An interview with Carl Barât

  • Interview: Vanessa Bermudez

Carl Barât has been a man of many hats. Best known for being a founding member of one of the world’s most controversial rock bands, The Libertines, as well as numerous guitar-riddled side projects such as Dirty Pretty Things, Barât has kept busy pursuing some compelling projects and sounds. He also lent his acting skills to the Paule Muret-directed For This Is My Body, a French indie film that premiered at Cannes last year.

The Libertines are set to take the stage at a string of summer festivals, returning to their roots with a London appearance at OnBlackhealth. The strained relationship within the band rapidly became as famous as their music. Early stardom with the U.K.’s answer to The Strokes led to public quarrels, in-studio security guards, headlines upon headlines speculating over the band’s fate, and one or two (or several) run-ins with the law – while the Libertines were in Japan in 2003, co-frontman Pete Doherty burgled Barât’s flat. This as well as downward spirals of addiction led to the band’s breakup in 2004 before they reunited to much fanfare in Hyde Park ten years later. All is well and good now, with the band’s reassurance that they still have so much left to do and say.

After a whirlwind of reunion shows, Barât announced that he would search for potential new band members for a solo project via Facebook – a move that has since then opened doors for musicians looking for a big break. A thousand applicants, maybe fifty actual feasible ones, and thirty auditions later, the Jackals were born. Members Billy Tessio (guitar), Adam Claxton (bass), and Jay Bone (drums) as well as Barât himself have finally delivered their second collaborative effort, Harder They Fall, out now.

We had the chance to catch up with Barât, while he was preparing for the first night of tour in Scotswood, as we discussed the Jackals, the Libertines and whether or not we should be expecting new tunes from the latter any time soon.

Harder They Fall is your first release since 2015’s Let It Reign – how has the writing process changed between the two albums? Has it become more collaborative?

Certainly between the Jackals it’s become a lot more collaborative. I think we’ve finally become the band that we set out to be. It was a very interesting test – sort of a test tubes experimental project, with the public auditions and everything so I couldn’t take the risk of it not working. Everyone’s in equal roles in the driving seat.

The video for “Sister” places the band in a small rural English town. What was the inspiration behind it?

One of the things when we got together, that we all have in common, is this interest in this angry, heavier sound. So we sort of put our heads together and used that collaboratively for the video, which I ended up writing. We’re all from the same place and I think this EP has a beginning, middle, and end, which is simultaneous with our journey.

There are political undertones in the Jackals music that you’ve never shied away from – “Get a Gun” is one such song that seemed to take jabs at 45. Do you feel the context of your music has changed due to the current political climate around the world, i.e. Brexit?

Not really, I try not to write topically. Things change quickly. I want songs to be eternal. If you want to reach somebody, and let somebody put their own emotions into what you’re singing or the story you’re telling, if you make it too vocalized then they have a shelf life. I rather have someone feel like it resonates rather than sing about Trump and Facebook and Myspace.

What would you say is the role of an artist at a time like this?

To reflect – to have the bravery to say what other people are too scared to say – and to warn. I can’t remember what poet it was, who said “all a poet can do today is warn.” I think a poet can do a lot more than that, actually…

What primarily inspires the Jackals sound?

Well, right now, obviously I’m in two different bands – I can say things with the Jackals I can’t say with the Libertines, so there’s a heavy-esque, screaming, face-melting guitar and because we’re writing about our journey from the beginning, I’m writing about that unresolved anxiety that we all have which generally manifest themselves in day-to-day problems.

You’ve been splitting your time between the Jackals and the Libertines – how has it been balancing the two, now that the Libs are all doing their own thing at the moment?

Well, both bands have their own unique chemistry, really, so even though I was staying with the Libertines two nights ago I’m not going to start accidentally start playing Libertines songs or anything… I don’t know how to describe it, really, it just seems so different because the people are different and we’re both uniting in both bands. But it is fucking knackering, if that’s what you’re asking.

Getty Images / Venla Shalin

The Libertines perform at O2 Academy Brixton in London, England – Getty Images / Venla Shalin

How do you think your role with the Libertines informs or dictates your role with the Jackals?

The Libertines are something I have to sustain – there’s time constraints as well. With the Jackals, we certainly don’t have any of those – we’re not bound by our past or anything. There’s not much of a need to get famous or get recognition, I think the boys are just happy playing. We get to do it all.

How has the hunt for a hotel for the Libertines been going?

Oh good, good, it’s all in the process – that’s seem to become my fucking day-to-day job now. I feel like some sort of realtor! But yeah, it’s been going really well, we found a little home. There’s an endless sort of hoops to go through – you have to deal with the local government, as in the mayor who’s the one who’ll allow you into town. But yeah, we have a building, just waiting for the last details to be sorted. It’s on the sea, can’t tell you where though, of course…

I’m sure you’re tired of getting asked this question, but will we be hearing new material from the Libertines any time soon?

Absolutely, yeah – you know, I was tired of hearing whether or not the band was getting back together or “how’s Pete?”, but those days are happily behind me.. But I’m delighted to say new music is imminent and especially since we’ve found our little pied-à-terre and once we get our roots in the ground I think there’ll be a whole new chapter in the universe of the Libertines. Once we’re all there.. of course all of our other bands will be welcome to come by, we’re going to have a lot of creative stuff happening. It’s going to be quite a place.

Kind of like Warhol’s Factory, right?

Yeah, a kind of engine for all things artistry.

What are you hoping ‘Harder They Fall’ conveys to old and new fans alike?

It’s the idea of the underdog, isn’t it? ‘The bigger they come.’ There’s definitely a message about becoming a better human being, and facing the battles of the world, which I believe will one day become a nice place, despite it trying so hard to go in the other direction.