doing as much as possible with as little as possible. For example, if there is one change in the song, how can it be the most powerful one. That sounds like quite a pop idea but I have no interest in pop music so the end result is quite different to how it sounds on paper. I’m a maximalist at heart so I keep breaking those rules.”
You’ve been holed up there in a former Soviet propaganda studio, did you write and record the new material there?
“Yes, it’s the former broadcast centre for East Germany post-World War II. I don’t think being there has really bled into the music, there won’t be any renditions of the socialist ‘Internationale’. But the pure jolt that moving to a new place gives you has affected it. You see things for the first time, all huge buildings from the 1950s, which doesn’t happen very often if you’ve lived in a place for a long time.”
There’s been recent debate about whether it is still viable for young musicians to be able to live in London and make music these days. What is your take on this?
“It’s impossible to have any kind of space to work properly in London. It’s just too much of a struggle to survive, let alone actually make stuff – so it makes sense to go somewhere else.”
Apart from the rush of living in a new city, what musically has been influencing the new material you’ve been working on?
“Listening to music and making it are quite separate activities for me, but recently I’ve been listening to Artimiev’s soundtrack to Solaris, [electronic musician] Rabit, the Aphex Twin stuff on Soundcloud, Robert Wyatt too. Outside of music, I’ve been reading about the Spanish invasion of South America and Edward S Curtis’ photographs of Native Americans at the end of the 19th century as he was trying to make images of their lives before those kind of lives died out. But I’m more likely to be influenced by a dream or a person than someone else’s music, at least consciously.”
You’ve been working with Massive Attack’s 3D too – will that be for your next album or theirs?
“It was working on their music, mostly. I don’t know whether or when it will be released. We’ll see.”
How was working with someone so experienced and whose music is quite different to your own?
“It was good. I was glad Rob [Del Naja, aka 3D] likes our music, as Massive Attack were kind of a touchstone for us when we started, in terms of how you could make music but not really be a band. It was something my older brother would listen to a lot so it would sort of filter into your consciousness. I think both of us have quite atypical ways of working on music, what I heard of what they’ve been up to sounds great.
You have also been working on the soundtrack for a production of Brave New World, how did that come about? It must have felt like quite an honour?
“I had been contacted before about doing stuff for a Shakespeare production, but that hadn’t worked out. Then we talked again about this. It’s the first production authorised by the Huxley estate, which is pretty good.
“All the music was recorded in Berlin. Doing something like that puts you in a position where you write music you wouldn’t otherwise have. I know nothing about theatre really so I was going into it from a point of total ignorance. But it was good to work in an art form that’s totally new to me. It was good to write loads of music at a very fast pace, shaking things up and being totally not precious about what you’re doing.”
It must be pretty satisfying to have an idea of what you want something to sound like in your head and for trained musicians in that instrument to be able to play it back for you?
“It really is a great feeling – when it works.”