Aotearoa’s Barnaby Weir has earnt his place as the humble, iconic and supremely talented national treasure and “chef” to such epic musical projects as The Black Seeds and Fly my Pretties. “Love & Fire” is a long awaited and much welcomed gift created over a collectively challenging time. The release of the album and nationwide tour has arrived to warm our senses and uplift the heart, much like the perfectly crisp and melty pasta bake Barnaby was making for his family while we chatted.
Q: Congratulations on the new Album, how does it feel to put yourself back out there with some fresh tracks?
It does feel good, its been such a long build up. We can’t keep blaming covid, we’re just artists that wanted to make an album. 5 years ago we released an album then time comes around so quickly, we’ve worked hard on it. We’ve all dealt with the covid restrictions and the different things that have made life hard over this time so that’s not special to us, but what is special to us is what we can offer our fans and also to ourselves as artists. So that’s quite a number of years and a lot of time to think about what you want to do as a band. With that thought, this is our 7th studio album so you’re not just going to try and work on or write something quickly that’s going to appease markets or anything like that. It’s all meaningful stuff so that takes time. I think as a main writer on the album its been a struggle, I won’t lie, but it’s also been totally awesome as well without so much of that carefree aspect to the writing and producing of the album, but a sense that this is what we want to do, the passion is still really there, the integrity is still really there, and the stories are there. Those things are all really important when you’re making an album; is it art, is it meaningful, is it worthwhile, is there a point to it. It’s about how the music lives with people, how it resonates with people and it feels like a relief, totally reasonable and meaningful to get our music out.
Q: How did the pandemic impact the writing process?
I think everyone has their own shit happening anyway, parenting, personal awesomeness or not so awesomeness, the struggles that we all have. Then you add that layer of covid struggle and that obviously hurts. So that has impacted our process, it’s also impacted our output, what we’re singing about. One good question someone asked us the other day was “What’s the main theme that runs through the album? The sense, the feeling” and I think it is hope. It’s not something I needed to think about for very long. There is a sense of hope through all the levels of struggles. It’s a personal feeling, not everyone necessarily wants to admit it but a sense of hope is great for your general demeanor and your general vibe. There’s hope that it might be successful financially, there’s hope that people might enjoy the art, there’s hope that we might gig again, there’s hope that people might come to our gigs, all those different levels of hope and I think its not cheesy, I think it’s a real thing. We’re usually the band that can put that kind of heart on our sleeve and go “you know it’s not just us, it’s you”, here’s some music that doesn’t even mention the word covid. I think the closest thing it mentions is “the real lockdown” which is one of my lyrics in Game Over “just prepare yourself for the real lockdown” which was kind of a comment about don’t worry about this small little thing, there’s more hardship, we’re very lucky and let’s be prepared for a potentially much bigger thing. There’s a sense of hope in the album, yes it did affect us in terms of process, in terms of writing on all the levels but hey, it affected everyone on all the levels in life as well.
Q: What did the recording process look like with you all scattered around the
It was not ideal at all but pre-covid we had some jams together before any major lockdowns which was great. We released “Fabric” in 2017 and at the end of 2018 we had our first new album jams. That was really just a pretty pricey (because we all live in different places) meet up and jam on some new ideas. No one could envisage the impact of covid just around the corner. It was also pre first child for me. To be honest I think we only used maybe one or two grooves from that session, and there’s heaps of other cool shit which we didn’t even look at, but basically that’s where it started when we could be together and then after that it was actually really down to song writing, who’s got the best demos, who’s got demos, who’s got anything…what have we got? So we looked at what we’d jammed together, we looked at some of my demo’s, Dan had a couple, Nige had some cool grooves, so that’s what you start with. You start with the building blocks of grooves really, and a little bit of lyric, some kind of sentiment, and then you start building on that. So you’ve got nothing then all of a sudden you’ve got something. You’ve got something when you bring your creative mind to work and you bring a little idea and from there, the demo, that’s where the songs start building. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you write a song and it feels not complete but it feels like the start of a song and a good basis to build onto. We were doing this basically for years, building on grooves, on riffs, you know I like that, I don’t like that, that’s a bit wussy, that’s awesome, that’s tough…you know? So you just build the list, build the groove and keep building on what you’ve got. I think that’s potentially a metaphor for just being human, you’re building on what you’ve got, trying to improve. Through covid we obviously had to work separately and try our best to start making something that might be cool to listen to or might be the album. Nigel is the keyboardist and I’m the singer and a songwriter, so we took it upon ourselves that we’ve got to make the best album we’ve ever made for the smallest amount of money we’ve ever spent under these circumstances. That was the mission; we’ve got to spend the least with the best result without being together cos it’s all fucked. So that’s quite a daunting thing. It’s down to the songs so that’s what its about. We went for the first single “Raised with Love” so you have a deadline and you start with that and we needed at least 3 singles by this date. What we didn’t realise was deadlines would be extended because of different reasons, mainly covid, so what would usually be your schedule for a release kept lengthening but we didn’t know that. So we released Made with Love and a video so that was the goal post and just continued on from there. Nothing about it was ideal though the positive things are totally ideal, being together and jamming and everyone adding their bits to the songs and making the song start to stand out and feel like a Blackseeds song. When you have a new Blackseeds song it needs to be fucking awesome, it needs to be meaningful, needs to be groovy, positive or deeply thoughtful. So we just kind of kept going, so we started with one song, then we had a second, a third, just keep building, keep working on it.
Q: Were there any surprises that came out of that? Any hidden gems?
Definitely. The best two things I can tell you from that process; instead of being in a room together under the pressure pump spending lots of money (even mates rates), to capture something for the album that’s final, you don’t have that. You take that pressure away because you’re not in a studio, we’re doing it in our own home studios. So you’re adding your layer, we’re spending less money, we’re not fucking around and we’ve got way less to edit. Then the second one is that because I’m not there like “do this, do that, maybe you should try that” like too many ideas with a chef, you have more artistic freedom as an individual which was I think really cool. So if you’re Francis and you’re recording bass, I send you the demo and I give you a phone call and that’s it. I’m not right there with you, hounding you saying “play like this or play like that”. So he had that freedom in his own time to send in a bassline and that means it’s purely him because that’s actually the brush stroke from the artist we actually want. You don’t want me tainting that. You want a bit of guidance but you only want him sending back one bassline, not 10 takes. So that was really cool and that was the main positive is that each just had “it’s up to you mate, but just make it fucking good but just send me one or maybe two takes, I just want a great take that you’re feeling”. So that’s quite pure and we’re all adding our own elements and that’s the consistency in the album which I think is quite remarkable considering we’re not all tracking it together. We’re our best when we’re playing together but maybe initially its quite good not playing together.
Q: Lyrically, this album seems to be a bit more reflective and introspective. Was that because of what was happening in your life, because of what was happening globally, or a bit of both?
I actually just think that it always is, that’s The Black Seeds, if you look at all our albums they are all generally inward looking but not selfishly. There’s a sense of us and togetherness, it’s a non judgmental perspective on the world but it comes from a sense of “everyone’s had a struggle, everyone’s had this thought” and often it just takes someone to say it. There’s nothing exclusive in any of the experiences in life that are happening that we’re writing about but that’s what makes it more of an inclusive album lyrically. We’re never that light, there’s a few more poppy ones like say Love and Fire but even Love and Fire has a depth to its simplicity in terms of lyrical simplicity. It’s not verbose, it’s not detailed or complicated in terms of its concepts but sometimes these concepts when you repeat them in your head are just as meaningful as a long poem that takes awhile to get to the point, that’s artistically beautiful and that’s kind of more a celebration of language or it can be distracting from the truth, or investigating the truth. We have two lyricists, me and Dan, my approach is a little bit more abrasive, a little bit blunt, not always as poetic as Dans. Dan has a really beautiful poetic kind of paint brush to his lyrics but essentially they’re both how you’re feeling at the time and it takes quite a bit of squeezing to get that out, its not something you just do easily and just throw it out there. I respect Dan and his expression of things he’s feeling and that’s what we put to the music of The Black Seeds and we have to get the sign off from everybody. We respect every bodies input into it. You have to push play on a piece of work, a demo, whatever stage it’s at, you have to press play and go “is that fucking awesome? Is that really cool? Does it make me feel energised? Does it make me feel emotional? What does it make me feel?”. If it doesn’t make you feel anything then it’s just not the song that’s going to make the album. So that’s the main rule that we live by. We’ve got this great heritage, we’ve got awesome fans. What are we making? Is it good enough? Even if you put all that work into it and you think it might be, some things don’t make it and that’s ok, not everything can make an album. We just wanted to make a shorter album really that was a bit more to the point and you have to be quite critical of every second, every tone, every beat, every lyric. It’s not a perfect album, we don’t try and make it a perfect album in terms but if the vibes there that’s better than perfect because it’s kind of more raw, so there’s a sense of that.
Q: It’s been 5 years since your last national tour as a band, sorry to hear covid has jammed the breaks with the first leg. How are you feeling about all that and the rest of the tour kicking off?
We’re just so determined. There’s a sense of nothing is gonna stop us unless we die. I know its quite intense but we’re not just a band who’s like “can’t wait to play!”. It’s a bit more intense than that. We’re feeling really good about the rest of the tour, there’s some sold out shows, like Wanaka we added another date, love people down in Wanaka, feeling really good about it actually. It’s going to be awesome to just get the momentum on. We couldn’t be more ready or more keen for it. I’m all about it. It’s a long time coming and over that amount of time you start changing who you are, because you start feeling “why do I feel a bit depressed? Or why do I feel not myself?” You know and its because you’re not playing gigs.
Q: It must be fantastic to be able to all play in the same room together again. Does performing live have a different meaning after the pandemic?
I think it’s about gratitude. Its about that sense of gratitude and being humble comes in more. We played together the other day for a number of different promo things, rehearse and stuff and you’re like “can I still do this? Can we still do it?” but it comes back pretty quick. It’s a certain culmination of people and attitude and songs that makes The Black Seeds The Black Seeds. No one else can do that so we respect that. We respect that if anyone cares or wants to listen to us all good things come from that so really we’re just poised. Instead of trying to go ahead and ruin things by having fill in people we’re not doing that. What we’re doing is playing this week and starting the tour again from there. There’s lots of beautiful fans and stories, history and that’s all worth a lot to me in terms of hearing different stories that are meaningful and cool “my son was born to one of your songs, I met my husband there” you know? It’s all beautiful stuff. You’ve got to be grateful and careful about how we treat this, our own taonga, our treasure of the Blackseeds is that. You’ve got to be careful how you treat that so you don’t put out a shit album and you don’t play badly. You’ve got to respect your fans and you’ve got to respect their meaning inside your songs.
Q: What can we expect from the live show? Any surprises coming up?
Yeah there’s amazing fireworks, incredible feats of gymnastics, we have death defying acts, incredible illusions and pretty much you’ll be blown away. No…I think we are all about the music, we are presenting the best live experience from The Blackseeds that you would have heard in ages (because most people don’t come to all our gigs) so it’ll be a really good sound, it’ll be a sincere throwdown of some new stuff and also some more well loved stuff. There’s no gimmicks and there’s no tricks, there’s no illusions and no gymnastics…sorry. Hopefully we can just play for you and entertain you in the most original sense of what that is and it’ll really be worthwhile.
Finally, how to build the perfect pasta bake according to Barnaby: “Always heat your oven to above 180 degrees as you want to cheese to be crispy on top….extra cheese inside to get that melty right”.
Catch some melty good grooves on their nationwide tour over July and August. Tickets here:
Read our review of the new album here.