Interview With Barrens
"It Is so Good To Finally Perform On Stage"
Barrens just finished their postponed tour with God Is An Astronaut. The post-rock band from Sweden is currently working on a new album. Their previous record, "Penumbra", which they released on Pelagic Records, was very well received live. I now had the chance to meet them for an interview.
Anne: Hi! How are you doing today? Thanks for taking the time for this interview!
Barrens: Hello! We're great, thank you. At the moment, we are in our van on our way to Wiesbaden to play at Schlachthof tonight with God Is An Astronaut. We woke up at a beautiful location right outside Utrecht after playing a sold-out show at De Helling last night, also with GIAA, so life is pretty good at the moment.
Anne: You are currently on tour with God Is An Astronaut. How is it going so far? How are you guys getting along?
"Touring with God Is An Astronaut is amazing"
Barrens: Yes, we're doing our seventh and last show for the spring part of our tour with them tonight, and so far, it has been excellent. We've been very well taken care of, and the guys in GIAA and their crew are an absolute treat to work with. We couldn't ask for partners for our tour.
Anne: How does it feel to play in a big venue with lots of people after two years without touring due to the worldwide pandemic situation?
Barrens: It feels fantastic to finally be able to bring this music on the road. When we finished Penumbra and released it, we were all set to hit the road and play as much as we could, and then the pandemic happened, and everything ground to a halt. This tour was supposed to be a five-week tour, and it got pushed forward and changed around so many times we were almost despairing and doubting that it would even happen. But now we're here, it's not as many shows as it first was supposed to be, but we're making the most of the ones we're still able to play and are enjoying ourselves immensely. The audience's response has been excellent, and even though we're the opening act, there has been a perfect sized crowd before we've even hit the stage at all the shows. There have also been many people coming up to us saying they're at the show as much for our sake as well as GIAA, and of course, a lot of new fans. It's been overwhelming and amazing.
Anne: I've heard some rumours that you are also working on some new music. Are they true? We all loved your 2020 album "Penumbra", and we are more than curious! So what's up next from Barrens?
"We love being on stage"
Barrens: We're actually playing two new songs on this tour, "road testing" them, you could call it. Since we wrote and recorded Penumbra without playing any Barrens shows, that album was sort of an experiment in a way. It's been fun to finally bring these tracks to the stage and find out what their "live"-personalities are. Some of the songs from Penumbra have changed a bit, and some have worked precisely as written/recorded. Figuring all of this stuff out has been really fun, and it also serves as a guiding light to help us navigate through writing new material. We love playing live and really want the new material to translate the energy and vibe we have at shows and be a logical next step from Penumbra, so these shows are essential for us to develop.
Anne: With your songs, you combine the very dark face of post-music with its lighter side. How did you come up with that? It quite well mirrors the overall mood, especially the last few years. Or would you say it's how life is in general?
A hopeful light
Barrens: There never was a master plan sound-wise for us, except for a few things. We wanted to use synthesizers, we wanted the music to be instrumental, and we wanted to see what we could do as a trio. Mood-wise we were all going through some sort of transformative phase in our lives, and the concept of metamorphosis/change/navigating through blinding light/darkness just came naturally. That is, of course, influenced partly by the zeitgeist but also led into the following years in many ways. There can be no darkness without light and vice versa, and this continues to be a fundamental truth. We are going through dark times, but there are varying degrees/shades of darkness and also a hopeful light shining.
We are all, after more than 20-25 years of playing music in various bands, more or less the same kind of people. We play music because we need to because we must. We don't make any money from doing this, in fact, we're coming home a lot poorer than when we left, but that's the way it is. If/when the day comes when it's not feasible for us to do it anymore, we'll have to decide what to do then. But for now, it's ok. We're lucky enough to have understanding partners and families that support what we do and jobs where we can take time off to go play, and that is fundamental for us when the situation is what it is. There's nothing like a free lunch for a band in our situation. It's dedication, hard, hard work, sacrifice, and fingers crossed that everything works out for the best at all times. That reflects back in the music we write.
Anne: What puts you in the mood to work on new music? Is there something that you would describe as your infinite well of inspiration?
"Inspiration is a fleeting thing"
Barrens: Inspiration is a fleeting thing, it's a rare bird that seldom lands on your lawn, and you'd better have your camera ready. The rest of the time, it's hard work that is needed—hours upon hours of dwelling on each note, each drum hit. Of course, there are times when a train of thought is easier to follow from start to end, but that is sometimes very difficult. We live in different cities and don't have the opportunity to see each other several times a week to rehearse, to work in that traditional way, so we need to work differently. We have a lot of demos, riffs and ideas that we piece together and test out when we see each other. Sometimes it flows, a lot of the time it doesn't, but that's what it is all about.
We discuss concepts and images that we would like to convey and see what we can make of them. Ugh, this is not a very interesting answer. I guess this is what all bands do.
Anne: Some bands tell me they strictly differentiate between their music and politics, and some use their music as their political voice. If there were a scale to picture this: Where would you place yourself?
Barrens: Barrens as a concept is not about making political statements, but at the same time, in one way or another, everything in life is political. To make music and art can therefore be seen as a reflection of the society and a product of its own time.
Anne: You founded as a trio in 2018. Two of you came from the Malmö based band Scraps Of Tape. Would you describe Barrens as the continuation of SOT, or is it a completely new project?
"With Barrens our ideas finally found a home"
Barrens: No, Barrens is not a continuation of Scraps Of Tape. Barrens is a new thing but were certain ideas and styles that do not work in S.o.T have found a home.
We had certain ideas when starting Barrens (mentioned earlier) that we really wanted to explore. Scraps Of Tape had to take a break for various reasons, so we used the downtime to explore these ideas and find out what Barrens could become.
Anne: Johan, this question is for you: We got to know each other over social media during the lockdown period in 2020. I also interviewed you about your solo project last year. You have your hands in many projects, such as Blessings and Barrens, and you also released seven albums with Scraps of Tape. I can imagine this quite intense. Are there times when you are not working in a studio, writing music or are on tour with one of your bands? How do you manage to be part of all these fabulous projects?
"We have very understanding partners"
Barrens: Yes, thank you so much for your interest in what I do. I really appreciate it!
Music is not my full-time job. I'm a teacher, and all of this music stuff has to happen "on the side". I also have a family and am a father with growing kids, just like the other members of Barrens. When you put all the projects I'm involved in side by side like that, it looks like a lot, but as with everything in life, things work in cycles. It's not too often that all bands are active 100% at the same time, and it's usually pretty easy to keep things flowing. Admittedly, at times it can become too much, but it usually works out. I play with understanding people and have a (very) understanding partner. But it gets tougher as you get older, I have to admit that. It's not as easy to just up and leave for the tour as it once was. You have responsibilities. Your kids need you, your body isn't as strong as it once was, but I try to stay as busy as I can for as long as it works.
Anne: Do you have a ritual before going on stage?
Barrens: No, not really. We are very serious about what we do, and our focus at concerts is to perform as well as possible, to have as much fun as we can, and to connect with the audience, so we don't really drink before we go on stage. We just make sure things are working well and that we give ourselves the best conditions to make each show as good as it can be. We also want to be respectful to the people who all work hard at all the venues, and on stage, they're as much a part of making each show a positive experience as we are. We're all part of the same team on a concert night, and you need to be respectful of that.
Anne: Thanks very much for answering my questions! All the best for your ongoing tour and your album plans! Please stay safe and take care!
Barrens: Thank you so much for your interest and well wishes. Stay safe, and I hope to talk again sometime.