I invited them to a fairly dissonant location, the edge of Wandsworth common – London for people that would rather live in the home counties. To a pub, run by an old, former drag queen from Derby.
The Essex duo would probably not choose to come here. And, under different circumstances, neither would I, but time was pressing and they had a car, so, an agreement was reached.
The Midnight Barbers, made up of the two deceptively soft spoken rakes – Ben Rowntree on guitar and Jack Pepper on drums, had just returned from a tour in Italy; getting an international following, coaxing fans into making dinner for them, and playing anarcho-punk clubs; described by Rowntree, in the most glowing way possible as “just dogs running around everywhere. Just a filthy, filthy place.” The clubs that is, not Italy. This isn’t top gear.
The whole fad of beeping and repetition which seems to mark much of modern music hasn’t yet got such a hold in Italy. There is still an eager thirst for a-lighters-in-the-air kind of occasion. That is, if the ubiquitous punk-is-not-dead-graffiti is to be believed. It seems a fitting venue for the Barbers, whose sound is as likely to throw up memories of Captain Beefheart’s magic band as it is The Sonics.
Their new EP, Speak Easy, is a 5 track, 10 minute shuck. The title was given to them by a man called electric slim, of the tin can 44s. The tracks, reflect the duo’s real strength. The Midnight Barbers, to put a very fine point on it, are a live band. A very live band (if that is a thing). That seems to be the attitude they’ve taken towards making the record – “the first three songs on the new EP, were recording in a row. We just got home one night and recorded all 3 songs back to back, completely live. Mistakes and all – it’s just more fun.”
Compared to the last EP, which was good by all accounts, this seems more developed. Ben and Jack were disappointed with the last one, frustrated by the steep learning curve of recording, feeling it was “little bit too clean a little bit too laboured.” All credit to it, the last EP consisted of 5 great songs but the end product, they felt, wasn’t “fully given justice.” The first EP, as Jack described it “didn’t get across the energy you get from a live show.” Speak Easy, on the other hand ‘gets its over a lot better’.
With that in mind, I wanted to know what the switch was like, going from the warm dank of the venue, to the sterile, harsh halogen lighting of the studio. “When you go into a studio and someone turns on the mic on have to work out your self-consciousness, it’s like the face you pull when someone is taking a photo of you.” Ben continued “When you’re in a studio there’s nothing to play off, there’s no energy returned at you. So we’ve learnt to switch that off, and just do what we would do live, even if its to a room of two or two hundred.”
The Barbers started out as a 3, with a friend from school who coined the name “We haven’t seen him in years I think he disappeared to Moscow. He was a very strange person”. Then they grew, over the years they guess they must have filed off about 40 people – “36 year old Portuguese men who are having a midlife crisis” and the like. Then, they diminished, realizing that as the two enduring members of the band, they could play off each other, “mess around with songs live and just push it a little more.” Ben explained “the whole thing just started one night when we had a really beaten up floor tom. And Jack was just hitting it, I was playing guitar and Jack was like: this is so much more fun than what we’ve been doing – and then Jack learnt how to play the drums and we never really looked back.”
They shouldn’t either. They hooked up with their manager, Cecile Ruhe, a couple of years back. A “died in the wool socialite”, and old school DC punk (a contemporary of Henry Rollins and Minor Threat’s Ian Mackaye); The Midnight Barbers are in very good hands.
Since I first saw them at the Amersham Arms, they’ve won the award for Essex’s best band and the 2014 Panic awards as well as having a “b-movie revenge slasher” video in the works. The new EP, Speak Easy, is set for a digital release via CD baby on the 24th of May.
Rock on Ben, Rock on Jack.
Photo: Paul Mclean, lou smith