- Fri, 2010-10-01 12:33
Carl Barât performed a dishevelled strut into the limelight early 2000, as co-frontman and lead guitarist of notorious indie band The Libertines. Sharing the stage with rhythm guitarist, poetic wordsmith and tabloid headline generator Pete Doherty, The Libertines were championed as a new chapter in indie music, with the relationship between Carl and Pete often decribed as a love affair of the highest order.
With their lives splayed across front pages, sex, drugs, rock and roll taken to dizzy new highs and arguments, major labels and super-models in tow, disagreements between the pair saw a split; Carl formed Dirty Pretty Things and Pete created Babyshambles.
Following a well documented re-form of The Libertines at Reading and Leeds 2010, Carl is now ready to release his self-titled debut album, coupled with his book Threepenny Memoir. I Like Music met Carl Barât outside a pub in Queen's Park for a chat about playing Reading and Leeds, writing an album and resisting a drink, revealing so much to so many and rather a lot more...
"I Like Music because… it keeps people in their coffin.” Carl Barât
ILM: You've been rather busy recently, so firstly, how are you Mr.Barât?
Carl: I'm just about bearing up. Considering I'm doing audio-books, interviews and looking after my pregnant girlfriend all at the same time, it can be a bit taxing, but yes. I'm getting there, just about getting through it. How are you?
ILM: I'm well thank you. Slightly interested in that bookshop across the road...
Carl: Yeah, it looks good doesn't it? I just bought a couple of books actually. Although I have a habit of getting really into them then loosing them. I still have a house full of them, but there are a lot out there that I've only read half of. I'm such a firm believer in sharing them and not being precious about them. I always put them in my back pocket and fold them over. So...never lend me a book...! Haha!
ILM: The Libertines played Reading and Leeds this year. How was it?
Carl: Yeah! That was blinding! It's such a risk to throw yourself out there, after all the events. You know, you shut up shop and it's all snowballed in your absence, then when you come back you just think, how on earth are we going to live up to the expectation? But I think it came from the crowd. They made it. It was just...alive.
ILM: You've made a jump from band member to solo artist, with your debut self titled album. What were your initial ideas? What type of record did you hope to create?
Carl: I knew I wanted to take out the live guitars because they became a comfort zone for me and therefore a distraction from what I really wanted to say. When I did that and then heard my voice booming down through the headphones, it was like all the smoke had been sucked outside the room. Then there was so much more to play with, so many more opportunities. I got excited again. When I first started thinking about the record I envisaged me, my fraught emotions, a guitar or a piano and just writing really moody songs. My brief for this album was write an album that doesn't shift anything, that no-one will really buy. Which is a really good brief! I almost felt tricked by my manager who said that. He said just write the album. You need to write this album. I've got your back. Just do it. I was like right! I don't care then! And like an idiot, that was completely divisive. It made me connect again. I remembered what I'd forgotten after years of writing for a major label and having to write hits and stuff.
ILM: How would you describe your song writing process with this album?
Carl: It's usually a lyrical phrase or when I pick up the guitar, it's normally just the first thing I play when I pick it up. I record on GarageBand, just as a tape-recorder, literally one line, record and stop. My old technique then would be to say wow! I've done so well! I deserve a good hearty drink! And then whatever I'd made would never surface again. I've got a lot of those! But with this album that was where I made that switch. Not having band mates to bounce off. I did collaborate as well. That was a really good thing. Everyone I collaborated with didn't have the same 'let's go off and get a pint' ethos as I do. Both Neil Hannon and Andrew Wyatt, they don't really drink..so...
ILM: When you look back across the making of the album, from beginning to end, what were some of the highlights? Any epiphanies...?
Carl: It kind of grew then snowballed. I did have quite a few mini-epiphanies really. I realised some kind of catharsis was happening when I wrote Carve My Name. I was dead set on writing a miserable album. After that, I was thinking, hmm. This catharsis thing is working. I do feel better. I don't want to write this miserable, ballad driven record if no-one wants to hear it. So I cheered up a bit. That was my first epiphany. And also the song So Long, My Lover, that brought some kind of unexpected closure too...
ILM: How would you describe the key themes of the album?
Carl: It's actually turned into some kind of...well. It's almost quite conceptual. It basically goes, nothing, self pity, falling in love, loosing love, dealing with it, having a hangover period and then by the end, it's optimistic. The Magus is wistful and about wanting romance. Je Regrette, Je Regrette looks at the image you get tarred with through being in a band. The third song, She's Something, is about seeing love and adoring a girl. A teen sort of thing. Then a sort of cry for help, a wrist cutting song, in track four, that's Carve My Name. The Fall is a relationship song, it's about falling in love, then going through the whole relationship. Then there's a lot of bitterness and a big sense of closure. The last track, Ode to a Girl, is about recovering and moving on.
ILM: Most people know you as a band member first, a solo artist second. How have you approached that transistion? Are you a fully fledged front-man now?
Carl: I've never really seen myself as a front man. I'm no Mick Jagger, strutting along holding the mic doing a chicken dance thing. I've always kind of hidden behind the guitar. That's different now. I'm going to have to loose a lot of weight if I'm going to hide behind a mic stand! But er...it's just part of my learning curve I guess. It's a double edged sword, you can get all of the potential credit or...the failure is all yours. But it's a challenge. That's why I'm moving on in this direction. This is what I want.
ILM: It sounds very personal. You've also written your a book, the Threepenny Memoir. How do you feel about revealing so much to so many?
Carl: It's really hard actually. I suppose just start as you mean to go on. We've been so public for so long. The Libertines meant a lot to so many people because it was open. Everyone could be a part of it, everyone knew what was going on. The audience were as important as the band from day one. With the internet and intimate gigs, well...that's the only way I know how to carry on. The book was really hard. I worry about it. I want to tell my story not other people's story. That's really hard if other people factor into your story. Which they do. So...it was really tough. It was sort of my therapy, the book and the album. I felt lighter afterwards, I felt good and like I was able to move on. But I forgot I would have to do all the press for it and talk about it everyday. Do a fucking audio book. It's all quite petrifying. I really don't want to hurt anyone.
ILM: Is there any connection between the Threepenny Memoir and Brecht's Threepenny Opera?
Carl: Yeah. I was reading that at that time. Firstly, I didn't want it to take itself too seriously. Secondly, I was a bit of a scamp, an urchin round London. That's how it all started. I like the romance around that.
ILM: Artists are almost expected to reveal now, particularly with social networking and constant updates. Do you think that takes away the mystery?
Carl: It's a very difficult position to be in. If you keep your mouth shout, these days no one gives a shit because everyone else is blabbing, you know? I suppose the modern day artist will have to adapt and learn to use that as an artform without de-mystifying themselves. Without fucking it up. You know, Stephen Fry is someone I'd never have expected to have a twitter. He manages to do it with poise and grace which clearly stands up against those who don't, which just further highlights their trashy nature.
ILM: Do you remember when you first realised music could have such an impact upon you?
Carl: Yeah. I remember my dad having this compilation tape. I must have been about three. I remember the tape went from The Jam - What You Give Is What You Get...bum ba bum bum bum... I used to love that! Then there was this song called Scary Monsters where David Bowie used to come on and it used to petrify me as a kid! One made me really happy and the next made me really petrified, just from one to the other. I suppose there was power in that, right from the off.
ILM: When you look back over your career so far, which moments stand out for you?
Carl: Playing Reading is a pretty good recent one. I've not had a day off since. I haven't really had that much time to reflect on it. But the culmination of that and the sum of all its parts, that's a big thing for me. Also, things like playing The Letterman Show. I always wanted to be in theatre, on broadway. That was one of the wild ambitions I set myself when I was thirteen, I used to think I'm never going to achieve that! but then actually doing that in the Ed Sullivan Theatre, where The Doors were and in front of a national prime time audience, that was just...well...like a personal goal. It sounds a bit greedy. There have been so many more moments.
ILM: What would be your advice to young artists starting out?
Carl: Um..........long pause.........this is hard. This sounds cheesey, but....oh...I can't think of a good way of saying it. I sound like Bon Jovi...Keep The Peace! Er...genuine good advice is hard. Let me think about that.... long pause ... Don't be down hearted by whatever happens on your journey. If it's meant to be it will be and if it's not, your journey will lead you somewhere else.
ILM: What's next for you? What are your future plans? Is it every day as it comes...
Carl: It really is right now. I have a baby due in December. So that takes precedence.
ILM: Are you excited?
Carl: Oh yeah! I keep looking at kids and thinking 'Awwww...' I suppose some evolutionary thing must have kicked in there.
ILM: How about the current music scene? Is there anything that's exciting you?
Carl: Nothing has really got me right now. I hate saying that, maybe I'm just out the fucking loop. Maybe I'm into different things. I'm not saying that those bands aren't out there. There's just nothing that's been adding to my music. Recently I've been listening to mostly old stuff really. When I was making the album I listened to Leonard Cohen. Tom Waits - Rain Dogs, Bonnie Prince Billie Darkness and um...a tiny, tiny bit of Jeff Buckly. Who I find a little bit indulgent.
ILM: Out of all the live gigs you've seen, which have been the most memorable?
Carl: Rage Against The Machine at Reading and The Prodigy at Reading!
ILM: Were you at the free Rage concert this year?
Carl: Yeah, yeah I was there. That was amazing! That was thirteen years after I'd seen them at Reading. I went with the same group of people and my little brother, who is obsessive about them.
ILM: What can people expect if they come to see you live?
Carl: I want to do new stuff as much as I can. Having the set up I've got I'll do some things people want to hear from the past too.
ILM: Any covers?
Carl: [Puts on posh voice] Oh well darling, I have a lot of my own stuff don't you know! Haha! Um......hmm. Maybe. Maybe actually, yeah. I was thinking of covering a Langley Sisters song. We'll see...