in with the new
These New Puritans Rip It Up and Start Again.
"To be honest," confesses Jack Barnett, frontman of the British band These New Puritans, "we're in a constant process of alienating our audience all the time." It's not entirely clear from his slow and careful monotone if he's being honest or deadpan -- but it's also not hard to understand what he means. TNP's 2008 debut Beat Pyramid won over young indie fans with its brash brand of shouty, guitar-driven post-punk, and the band just as easily left them behind with 2010's Hidden, an enigmatic flurry of brass, woodwind, Japanese taiko drums and children's choirs with barely a guitar in sight -- a near total departure from the sound of the first record. Its strange complexities and charms made it a critical smash, if not a commercial success.
George Barnett. George wears a shirt by Saint Laurent.
But as their most recent -- and no less challenging -- effort, last year's Field of Reeds proves, people-pleasing was probably never on the agenda. The album might be their most unconventional one yet, expanding on the experimental orchestration of its predecessor with a roster of over 25 musicians and Portuguese jazz singer Elisa Rodrigues on lead vocals alongside Jack.
TNP consists of twin brothers Jack (on guitar and vocals) and George (on drums), who grew up in the English coastal town of Southend-on-Sea, along with their childhood friend Tom Hein (on bass) from nearby Billericay. The band first came to prominence in 2006 as part of what the British music press dubbed the "Southend Scene" -- a collection of good-looking teenagers in referential bands who played at the local music club Junk and briefly took British indie music by storm. Alongside groups like the Horrors, the Violets, Errorplains and Neils Children, TNP were hailed as part of a new musical moment that, according to Jack, felt exciting, if a bit misleading. "Musically, we didn't have a lot to do with each other," he says. "But it was a powerful thing. We just assumed that all towns had this at the time, but then you'd go to Middlesbrough and you'd realize there's nothing going on except playing gigs in Chinese restaurants."
Tom Hein. Tom wears (left) a shirt by Saint Laurent, (right) a T-shirt by Diesel and jacket by Prada.Today, TNP are one of the few bands still going strong from that scene, although the fan base they have now may look a bit different -- and no doubt a little older -- than it did back then. "The albums themselves are kind of like snapshots," says Jack. "So you see this radical change quite gradually."
Still, Jack cringes when reflecting on the band's first studio release and the permanent reminder it offers of his teenage tastes. "I can't really relate to it anymore," he says of Beat Pyramid. "I was between the ages of 16 and 18 when I wrote the music. For this album, the words became more important. So I sang them even quieter. The first album was, you know...just shouting," he laughs.
His brother George disagrees. "Beat Pyramid is a great record," he says. "I feel really proud of all of our records. They're all a bit different but it feels like the same band." For George, who splits his time working as an in-demand model -- currently he's the face of Burberry's Brit Rhythm fragrance -- the crossover of his two careers is a deliberately limited one. "I do it to make money so I can do something creative," says George. "But really, it's two separate worlds."
"People think that you aren't authentic because you've also made money doing fashion stuff," he reasons. "But at the same time it opened our minds to doing what we want if there's money and time."
Jack Barnett. Jack wears a T-shirt by Diesel, shirt by Burberry and jacket by Saint Laurent.
Regardless, George's success in fashion is hardly surprising -- and perhaps underscores one of the most interesting aspects of this band of brothers. Just as each of their albums feels starkly different from the one before, the twins themselves seem to have little in common. George, naturally outgoing and talkative, looks at home on the catwalk and onstage, whereas Jack seems almost resistant to the limelight. "I always have this idea of being able to sit on the side of the stage and not actually do anything," says Jack. "With Elisa singing [on Field of Reeds] I'm sort of one step closer towards that." George doesn't bother trying to explain what his brother means. "If you spend your life being really close to somebody, you know what they're on about," he says. "We're quite opposite, but we're two halves of the same coin."
Differences aside, the band's focus now is readying their first complete live performance of Field of Reeds at London's Barbican Centre in April. Backed by a full orchestra, the event, TNP Expanded, will allow both the band and their audience a chance to finally experience the album as it was recorded, alongside a catalogue of old and new material reworked especially for the show.
Following that, a slew of new projects will roll out over the course of the next year -- including a book, an exhibition, a cluster of American tour dates (they play April 30th at the Bowery Ballroom in New York) and their fourth album. "It isn't going to be more commercial, but I think it will be slightly more accessible," says George of the new material.
To which Jack adds, "Change is only natural."
Styled by Victoria Gregory / Assisted by Molly Taylor
Makeup by Michael Gray at David Evans Artists / Hair by Kevin Ford at David Evans Artists