Interview: Gary Barber of Is Tropical at Underage Festival

By on Thursday, 11th August 2011 at 12:00 pm
 

Just after Is Tropical’s amazing and dance-inspiring set at this year’s Underage Festival, I sat down with Gary Barber of the band and asked him a few questions. We talked about the story behind their debut album’s name and also the possibility of the band going naked on stage in the future. Read on to find out more about the band.

Hello! You played Field Day last year, how does it feel like to play Underage Festival this year?
It’s always cool to play to young kids cause they don’t get the chance to get to clubs and many things like that, so I think it’s important to play to people who can’t easily access to your music other than online. And seeing a band live is a completely different experience to watching them on the Internet. So yeah, it feels great. It’s a shame we didn’t play a bigger stage. Next year we’ll play a bigger stage.

I look forward to that! Let’s talk about the video for ‘The Greeks’. It has gone viral and there’s many bi-polar responses! Some say that it is poisoning the youth and inflicting violence while some say it’s the best music video ever made. How do you guys react to all these diverse responses?
(Watch the video here.)
We try not to read them. If you believe the good ones, then you’ll have to believe the bad ones as well. I say the most important thing is to do something that’s artistic and that you’re interested in, otherwise if you listen to too many people you’ll end up compromising and then you’ll be a worn down version that no one wants to listen to or see or get into your band. I think if you do stuff that is true to yourself and the band, then it’s gonna come across well. Even if it turns people off, it’s a good thing; you don’t want those people anyway, it’s fine.

Moving on to’ Native To’, regarding its title, I wonder to what one’s native?
The thing is, we wear masks and stuff and are inspired by lots of different cultures. If you look at photos from Brazil and Africa, you know, you can just access absolutely everything and communicate with loads of different people from all over the world through the Internet. I don’t know why anyone would like to be so homegrown. It’s important that you go elsewhere. That’s what we’re trying to do, the title is just a representation of being native to everywhere. The songs jump around stylistically, our intention spans grow and just shoot one thing to another. That’s it! ‘Native To’ just sums up the whole attitude we have.

That’s quite a story behind the name! The album seems to have a lot to do with the sea! ‘Seasick Mutiny’ and ‘South Pacific’ are obviously sea-related. What is all about the sea relations?
We’re brought up in a coastal town, a 100 miles south of London. Everyday I’d spend the day down the beach. It wasn’t intentional, we didn’t sit down and think “oh okay, we’ll write about the sea!: But these things are inherent in maybe our childhood and subconscious? If we write about things that interest us, I guess that’s becoming important in our lives.

Did you intentionally do that to contrast the gloomy weather in London?
The name was an escape from the way we’re living, and the songs are an escape as well. But at the same time, there are some dark subject matters on them as well as some drug references and stories about dark times. We tried to put them across in a positive way, so it doesn’t sound like a melancholy song that no one wants to listen to.

Out of the 12 tracks on ‘Native To’ (Coco’s review here), which one is your personal favourite and why?
I don’t like any of them anymore. I’ve heard them too many times. [laughs] Errm, I’d say, maybe… it’s not even on there, the B-side to ‘South Pacific’, ‘Tan Man’. It’s one of my favourites, it’s the funnest to play live.

Oh! That’s the first song I’ve heard by you guys.
Yeah, with the album we did so many mixes of it to try and get it right, you kind of become sick of it. It’s nice to give it a rest. I haven’t listened to it for ages. But with ‘Tan Man’, it’s something that we did at home, done, and then we put it out there. You forgot about it, but when we play it live, it’s got good energy and it’s kind of dirty. It’s the sort of direction I personally want to head. Quite a dirty sound. [laughs]

Just out of curiosity, why isn’t ‘When O’ When’ included in the album? It’s one of my favourite tracks of yours!
It’s nice to have a hidden gem somewhere else, isn’t it? It’s on the Japanese version, and ‘Tan Man’!

Unfair!
They have to pay money to import records, lots of money. So they always have to have an extra couple of tracks so that it’s worthwhile. It’s just fair enough. But I think it’s one of the first songs we wrote as a band, which is cool. We really like it, but that’s stood for a certain time and then we made a pop record, we really didn’t think of it suiting the pop aesthetic. We wanted to make a record where melody was key. All the songs on ‘Native To’, even if it’s an instrumental, they’re melodic. That’s like the key in front of our minds. ‘When O’ When’ just didn’t seem to fit anywhere in between them. Even if it would go on there, but for us, as a package, it wouldn’t fit. You always get this other thing we did before, which people can go ‘I really like that!’, so it’s like a little, hidden bonus.

So they have to know you guys enough to find the song!
Yeah, certainly! When I get into a band, I get into their album, and then I search and see if I can find their obscure track. You know the Coral?

Nope.
They’re a band from Liverpool. They’re amazing. They’ve got 4 amazing albums. Then you go online and you find their rare B-sides, you go “Wow! This is amazing!” They’re just as good as any album tracks you’ve heard. You’re able to explore yourself, which makes it special, as opposed to you being given it. If someone puts it in your face, you’re being obliged to like it. Whereas if you go off and search for it, it’s like your own discovery, it feels more special in a way.

I agree. I really enjoy the process of searching for different bands.
Yeah! It’s cool! I think the Libertines did that as well. They always had lots of session stuff and acoustic versions that are really badly recorded, but in this half-hour session of random noise-making, you’d hear an amazing song and go ‘Wow what’s that?’. You’ll have to search the album yourself, I think it’s interesting. We’ve got so many songs at the moment, our old songs that we’ve never recorded, which we only played on an acoustic guitar or piano. We have a dozen songs that we’ve never even got to the point of even trying to put it down. I’ve got songs that I haven’t told the others about, and they’ve got songs that they haven’t told me about. Maybe there’ll be songs in the future that, if we put it down, it’ll be someone’s favourite song. I think it’s nice.

We’re done with ‘Native To’. I bet you must be pretty sick and tired of people asking about the masks.
But if you wear them you have to expect people to ask about them, so we don’t really mind.

Ha! Can you tell us some anecdotes that have to do with the masks?
Eh, the reason why we wear them is to separate ourselves as performers. They’re a proper pain in the arse, honestly. You get really hot. On a day like today, you put a mask on, it’s just sweaty. You get little bits of material in your mouth. One time I breathed in, and the material went down my throat and I was nearly sick.

Aww.
It’s horrible.

Have you ever had any suffocations on stage then?
Nearly! One show in Brighton, we were supporting Mystery Jets, and it was really hot. I was at the point like I thought I was going to pass out. I’d been really drunk the night before so it just wasn’t good. But we had to keep it up, cause it’s cool, right?

Yeah!
Masks are cool. They’ve always been cool. They got a certain romance about them.

I do think so, they’re kind of mysterious and stuff.
They’re even older than clothes!

Really?
Yeah, like tribes back in the day, you see old drawings of tribes, they’ve got a huge wooden mask and no clothes on, but they’ve got a mask.

Do you want to try that on stage sometime?
Naked? Yeah, I’m not sure. But not at an underage gig (like this festival). We’d be arrested. [laughs]

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