Having been a fan of Carl’s ever since first hearing The Libertines as a fourteen year old boy, I couldn’t help but snap up the chance to have a chat with him and fellow Jackal Billy Tessio on the topic of their new band. Carl Barat and the Jackals are the result of a Facebook advertisement that Carl posted in January of last year and I wanted to talk to them a little bit about this odd formation process and how the band has been going.
The office that I met them in was a very quiet, lo-fi affair in Soho which made a pleasant change, from an interviewer’s perspective, from the usual hustle and bustle of a busy London boozer. They were both incredibly friendly, with Carl pointing a fan heater at me to warm me up after waiting outside in the cold for the previous interview to finish.
DiS: So what made you decide to audition prospective band members as opposed to forming a group with people you already knew?
Carl Barat: Everyone I knew has generally got their own pretty strong identity from having some sort of a career already. Or they’re just jaded. I wanted some fresh young blood… people I didn’t know, and the excitement of meeting new people and forming something totally from a neutral place together.
DiS: How long did the whole audition process take? Was the standard high? Was it difficult to choose people?
CB: Well, of a thousand people, I’d say a good 200 of them couldn’t even play anything, they just wanted to exchange letters. And there were a couple of… well, you know… not very many naked pictures sent in actually. Just a couple of those. Generally speaking, there were kids from all over the world, it was a bit thoughtless of me to really to open it out to the planet, because really, in reality, our drummer has enough trouble getting in from Brighton without whinging doesn’t he? How long did it take you? You were on the other end of that. What was the time frame?
BT: Well I got the email within a week, a reply to the initial email. Around about a month all in all, I think. Not too long, about five weeks, I think.
DiS: Was it a shot in the dark for you, or did you go in feeling confident?
BT: Oh, absolutely, yeah. Just as I would with any group. You know, I am quite a bashful bloke at the best of times… or at the worst of times. But yeah of course I was naturally nervous. But I was hungry for it. So I was trying to hide that as well as possible but obviously not.
CB: Yeah, it was hunger that I was looking for.
DiS: You first put up the ad in January, and your first gig was at Reading in May. How much time did you dedicate to rehearsing and writing in that period?
CB: Not that much, really.
BT: No, it was pretty rapid, actually.
CB: We spent a lot of time looking at the band as a unit, making it a real band, becoming friends, a lot of fast-track drinking. And then we all went to Switzerland together and we had a bit of a busman’s holiday out there. And then yeah, I think we managed to get to know each other pretty well. We all had our first rows with each other. Like the time I had that play fight with Jay outside that club.
BT: Was it…?
CB: Uhhh…. Yeah it was a play fight. That was all important, really, we all felt like we were in it together, and then we started creating together.
DiS: So back in 2013, you said your solo album was complete. What happened there? What made you decide to make it into a group thing rather than a second individual album?
CB: Well, really I think I said I’d finished it before I’d finished it, because I wanted the joy of everyone saying well done. But I think, having gone back to the guitar… what I was doing, I wasn’t really a solo guy with the guitar and so I needed a band around me. The songs I was writing were songs that needed a band, as opposed to sessions and people that come flying in on the job and flying out again. And I wanted to finish the record with people of a similar kind of ilk really. And four times the hunger… and of course ability was very important in the people that were in the audition process. There was a lot of talent there. I know I said about the kids writing letters… there were a lot of beautiful letters, it’s hard to reply to that many. But it was really reassuring to know that there were people out there who thought and felt like that who were going to do great things one day.
DiS: Whether it was initially intended or not, I think a part of the Libertines appeal came from the volatile relationship between you and Pete. You also said before that you were done with bands – was this because you were fed up with music being tied into your personal life? Did you just want to focus on music alone?
CB: Not really. I sort of take it as it comes, to be honest. I guess it was a bit of an accident that the Libertines became so synonymous with our dirty laundry being hung out in public, yeah that wasn’t really intentional. I wanted to maybe start something new that wasn’t really about all of that. Sometimes it has become more about that than it has about the music. That can be a pisser so it’s nice to be something a bit more… yeah, a fresh start is good.
DiS: So has forming a band from a group of strangers had a big impact on the way you approach music? Does the lack of history present any difficulties?
BT: Some of my favourite groups formed this way. I mean, Johnny Rotten was auditioned in a pub singing 18 by Alice Cooper in front of strangers. So I kind of look at it that way, if the chemistry is there then… yeah.
CB: Yeah, the chemistry was there. When we’re together we feel like we’ve all got the same objective and we all want exactly the same thing. We get on as individuals. It was a bit of a stroke of luck, really.
BT: Yeah, absolutely. There was always that dread of “this could go horribly wrong”, but it just kind of worked out.
DiS: Obviously each person was individually auditioned… did you audition together as a band to see if it worked as well?
CB: Yeah, I was on stage as well, playing two songs with everyone. Why did I have to kill two of my favourite songs by playing them a million times with strangers? In the audition there were two songs. One Libertines and one Dirty Pretty Things and then one new one, which people had to learn on the fly.
DiS: Do you all come from similar musical backgrounds? Are you all wanting to achieve the same things?
BT: I think there’s quite a wide spectrum in the band, in terms of taste.
CB: Yeah, I think we’re all slightly different parts of the same thing. Weirdly, we’re all from pretty much the same part of the country which is odd. We’re all farm boys.
BT: But yeah it’s safe to say that’s there’s not really that many arguments on the tour bus about music.
CB: Apart from Adam’s obsession with Mumford & Sons. But bass players are meant to have something a little bit left of field, aren’t they? Or Right of field in his case.
DiS: Let it Reign sounds completely different to your first solo album even though the impression I get is that it was originally intended as a solo album – it’s a lot more about guitars. Was this how you always intended it to sound or did you change it to fit around a band?
CB: I got frustrated with the first record, with playing it live, that I couldn’t let go. All those songs were written from a place of depression and catharsis. I hadn’t left myself any room in that to make that happen on stage. I couldn’t… get it out. Err… Not like those bands who get it out but you know what I mean. There were no songs that pummelled the fuck out of the demons, unfortunately. I just had to sort of soothe them. So obviously I was a bit like a wasp in a jam jar. Also there’s no glory in apologetically plopping a second solo album off the production line, going “guys, is anyone listening? I’ve got another album if anyone cares, I know you didn’t like the last one very much but yeah”. I wanted to come in with a fucking gang and a bang. Hang on… maybe separate those words.
DiS: What would you say were your main influences when writing this album? I know you mentioned that you were depressed.
CB: I guess initially I started writing with muscle memory and anger. And anger as an energy as Johnny Rotten declares in his latest biography. And then it started taking on reflective things which invigorate me about the times. Obviously I got all the boys to read 1984… all those who hadn’t already that is. And I think that provided a colour pallet for the album, really. That kind of Brave New World versus 1984 dystopia. I don’t want to make it a sixth form issue but these are very interesting times. The music industry for example, no one really has a clue. But it’s a time of great freedom and panic and it’s an interesting time to live in. So, I think some kind of candid reflection of that at first.
DiS: Do you think that your influences and motivations have changed since Libertines days?
CB: Not really. Having kids makes you realise how mortal we all are, and how we need to get the fuck on with it. I don’t feel any different really. Some days I feel less confused, but some days I feel as confused.
DiS: I know you’ve been flying to and from Thailand to write and record with the Libertines. How is that going and how far off is the new album?
CB: Well I guess the album, if we carry on going as we are, will be out around the end of the year. It’s been going great in Thailand really, it’s a world apart from being over here. It’s odd, it’s a different life set up. It was only a few days ago I was sat in 100% humidity on a patio veranda outside a wooden hut listening to Hancock on the wireless as the rain dripped down over enormous palm leaves.
DiS: Have you found it difficult managing the two projects simultaneously?
CB: I have schizophrenic moments but generally, yeah, it’s all good. There are much harder things to do in life.
DiS: Have there been any stand-out moments for the Jackals so far and is there anything you’re particularly looking forward to?
BT: Absolutely. The UK tour was…
CB: Yeah, that was stand-out actually. We really started to earn our stripes a bit as a band.
BT: It was a great ice-breaker as well.
CB: SXSW is the gig I look forward to most and some of the European dates.
DiS: How did the first gig go as well? Did it go as planned?
CB: The actual first gig at sub89 was great. The official first gig the next day was a little bit odd. It was one of those gigs where it feels like there’s too much light. You can hear people thinking in the audience. There was no pressure the night before, it was a blinder. But I think the band’s come on so much since then that it seems like an age away.
DiS: On a final and somewhat unrelated note, as it’s somewhere that is dear to your heart, I’d be interested to hear your views on the Save Soho campaign and the closure of Madame JoJo’s – do you think that Soho is losing its character and becoming gentrified?
CB: I think it is absolutely. Doubtlessly. I think it’s horrendous the way the face of the city can be changed without anyone giving a fuck. And changed for the worst. It’s globalising something that’s got so much unique charm and you know… it’s like putting big doors on a museum. I’m all for the campaign. It’s like those movies you get where grandma won’t move her house out of the path of the railroad so you get all these nasty people from the company try and blow up her place. It’s a pretty well known theme really and sadly it seems like 9 times out of 10 they win, the fuckers. Any resistance for me I’d say is very… laudable. Err… in my head I thought laudable meant laughable, but that’s not what I meant. Commendable, yeah.
Let it Reign is out now. Carl Barat and the Jackals play The Scala in London April 15th, and will headline Live at Leeds.