Interview: Carl Barât and The Jackals
Jackal, Libertine and one of the headliners at this year’s Liverpool Sound City festival. Carl Barât called Susie Bennett here at the VPME to chat about his plans for the Libertine’s hotel, and the release of his forthcoming Jackals EP Harder They Fall – of which Liverpool Sound City audiences will be amongst the first to hear live in the early dates of his tour. After rescheduling the first telephone interview, and what Susie considers to be the coolest time a man hasn’t called her, suspense was finally relieved when Carl took time out from writing the video to his new song Burning Cars to do his best Scouse accent and reminisce about The Lomax, romance and hangovers.
Are you excited to play Sound City this year? Who do you recommend on the bill?
Yeah, Pete played it last year; I think my girlfriend did as well. That’s the one that’s got a boat that people play on isn’t it?
I love most of them! I like The Sherlocks – they’ve played with us. Outside of Sound City my current favourites are Hello Operator, Black Waters and Ratboy.
Do you have any good memories of playing Liverpool in the past? Does the city’s music influence you in any way?
Yeah, we jumped the train up to Liverpool before we got signed and watched The Strokes at The Lomax and the Moldy Peaches. Yeah I’m still great friends with Adam Green now actually. We met them there for the first time. I think there was a peculiar money changing incident and Pete tried to nick a pedal. Anyway we had a great time and that certainly influenced us to want to do what they were doing. But yeah we’ve always loved Liverpool, Pete in The Libertines was born a Scouser, his Mum’s a Scouser but he’s lost his accent.
We’ve been told that you are working on new material with the Harder They Fall EP. Will you be playing the new tracks at Sound City? Which ones are you most excited about and what influenced them?
I think we’re going to have to really. It’s the first time we’ve talked about it. The tracks haven’t been mastered yet we’re just finishing them now. We’re releasing things in EP form at just to keep the momentum going rather than that album cycle of things taking forever. It’s really weird to stop being creative because you’re on tour and all that and then get thrown back in it. So I’m trying to keep everything going consistently and release what you’d call a mix tape these days or playlists if you’re a rapper.
This one’s a bit of journey. It starts off talking about the towns we’re from and that sort of thing. There’s a song called Burning Cars that stuck in my head at the minute. I’m just writing a video for that now. I’m looking forward to playing that, absolutely. I can’t wait to get out and start playing new stuff really. Can’t wait to get on the road again.
Your output is substantial and has a number of outlets. How do you stay inspired and motivated to write? What subjects are most occupying your material at the moment?
I have to give myself a serious kick up the arse really to motivate myself generally and then you know dodging the quagmire of mental health issues which occasionally rear their ugly heads. But you know I think that’s the same for most people who write music. It’s just dealing with the world really – self-realisation, acceptance and that sort of thing. That’s always influenced songs, and escape and romance. I escape, I get romantic and I drink a lot and get mentally ill.
It’s all about balance and keeping an even keel that’s the hardest thing to do. You know it’s that tightrope walk of righteousness, of the endless catastrophes and falling off along the way that punctuate my life really so um that’s generally where the songs come from. Punctuated by catastrophes!
Can you tell us more about your plans for a Libertines Hotel ?Has it been setup yet?
It’s all in the lap of the town planning committee at the moment. I’ve been jumping through hoops for about a year now trying to do it. In the old days when you had a rock-and-roll idea to put the guitar shaped swimming pool over there, I think those days are behind us. It’s a lot of fuckery to be honest with you.
Is the intention with the hotel to enable a creative scene to develop that is bigger than the band?
Yeah absolutely, our bands, other bands. It will be like The Factory, ideally. The Warhol factory – not a sausage factory. Let’s not get confused about which factory. That’s the idea, and I think it’s a wonderful idea, but if it’s a ‘no’ then there’s not much we can do about that really as they’ll be knocking on our door and hoicking us out.
If the planning application goes through successfully it will be somewhere you’d invite new bands into and potentially have a label attached to?
Well, yeah I don’t know about labels right now. I think anyone can have a label really, but certainly an umbrella so to speak of. Yeah that could be great. The idea is we have two studios in there, so obviously we’ll have people coming through and adapting the idea.
Are you working on stuff with The Libertines at the moment?
Not yet. As soon as we get the keys to our castle then yeah! That will begin. We’ll go on tour first and there’ll be rehearsing and writing together. But yeah we’re all up to different things and that helps us all bring stuff to the table when we get back together again.
You’ve survived genre labels and trends and continued to stay relevant to an audience that is evolving generationally and in terms of how they are consuming music. Do you consider yourself to belong to any particular cohort/or movement in music? Who do you consider your peers?
I don’t really see myself to be part of any scene really. When we first started Britpop was going on and we didn’t want to be a part of that. We didn’t want to be lumped in with the Oasis scene. People did lump us in with The Strokes but they’re Americans, Americans! So you know that was never going to be totally accurate. I don’t know just people doing the same as us really – it’s always been a bit DIY and embracing all walks of creativity and music as opposed to the more corporate sort of music. I guess that’s the obvious distinction.
People do seem very career orientated these days, and I don’t blame people for that. If you’re just setting out – what are you going to do? Are you going to go to the pot-less poet or are you going to get people to hear what you’re doing in which case you’ve got to go through the channels that exist.
Ever since the internet and the music industry crumbling and not knowing what the fuck’s going on, and trying to take 360 deals and shit it’s really hard, for someone starting out to know where to go really. You can’t just play on street corners and wait for someone to come along with a chequebook.
The Jackals were created through an open call for new band members. Has that set up changed band dynamics in any way? Does it feel organic? Is the experience of the creative process within that group altered in comparison to The Libertines and how you write with them?
It’s always been very sort of chemistry heavy. I can be with The Jackals and then The Libertines the very next day and be using a totally different side of my personality in a totally different overall output. Basically it’s all about who I’m with. Actors have to be generous darling – the whole point is to take on board everybody’s personality. That was something, when I did the auditioning with The Jackals, that was what I was looking for really. It wasn’t the ability to play but what they could bring as a person to the table. It’s not so much test tube babies, it’s racehorses – make of that what you will! Haha. Thoroughbreds dear, thoroughbreds all the way!
You seem to have this really open connection to the public in the sense that you’re looking to set up a hotel, and you auditioned unknowns to join The Jackals. Where does that attitude come from? You don’t seem to be cut off from grassroots in the way that someone with your level of success might be– is that connection important to you?
I don’t know what my level of success is. I don’t feel it very much. I get a bad look with a hangover. It’s very kind of you – I’ll go with it. I don’t see myself as any different to when we started really. I’m attracted to ideas and people doing things more than the established or looking to jump on someone else’s bandwagon I prefer the creative thing.
Sound City is a festival that champions emerging talent. What advice would you give to bands starting out? How did you get your first break and what has sustained your career so far?
I think in order to get anywhere you have to be willing to throw yourself into the chasm of the unknown. I don’t want to give this as advice because this is a personal risk you take. There is a sort of meeting the devil at the crossroads kind of deal you have to make with yourself where you have to risk having nothing in order to gain everything you wanted, and you have to proceed so doggedly and not give up.
Times change, reinvent yourself. If it ain’t working reinvent yourself but keep the same essence and even then you’re not guaranteed to succeed. But it’s only through that doggedness that you stand a chance really. Persistence, trust your gut. It’s a very hard question not to answer with ‘you just gotta keep the faith man’ haha. It is a difficult one, but that is essentially the truth…
The music industry is in a funny state. No one’s really significantly broken in about three years and you’ve got this top heavy dominance in the charts of Ed Sheerans and whatnot. There’s a Catch 22 – you’ve got to be successful and up there to be listened to and obviously that will change and it will topple. How and when is anybody’s guess so just keep on keeping on really and enjoy what you’re doing. If you’re not enjoying it then what the fuck’s the point?