Alysa O'Connor
Alysa O’Connor

You’ll find her behind the lens at live music events, or expanding her ever-growing plant family.

Barnaby Keen, a name spoken on CLUNK not so long ago after the release of ‘Lay Our Cards’, recently released the new single ‘Trust Me’. Sporting strong, simple, and calming vocals, Barnaby Keen offers a truly encapsulating sound. Paired with his impressive visual skills and interesting backstory, CLUNK couldn’t pass up the opportunity to chat to Barnaby about everything he’s been up to, and talk a little more in-depth about his debut single, ‘Lay Our Cards’.

Alysa: You have an amazing background in music, how did your interest in sound begin?

Barnaby: I began recording music as a child on a cassette machine with my brother. We grew up in rural Dorset so there wasn’t much else to do apart from being outside. As a teenager I got into skateboarding and playing music because that’s what people were doing around me and it carried on from there. We used to busk to make money in different towns and cities in the South West, playing improvised music, so that’s what got me hooked.

Alysa: I’m aware of your history in the underground London scene, what did you get up to over those few years?

Barnaby: I was living in a sort of squatted church in South East for a while and lots of bands and artists used to come and play in the big main space. United Vibrations with Yusef Dayes on drums (he was basically a child at that point- and amazing already) Kate Tempest used to come and do her spoken word stuff in there, Speakers Corner quartet and Mo Kolors. I was recording and having jams in there with Dave De Rose (agile experiments) who also lived there.

Alysa: You have previously fronted Flying Ibex and Electric Jalaba, how have you found moving to solo work?

Barnaby: It’s nice to have total control over what I’m doing, but also a bit of a curse as you can go down rabbit holes – not knowing if you’re heading in the right direction. Having a band to work with is more fun but has its own challenges too. I generally have always written the material on my own anyway-apart from in Electric Jalaba which is collaboratively written- but with flying Ibex I would have to allow the band to come up with their own parts. I’ve been really lucky to have been able to play with some incredible musicians which have definitely informed what I’ve done.

“It’s nice to have total control over what I’m doing, but also a bit of a curse as you can go down rabbit holes

Barnaby keen

Alysa: Your sound is really individual, pulling inspiration from Brazilian sound, psychedelia, African rhythm, Jamaican reggae and so much more. What attracts you to these styles?

Barnaby: I’ve loved Brazilian music for more than a decade since I first went there. It has such a rich cultural history heavily influenced by west Africa and a big record industry since the 1950’s so a lot to dig into. Similarly, Jamaican music is a phenomenon- for such a small place its cultural impact has been huge. I love the sounds of early Reggae and dub records and the creativity and energy of the productions.

Check the latest single ‘Trust Me’ here:

Alysa: So, debut single! We absolutely love ‘Lay Our Cards’. How has the release been so far?

Barnaby: Yeah it’s had a nice reaction. I’ve had people getting in touch to say they’re into it which is nice and it’s been playlisted quite a few times which is also nice.

Alysa: Can you tell us a little about the creation of the track itself?

Barnaby: I started off playing with a loop pedal on the guitar and made a beat with the percussion of the string sounds then the song kind of came out in one go. I recorded it on my phone and left it for a quite a while before coming around to production. I did it all in my studio with help from my brother – we took it in turns to play beats until we were happy with the groove. I think we were inspired a bit by a sly and the family stone song for it- but it ended up being a bit less swung than the track I’m thinking of and slightly more mechanical sounding. After finishing a demo of it I took it to Oli Barton-Wood who worked his magic mixing it and I think we added a few bits and bobs together. Then he mastered it.

Alysa: The lyrics are so beautiful, yet difficult at the same time due to their nature. Do you have any lyrics from the track that stand out to you, and why?

Barnaby: Thanks…  I like the ‘fencing in the darkness’ line at the start because it could mean a few different things and all of them bring up interesting images to me.

Alysa: You directed the video, it’s extremely hypnotic! What was the thought process behind pairing the manipulated stock footage with Lay Our Cards?

Barnaby: I had to use what was available to me. I didn’t have much time or resources so this was the best plan. When I started I had an idea in my head of industrial machinery to match the rhythm which sounds quite mechanical. I also thought of contrasting that with light and calming images for the choruses which are kind of a release of tension from the verses. So I found birds in flight and nature to match that. I played my first take to some friends of mine and they had made up their own narratives from the images I put together that were totally different from mine which I thought was cool. I like things to be open to interpretation because they can spark people’s imagination in interesting ways.

Alysa: What is coming next, release-wise? Do you have any upcoming projects that we can get excited about?

Barnaby: I have another song coming out with Plum Cuts and an EP, or hopefully the whole album later on (which I have most of the material for).

Let us know what you think!