In the following Q&A, conducted for a February 7 Westword profile, Gallows guitarist Laurent Barnard gets visceral in his descriptions of the U.K. punk act’s life and times.
Barnard, who joins Frank Carter, Steph Carter, Stuart Gili-Ross and Lee Barratt in the band, kicks off with a preview of an upcoming live release that puts feel ahead of high-fidelity, then admits that after playing pretty much the same numbers for three years, Gallows desperately needs some new material. Afterward, he jaws about his first forays on guitar; his father’s rising status as a punk paterfamilias; early influences; the Gallows guys’ disinterest in literally aping their predecessors; the thrill of having a song on Guitar Hero; lead singer Frank Carter’s brief departure from the band, as well as his insistence upon letting his British roots vibrate through every vocal; the ultra-thrifty manner in which the outfit’s Orchestra of Wolves CD was recorded; concert injuries on-stage and off; the group’s rising reputation with American tastemakers, and a drop-off among underground Brits; and his arguments for why he’s cooler than Frank, who was declared the coolest man in rock by New Musical Express.
Things are about to get icy:
Westword (Michael Roberts): I understand that you guys are coming out with a live disc soon…
Laurent Barnard: Yeah, it’s like a live album. I don’t know if it’s going to make it out to the States, but it’s definitely coming out back home. To be honest, I’ve heard the CD, and because we go so crazy live, we could have been tighter. There’s kids jumping on all our pedals and beers flying into our amps and stuff. It’s some of the most raw live recordings you’re ever going to hear. Like, Steph’s amp cuts out for about two songs because someone poured beer into his grille. It’s going to be punk-rock sounding, that’s for sure.
WW: Did you think about putting out a DVD, so that you could capture the visuals?
LB: Yeah, I was like, “People need to see what happens.” So the CD’s coming with a DVD. It’s like a double disc. You’ll be able to watch the show as well as listening to it.
WW: In the meantime, you’re touring the U.S. behind the Orchestra of Wolves CD, and you’ve been playing those songs for a long time. Are you including new material as well?
LB: We haven’t had the time to write any new material, which really sucks. But yeah, we’ve been touring this record for a long time. We started writing the album in 2005, the year we formed the band. So it’s a really old album. It came out on an indie album first, and then it got re-released on Warner Bros. in the U.K., and then it got released in the States by Epitaph. And so we’re trying to get to all the areas that haven’t heard the record yet. It hasn’t even been out for a year in America yet.
WW: Are you discovering new things in all the old songs? Or are you kind of getting sick of them at this point?
LB: It all depends on the crowd, I think. The crowd really livens the songs. When they’re really getting into the show, sometimes we’ll go for it even more, and if they’re not, then maybe we’ll chill out. We feed off the energy of the crowd – and I think it goes both ways. Sometimes we’ll go really crazy onstage, and the crowd will get crazier and it just keeps building up.
WW: Chilling out for you guys is probably like a lot of other bands’ wildest day.
LB: Yeah (laughs). I think you’re right there.
WW: I wanted to ask you about your background. How old were you when you first started playing guitar?
LB: I must have been about fourteen, fifteen. I used to play Green Day songs and stuff like that.
WW: I understand your father played guitar, too…
LB: Yeah, he did. I wanted to be in a band, and I could play piano and keyboards. But that’s not really a cool instrument – know what I mean? So I moved on to bass guitar, and I thought, that’s still not really a cool instrument. But then I moved on to guitar, and that was it.
WW: What kind of music did he play on guitar?
LB: Beatles songs. Older hits, I’d say.
WW: Given how young you guys are, I thought maybe he might have played in some first-generation punk bands…
LB: No! (Laughs.) Not at all.
WW: Is he about as far from a punk than you can imagine?
LB: Yeah. My dad comes to the shows now. He’s more of a punk now than he was back in the day.
WW: So you’ve been a good influence on him.
LB: Oh yeah.
WW: After you got into Green Day, did you start exploring earlier punk music?
LB: Yeah, that’s the way everyone gets into it. You kind of trickle back in time from what’s going on then. I got into punk and hardcore through skateboarding. I used to play bands from Dischord Records and all the videos from, like, Fugazi. And from Fugazi, you go back and find Minor Threat, Black Flag, the Misfits. I used to be in a band that covered the Misfits in my teenage years. It’s all about finding out stuff for yourself, going back in time.
WW: So are some of the newer, more contemporary bands just as big of an influence on you guys as the older ones are?
LB: I think a lot of today’s bands, they’re not really doing anything new – and I don’t really consider us doing anything that new, either. We’re just playing music we want to hear. We take a lot of influence from a lot of influences from a lot of older bands, ranging from Minor Threat, Black Flag – bands like Drive Like Jehu, Murder City Devils, all that kind of good stuff.
WW: So you’re not trying to say, “We’re going to reinvent this music”? It’s more like, “We’re going to play this music as hard and as loud as we possibly can”?
LB: Yeah. We do it in our own way. We don’t try to be the next anything. If you try to copy a band totally – like, “We want to be the next My Chemical Romance” – if a band does that, you’re not going to get anywhere. There’s only going to be one My Chemical Romance, so you’re not going to be interested in the person coming along later copying what they do. We don’t copy any band. I think there’s only one Gallows. There might be some bands coming out in the next couple of years that sound like us, but they’ll never be us.
WW: Did you play music in college?
LB: No, I studied English at King’s College in England.
WW: When you graduated, did you plan to do something with that English degree? Or were you pretty quickly drawn back into music?
LB: My dream has always been to play music in a band at the highest level I could get. But I never expected to be touring the States in a tour bus and having my music on Guitar Hero. Those are dreams of mine that have become reality, which is awesome. Being on the cover of magazines back home is just crazy. I never on purpose tried to get into a career, because I knew that would interfere with me playing shows every weekend or going on tour. I’ve always been on tour with different bands. When me and Frank started Gallows, we had no idea this would happen. We thought we’d do the odd tour now and then and we’d work our shitty jobs just so we could play on the weekends and release all the angst and stuff we’d been building up.
WW: I’ve heard that there were times early on when Frank got so wrapped up in those shitty jobs that he had a hard time playing in the band. Is that right?
LB: Yeah. The thing about music, when you first start a band, you don’t make any money. You’re spending money. And to some extent, it’s still true now. It’s costing us a lot to tour the States. Not many kids are coming to the shows, and ticket prices are low, and we’ve got these long journeys. We’ve got to make sure we can pay our merch guy and all the other crew we have. If we ever do start making money live, it’s going to be a while before we get there.
WW: Were there periods when someone other than Frank was singing?
LB: We had someone fill in just for one show. Frank was working for his dad and he was trying to tattoo as well, and he wasn’t making any money tattooing because he was just an apprentice. So he literally had no time to do the band. It’s understandable. You had to make money to survive. There’s only so much you can do.
WW: Did that show bring home to everyone else that Frank’s got to be the singer?
LB: Yeah. We never wanted him to quit. There’s only one Frank. A lot of singers can scream and do stuff like that, but none of them are Frank. He’s got a quality that no one else has. He keeps his British accent. You’ve heard him. It’s dead-on whether he’s onstage or off, and not enough bands are like that.
WW: Does it bother you when British singers try to get rid of the accent, so that they sound like they’re from Nowhere In Particular instead of a particular plays in England?
LB: Yeah. The thing about British bands, a lot of them tend to imitate their American counterparts. The U.K. punk and hardcore scene, all the punk bands try to sound like Fall Out Boy and all the hardcore bands try to sound like Comeback Kid or Outbreak or something like that. They’re kind of losing their British identity, and the one thing about Gallows is, we don’t. We hold onto it. We’re not ashamed of where we’re from.
WW: Your live shows are portrayed as there always a chance that someone’s going to get hurt. Is that exaggerated? Or is there really always a possibility that someone’s going to be injured either onstage or in the audience?
LB: I think it’s true. People always get hurt. It’s always an accident. No one goes to a Gallows show to actually, physically hurt people. But everyone wants to get on the microphone and sing along, and that’s totally cool. We always say, “If someone falls over, pick him up,” and things like that. But people dive off the stage, land on their head. It’s a regular occurrence, that’s true. But it doesn’t mean the shows are violent. It’s just that people get into it so much. It’s a release. We’ll get comments on our MySpace where kids are like, “I went to your show last night and broke my nose – but it was the best night of my life.” It’s weird. They have a good time, but they probably spent half the night in the ER.
WW: How hard is it for you guys to maintain that energy level without having everything completely break down into chaos?
LB: (Laughs.) It is actually really hard. Well, it’s hard and it’s easy. At the time, you just go for it. The music gives us energy, the crowd gives us energy. But there’s only so much you can do. We did Taste of Chaos toward the end of 2007, and we’d been touring the whole year straight. By the end of it, we’d still be giving 200 percent every show, but it came across like we were only giving 80 percent because we didn’t have enough left. Everyone would still be like, “That’s the most amazing show I’ve ever seen.” And we’d be like, “Wait ‘til you see us when we’re fresh.”
WW: Do you feel like you really need a break right now, but because of the way the band’s developing, you can’t afford to take one?
LB: We really want a break, but after our U.K. tour, which is after the U.S. tour, we’ll actually have a month off – holiday time. We had some time off over Christmas, but it’s Christmas with your family and you’re busy doing all this stuff. It’s hardly a relaxing break. We’re taking a month off after we got back to Japan for some shows. Then we’ll start writing our next record and hopefully record over the summer.
WW: I understand you originally wrote all of the music, but more recently, other people have started contributing. Is that right?
LB: Yeah. When we first got given a record deal, it was an indie label, and they were only going to give us a thousand pounds to record the album, which is the same album that’s on Epitaph over here. It cost us like $2,000.
WW: That makes the first Ramones album seem like they went way over budget.
LB: Yeah (laughs). So I was working at a Border’s just down the road from me and I quit my job and started writing the record, writing all the music. Frank writes all the lyrics. For the next record, I think everyone’s going to play a more active role. I went back to living at home so I wouldn’t have to pay rent, so I could take the time to write the album. Everyone else was stuck paying rent, so they had to carry on working. I think on the next record, everyone’s going to get involved and Steph, Frank’s brother, it’s going to be the first time he’s been involved writing with the band. It should be good.
WW: So you don’t feel at all like other people are moving in on your territory?
LB: I’m still going to try and hold the fort, as it were. But I think fresh ideas can only be a good thing.
WW: Last year, you guys were part of the Warped Tour here in the States. How did the fans here differ from the ones in England who already knew about you guys. Was there a very different vibe?
LB: It’s strange, because the fans at home have changed from what they used to be. When we first started the band, we had all the cool hardcore kids who were into us. And now, because we’re in a lot of magazines, the hardcore kids are kind of ditching us, thinking we’ve sold out, and we’re getting a lot of younger, more mainstream fans coming to the shows. But in the States, there’s a lot of hardcore kids who come to see us because we’re still seen as a new band, as something exciting. We haven’t been tarnished by the sell-out brush in the States yet. So it’s really cool, it’s really fun.
WW: How could you possibly be seen as a sell-out when you’re touring on the same album that those hardcore kids were into in the first place?
LB: That’s what I keep saying. I think coolness overrides their taste in music.
WW: Speaking of coolness, Frank got a lot of attention the coolest person in rock by NME. Is there anything less cool than being named the coolest person in rock by NME?
LB: I don’t know. Is being number one on the cool list actually a cool thing? It’s a bit of an oxymoron, to be honest. But I think Frank’s secretly quite chuffed about it.
WW: I read that at one point he was going to get a tattoo that said “Fuck the NME.” Is that plan out?
LB: The thing about the NME, they’re like a tabloid newspaper. It’s a bit of a gossip magazine, and they tend to get their gossip wrong a lot of the time. They twist what people say a lot. We’re not really a fan of that. We’re always honest to everyone, and when people change what we say, it’s not cool.
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WW: From your perspective, is Frank even the coolest member of the band?
LB: I’d say it was me (laughs).
WW: What aspect of you is cooler than Frank?
LB: I stick to the background. I’m the brains behind the operation (laughs).