"It was such a dark time in the world and we poured so much love into the album. It was medicine..." RapperBarney Artist talks The Locket, his collaboration LP with Bombay Bicycle Club's Jack Steadman
Somewhere between the release of Bombay Bicycle Club's 2011 album, A Different Kind Of Fix, and its successor, So Long, See You Tomorrow, frontman Jack Steadman's approach to songwriting changed dramatically.
The band had dabbled in electronica previously, but that 2014 LP, written during frontman Jack Steadman's travels through India, Japan and Turkey, was covered in samples and took cue from a huge range of world music, rather than the bluesy indie of their earlier years.
At the end of that tour, Bombay went on hiatus, and Steadman continued his pursuits. He embarked on a round-the-world trip without flying, and, in Shanghai, he boarded a cargo ship and set up a studio in his cabin and began writing his solo album.
The result was God First, which he released under the name Mr Jukes. The album featured collaborations with Lianne La Havas, Charles Bradley and De La Soul, and many more besides.
Inspired by classic soul, jazz and summery hip-hop, the album was a critical and commercial success, and, after finishing his commitments to Bombay Bicycle Club, Steadman has produced a follow-up.
However, after working on an individual basis for God First, this time Steadman has focused on one collaborator: Rapper Barney Artist.
Artist, whose real name is Barnabas Ochora-Isukali, is a London native with a series of excellent early singles as well as collaborations with soulman Tom Misch and Jordan Rakei.
He featured on one track on God First, 'From Golden Stars Comes Silver Dew', but now he and Steadman have made an album together, The Locket.
The Locket is out now in hmv stores and available here in hmv's online store. We spoke to Barney Artist about how the pair's initial collaboration grew into something much bigger...
You and Jack have worked together before, did it go so well that you always want to do it again?
“I got called in for the last session for God First, the very last thing he did. We just clicked immediately. We didn’t make music for a couple of years after, but we’ve become really good friends and in the pub one day, we both said ‘We should probably do that music thing again, no?’ From there, we went into the studio and the first beat he played me became ‘Blowin' Steam’.”
Was the goal to make an album from the get-go?
“We made ‘Blowin' Steam’ and ‘Poems’ in 2018 and then Jack did his Take That reunion and got Bombay Bicycle Club back together, so he was busy with that. In lockdown, we both figured we had nothing to do and started working. Initially, we thought it might be an EP and it grew into an album.”
What’s he like to work with? He’s gone from a floppy-haired, classic indie type to a bit more of a mad professor over the years. The last couple of Bombay Bicycle Club records have samples all over them…
“It hurts me to say it, but he’s an absolute genius. He’s so good at blending genres. If you hear our stuff and Bombay’s stuff, it’s different, but you can hear a real synergy and a thread. He’s been such a help to me. Until last year, I’d been working in retail for 10 years. I got made redundant and tried to focus on music and Jack has given me so much. He’s helped me so much in my songwriting and he’s been amazing to work with.”
How did it work with getting the tracks down? Did you work to what he’d written or did you compose everything together?
“A lot of times on these collaboration albums, the rapper raps and the producer produces. But we worked together totally. I was very hands-on with the production and he was very hands-on with the lyrics, I sent him everything. There’s a track where he sings and we wrote that track together.”
That must be important to you, not feeling like a gun for hire…
“Rapping can be quite limiting. I love it, but sometimes it presents such a small part of what you can do. Neither of us are prideful. We’re both open to what the other can do and understanding how to take criticism.”
You’ve got Lex Amor and Kofi Stone on the album, were they people you knew or people you reached out to?
“We decided that because this is quite a personal album written in a difficult time, we would only work with people that we knew. Whether that’s the backing singers or the trumpets or the DJ. Kofi supported me on tour in 2019 and I’ve worked with Lex on another project. We wanted a real family vibe. The first Mr Jukes album was a bit more like that, it was Jack spending a day with someone and then never seeing them again. He really loved the idea of friendship building out creatively.”
It’s a tight album, lots of collaboration albums tend to be quite long, was that by design?
“It was a conscious decision and something Jack was really driving. The mantra was “Don’t bore us, give the chorus.” He has the ability to be objective and to shut down a track if it gets unwieldy. He wanted it to be tight and for people to want to have it on a loop. You can find if you’re 11 tracks in, you’re starting to tire. The 35, 36-minute mark is the right mark. We recorded about 15, but these are the 10 strongest and the ones that fit together the best.”
You've started playing live again, how’s that been?
“We did Latitude, that was fantastic. Then the two of us supported Bombay in Northampton, which was mad because Jack had to do the whole, come on and then come off thing. We’re really enjoying it. We’ve got a headline tour in November and we’re looking to expand songs and build up the live instrumentation.”
Was it weird making an album knowing you might never get to play it live?
“With some of the songs, we imagined what it would be like to do it live, but we had to come to terms with the idea that we might never get to do it. It was such a dark time in the world and we poured so much love into the album. It was medicine. We ended up pushing the album back so people could enjoy it in the summer, it’s an album for parties and barbecues.”
Finally, are you talking about what you might do next together?
“We’ve started again. We finished this back in January and we’ve been back in the studio. Hopefully, the way it works is Bombay is Jack’s indie outlet and my solo stuff will be a lot more story-driven and darker. This is our De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest summertime hip-hop vibe. We love it.”