Exposure: The Barents Sea
The Barents Sea - I've Got The Right Idea
The Barents Sea have embraced the traditions of old-fashioned songwriting and the advantages of online networking. Drawing inspiration from a variety of sources, from Bob Dylan to Bon Iver, their mini album Bear Island reminds us that sometimes simplicity is far more effective than over-complication. Based in Perth, The Barents Sea is Grant George (vocals, guitar), Davey Byrne (guitar, vocals), Kieran Andrews (bass, vocals) and Tom Mitchell (organ, piano, guitar). I caught up with Grant, Davey and Kieran to find out more about the past year and their plans for the future.
Tell us a little about how The Barents Sea came together. Is there one main driving force behind the band?
Grant: The Barents Sea started just under two years ago after the demise of my previous band Four Star. I decided I wasn't quite ready to stop playing music just yet, so I would carry on playing solo. I needed to record these acoustic songs that I had written, so when I ran into my old friend Tom (Mitchell), I asked if he would like to help me record a couple of songs. We did, and both really enjoyed what had become of them.
Davey: I think most of the guys would say that Grant's always been the nucleus of the band. Everything came about from some cheeky wee solo demos he did and we all sort of progressively jumped on board through time. I think the positive thing about this is that everyone's come on board naturally and we're all involved because we want to be.
Grant: Up until now, the main driving forces have been Tom and myself. The addition of Davey Byrne, Kieran Andrews and Steve Cairns has helped us so much. We're slowly building a well-oiled machine with those now involved.
Could you describe briefly your writing process? Is there anything in particular that inspires or influences you to write?
Kieran: Chicken, rice and peas are always a personal favourite.
Grant: I'm inspired by anything. A movie, a book or even another song I've heard. I write all of my music on this guitar that my mum was given as a child and that she then gave to me. It's this really old nylon string acoustic that's been battered and has big chips out of it. But it has that character that you need, you know?
Tell us a little about your musical backgrounds. I know most of you have been involved in different projects in the past. How have they differed from The Barents Sea, and do you think this has had any significant impact on your sound?
Grant: I think I can safely say that no-one involved has played in a folk-rock band before.
Davey: This is quite a departure from literally everything we've all done before this. I guess what we share in this band is a love of good songs and good songwriting. A song can only have three chords and a harmonica and still have more impact and sound better than an eleven minute prog rock tech-wank.
Kieran: Before The Barents Sea, I played guitar in a ska/metal band called One Man Race and then bass in a punk rock band called Cole Appleyard; both of whom had quite a big influence on how I handle my instrument.
Grant: I think [these backgrounds] only make us better.
What have been your highlights of this past year, either musically or otherwise?
Davey: For me, finally getting a full band together and being able to play the songs the way they should sound has been awesome. We're definitely starting to carve out our own sound and go in a direction that I don't think any of us could have predicted a year ago.
Grant: For me, playing two shows with Frightened Rabbit.
Kieran: My second gig with The Barents Sea was opening up for Scott from Frightened Rabbit at Dundee University's Student Union, so that was a pretty great way to start!
Do you find your location has been advantageous or a hindrance in terms of gigging and promotion?
Kieran: It's a bit of both. There is a really tight-knit scene in the Perth/Dundee area with a couple of people – especially those at Make That A Take Records, who do a hell of a lot to promote local, DIY acts of all genres. However, as with any smaller place, it can be a bit of a struggle sometimes just getting a large group of people to take notice.
Davey: I think it's probably a little more difficult being out of the bigger cities, but the flipside of that is that it's sometimes easier to get notice if you're not one of a million bands coming from the same place at the same time.
Grant: Perth and Dundee are both very central. I think they are great locations to be based. The music scenes in both aren't exactly 'booming' but if you're wanting to travel up to Aberdeen or Inverness, or down to Glasgow or Edinburgh, it's only two hours max each way.
Davey: I'd like to think that if we're good enough, and enough people enjoy what we do, we'll get to where we want to be.
What challenges or obstacles have you had to overcome?
Grant: We're still a relatively new band, so finding our sound is still an ongoing mission. I think we'll change it up every few years to keep things fresh. Nobody wants to be writing the same records over and over again.
Davey: Logistics mostly. Work schedules conflict horribly.
Kieran: Making sure that the rest of the band don't realise that they are all much, much better than I am.
What are your long term goals for The Barents Sea?
Davey: I guess to be in a position to play regularly to people who genuinely enjoy it. I could use a cliché and say 'As long as I can make a living out of music, I'll be happy' but I don't think that's necessarily the case. There are plenty of people who make amazing music that have careers and jobs and other things going on. I don't know if I'd ever want a band to be 'my life' but I want it to be an important part of it.
Your mini album Bear Island is available for free download on MySpace. What were your main reasons for making your music available this way?
Grant: Tom and I recorded those songs together in his bedroom. It didn't cost us a penny to make, so why charge for something we didn't pay to make? I understand if a band puts a lot of their own money into recording a record why they would ask for some money back. The other problem is, the entire music business is going digital. People buy less and less CDs each year. If we can use the excuse of music going digital to save us getting physical CDs printed, then we will! Giving away music for free is the easiest way to get your name around. We would love for people to download our mini album, hopefully enjoy it and then burn it onto CD and give it to their friend to listen to. As long as we're making music for free, we will continue to give our recordings away for free.
Do you have any upcoming releases or gigs you'd like to tell us about?
Kieran: Bear Island is out now, but we're probably going to be writing and rehearsing without many gigs until the turn of the year, when we will really look to kick on and be gigging in a town near you. And you. And you, as well as maybe even doing another wee recording of some type.
Grant: Because we're not doing any shows as a band until 2010, I will be venturing out on the road in the winter of 2009 with my friend Pete Duthie from Alburn to do acoustic shows up and down the country. Check our MySpace page for the dates soon!
Bear Island is available for free download at http://www.myspace.com/barentssea
The Barents Sea play Mucky Mulligans, Perth, Fri 13 Nov; Brel,Glasgow, Thu 26 Nov; The Westport Bar, Dundee, Sun 29 Nov; Twa Tams, Perth (w/ Xcerts + Flood of Red) Sat 12 Dec.