Interview with Barney JC of Autoheart

Photo taken from Autoheart's Facebook page.

Photo taken from Autoheart's Facebook page.

Last March, I had the opportunity to speak with Barney JC, member of the London-based music group Autoheart, alongside singer Jody Gadsden and piano man Simon Neilson. At the time, they had released their first album and an EP, but had dropped off the radar for a few months while working on their second album, which will be released this summer. 

The band, whose popularity soared when their political call-to-action music video for Moscow hit the interwebs and went viral, is known for its unique blend sentimental lyrics and, for lack of a better word, exquisite vocal and instrumental talent. After amassing praise for their sound and songwriting from fans and critics alike, Autoheart underwent a name change from "The Gadsdens" in 2011 and has since established themselves as a musical powerhouse. Make sure to check out their first album, Punch, and visit their website here; turn on their album sampler and enjoy the interview with Barney about their next album, the music industry, and the history behind some of the band!

Does Jody write everything first and you guys all work on it together, or do you write songs specifically, or do you write words that you all collaborate on?

We all do exactly that. We sketch and then we bring it to each other, and sometimes we work with stuff, the three of us. And sometimes two of us will work on it and then two of us will work on it separately. So, we've been playing together since, I don't know, 2008. So we are each very comfortable; that happens very naturally depending on what/who initiated it and who's more into it. So sometimes Jody will write something that he'll just get sick of that I love, and then I'll take it home and work on it, do an arrangement on it, and so on. And vice versa, you know. But Jody works on lyrics, it's very important to him that he sings his own words.

How did you get into music?

I've done it since I was a kid. I met Jody through a friend of mine on Facebook. Like, I used to be in a band, I used to work as a songwriter as well, and I only really worked with female songwriters. And someone said "You have to listen to this guy!" And I really loved how androgynous his voice was. I think it's become less-so now, 'cuz his voice has matured. But certainly in his early stuff-- his demo is what I heard. And he sounds-- "it could be a woman with a deep voice", I thought. So I got in touch with him and we worked together just writing songs, and he had his band, and I joined then. But I've always enjoyed being in a band and shit like that.

So you were part of the band when it was The Gadsdens?

Yeah!

And do you think the name change has had any effect on, 1) People being able to find you on iTunes, and/or making it easier to send out material from the band?

I've come to this realization that I'm always really amazed that you get people like Rihanna or whatever who just seem to be constantly pumping stuff out. You know, the woman released like 5 albums in as many years or something crazy. There must be so many more songs that never made it. And we're the other end of the spectrum. We just seem to do everything in this slow, evolving way. It's not like we're sitting there really agonizing over this stuff, or that we're lazy. I don't really understand why we move so slowly.
But yeah, the Gadsdens was just a stupid name. It wasn't the right name, it was never meant to be. When we actually sat there and really thought about it and it came down to it, I said, "Look, we can't call it this because no one can fucking spell it." And then we really sat there and came up with a proper name. So I'd say it's like the first proper name-- lots of people knew us as the Gadsdens and I love them for having managed to pronounce it, because we fucking went on the radio and people called us the Gardens. I don't think anyone ever really got it right, apart from the fans. It's not that easy to spell it now, but Christina Aguilera fucking made it, so why couldn't they do ours? Everything's kinda been like that.
We went through so many different scenarios until we had an exact way of doing it. This album is gonna be a bit quicker, but the thing is, we're doing it in a totally different way than everything else we did before, we're learning how to do new stuff again. We're producing the whole thing ourselves and recording the whole thing ourselves.

That would have been my first question, I haven't seen anything come out like nothing on the Facebook or website new since October, basically. So you guys have been working on a new album, then.

Yeah, yeah!

Or since the release of the EP.

Autoheart released an EP on May 30, 2014, which included demos of some of the songs from the first album, as well as songs which hadn't been released before. The difference between the EP and their debut album, Punch, is striking; it's an unmistakable sign of the band's range of musical talent and ability to evolve. To listen to or purchase the EP, you can visit their webpage here.

Yeah, because at the end of last year we did the demo and we just had all these bits we wanted to get out. But we started writing, we've basically finished writing this album. And we're doing that in rehearsal for the last gigs. We've realized that the way we want to record it and the sounds we want to go for are very different from anything we've done before. So I'm not playing guitar at all really.

Oh, really?

No, I'm playing bass now. There's a lot of electronic programming. It's totally different. I mean, I think at the core of it, you can tell there's songs which are quite stripped back and characteristic of what we sound like. But essentially there's gonna be disco music. I have faith that people who like us will like this as well, because I think people quite like the fact that there was a bit of a mismatch of stuff on the last album.

So you're experimenting with electronic sounds.

Yeah, that's what everyone does. But I think the last album as well, like we rehearsed as a band and we adhered to the idea that we had to be a band with we recorded it, and we worked with a band producer who produced it, so we had really true sounds to what a band would sound like playing those songs. I think we're all in the interim, we've grown up quite a lot and feel very free from that. We have an idea about how it's going to sound, and it ends up somewhere totally different because we've cut and mucked around with it. It's more exciting, I think.

Are there any more like sing-rap, the rap-singing, is that returning for the next album?

So when Jody gets it in his own words, he... fuck, I'm just amazed what he does sometimes. Some of them are like, tongue-twisters. There's more on this album. There's gonna be some I'd like to see over a beat, I try to do them while we're recording, and... yeah.

Song writing and doing shows, is that your full-time job? Do you have to do something on the side to support yourself?

In my 20s, I was maybe into being full-time as a songwriter, but generally I find I've never really... I love being in my band and I'm with my best friends, and there are lots of people I write with that are really incredible, but it's like, you wade through this huge sea of awfulness and grab onto these gem people who are incredible life-savers. And there are people who are life-savers along the way, but there's this huge sea of awfulness. Maybe that sounds really negative. But no, I could never... the music industry is not a place I'd want to work full-time. Because it's the industry that overshadows the music, and I'm sure any really successful artist would insulate themselves from it in order to be creative. And we all have day jobs. I work as a journalist, Jody works... I don't really know what they do. [laughs] They have jobs, Jody works for some legal services, and was in this really weird situation not that long ago, I don't know, he went in for this training day where he was shown how to use his computer system and someone put their hand and asked if he was Jody from Autoheart. I think that's quite cool, but that's reality. I think some of my friends have moved, because you just can't afford to live in London anymore.

Does work ever get in the way of songwriting or is it something you guys just do in your free time, or do you need to schedule to make time for it, or it just happens?

Well when I was songwriting I was locked in this horrible contract, and legal battle between my lawyer and Sony. It went on for like 8 months, going backwards and forwards; it was all about minimum commitment, and pro rata, XYZ, and I'd have to go to Detroit and do this, I'd have to do a medical before I could-- the music industry, the business side of it, it was so stressful, I couldn't write anything. And that's, yeah. Now it's just joy, it happens all the time. I don't think work gets in the way at all. I would like to be able to spend a bit more time on it, but you know. I do wonder what the situation would be, had now been 15 years ago, when there was money sloshing around.

As far as song content goes, you think it's gonna be about the same; the material you think is still gonna be about the range of emotions one can feel when you're in love, or has that evolved too? Are you going in a new direction?

I think there's a lot of inspiration from relationship stuff. There's a bit more positivity. I think there was a tendency last album that... definitely the dark side was a lot richer. And maybe the opposite would be true with this. There's a lot more joyous stuff. More harmony, it's more emotional as well, I think it's gonna be a lot more positive. But there's some gloom and doom for the people that are into that. [laughs]

So the music video for Moscow went viral, basically. And the fan base kind of jumped at that point. What was it like seeing your views just go off the charts? Basically, one of the main issues with that is that it came out so close-- it coincided with those laws passing in Russia that it was kind of like the perfect storm, so to speak.

It wasn't like we knew that would happen, we just wanted to tie it together because that was really important to us. To say publicly.

Right.

You know, that there was something really positive in it, the message, you know; people are gonna watch this. Sign the petition. Because of free speech and being able to talk about positive gay relationships is like a cornerstone of any democratic society, and, you know. We exist. And we had similar laws here, so it was really, really important. So it wasn't just about putting out a video, it was like we were gonna-- we knew a few people would like it and go sign the petition, so we had a reason as well. So the fact that it got SO many people, I think, a lot of people actually did go and sign the petition, that was really incredible. We were aware as well that it got us a wider audience, and I think that everyone is kind of understanding if you can get your video to go viral, somehow, it's great.
So yeah, I mean, with Beat The Love... I liked it because it has this kind of... Jody, he's got quite an un-politically correct sense of humor. Not that that's funny, but obviously it's about emotional violence. Like a lot of his songs have violent imagery to them, and it's kind of metaphorical that you "beat the love out of me," but I also quite like the idea is kind of about the meaning as well. Like it could almost be about wanking. [laughs] So it has all this different imagery, and I really wanted to do a film. I saw this exhibition in New York where they shoot pictures of people's feet and they're all like, really beautifully taken photos. And you have to read the whole thing, how the artist was looking for men who wouldn't mind their feet photographed at the... moment.

Ahhh, okay!

And it was hilarious! You never think about what your feet are doing, do you? I really wanted to do that as a video. And all my friends were like, "I'll do it! I'll do it!" But the other guys, they said no. They said no! They said it was too sleazy. Maybe they're right. I think that would have gone viral.

That would have been a good candidate.

I think you've always got to consider why someone would look at it. You can do them brilliantly, but I just think those performance videos are... I mean, my favorite music video is the one Eurythmics did for that album, Savage. It did have a kind of narrative to it and each film kind of linked into each other, they had this character that was a drag queen who became involved and devolved throughout the whole thing, so I quite like the idea of all that, but maybe that's too hardy. Maybe it just needs to be a kind of cool idea like someone's feet when they're coming. [laugh] But hopefully there'll be value to it. Things that go viral can have a really inspiring message, as well. You know, positive. I was watching the other day, I came to this, I don't know, I've been under a rock or something. The Chandelier video, the Sia video. I totally missed it for some reason even though half a billion people have watched it. (NB: at the time this article is being written, it's been viewed over 1.27 billion times!) But I saw it for the first time a couple of weeks ago. But shit like that is just so inspiring, you know. That kind of child-like dancing and that song.
I met Sia once, when she bought her first single, it's called "Taken for Granted." I was working for this magazine, and I was doing something a bit like what you're doing. I was giving everyone these Russian cameras where you can hold it down, open it up and take a picture in low lighting. And she just had this single out and I loved it, so I showed up at her house to show her how to use the camera, and we hung out for the afternoon. There's a great, incredible innocence to her, as a person. You get to know someone, like in this situation we're in now, like, if we never met again, you'd probably have an impression. You'd be able to say, "He's kind of like this." And there's something very her about her, that she has experienced some real pain and gets quite a lot of solace from like, a child-like abandon in her life.
And I think she's been very sad, and she's been very close to the edge in terms of partying and going wild. Part of that is very much the extreme, if you listen to the lyrics in Chandelier, like going absolute bat-shit crazy and shouting from the chandeliers, flying off to the sky and never looking down. And I think the video really captured the innocence of doing that, while keeping the bold, like, you know, she's been a cocaine addict and alcoholic. It's not necessarily all about the demons. Sometimes it's just an expression of innocence, almost. And it's clearly her, isn't it? That's how she feels, it's like this child-like, letting herself loose. It's just like her being a child, but being fearless.

So is there friction in the band when you have to decide on these sorts of things, or it's basically a democracy? Benevolent dictatorship?

Yeah, yeah, it's totally democratic. I won't pretend we always agree on everything-- there's definitely friction. But you can't not, because it's such personal stuff. But it works in the end. I feel so rubbish in comparison to how talented they are. I love working with them. And especially Simon is so coming into his own with making films, some people can just stretch themselves and stretch themselves, and Simon does. But we're working on the video for the next single, it'll probably be a demo with two singles and two videos. And we always have fun together, and we've been put into some pretty boring situations, just stuck together, but we're all such different people and we come at things from different directions, and we always have fun together.

And that's all we've got! Make sure to visit Autoheart's website (or Facebook) and purchase their album, Punch, and their EP, Demos.

Autoheart's new album has hit the shelves! Visit their website (link above) to purchase the album, and check out their new single, Oxford Blood:

 

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