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Finding time to chat with Jesse Barnett can be a bit of a challenge. When he’s not fronting the hardcore band Stick To Your Guns, the emo-flavored Ways Away (featuring guitarist Sergie Loobkoff of Samiam), the acoustic-driven Wish You Were Here or the electronica-based Trade Wind, Barnett is running Other People Records home to all of the previously mentioned bands (other than Stick To Your Guns) as well as a handful of others.
With the lack of touring in 2020 due to the pandemic, Barnett found time to get together – mostly via trading files on Dropbox – with his Trade Wind bandmates (guitarist Tom Williams, bassist Randy LeBoeuf, drummer Andrew McEnaney) to write and record the band’s second album, the recently released, The Day We Got What We Deserved and film videos for standout tracks “DIE! DIE! DIE!” and “Weather Eyes”.
I feel like to have grabbed 40 minutes of Barnett’s time recently to chat about the new Trade Wind album as well as how he spent his 2020 and the goals of the label he runs.
When do you sleep?
JESSE: A lot of people ask me that! I ask myself the same question because I really don’t understand the math of everything with how much stuff that I do and I still feel like I have so much time in the day. It really is strange. Sometimes at the end of my day I feel like it’s been a long day but then it’s only 5pm. But, yeah, I’ve got a lot of shit going on.
How do you keep all your projects separate?
JESSE: It’s a question I get often, but it’s a really good question. It’s a lot more simple for me because although most people may find a connection between all of the different projects – that connection being me – for me, the person who’s involved and writing the songs, I access different parts of my brain for each one. There may be some crossover, there may be some times where it’s like, “Oh, this lyric that I wrote could be used for Trade Wind or Stick To Your Guns,” but a majority of the time I’m using a completely different personality for each one. It’s actually a lot easier than most people may believe. Everyone that I know is not one kind of person, we all have different thoughts and feelings and that’s all writing music really is, it’s an emotional, reactionary response to something that has happened to you. A lot of times, that’s how I was feeling in a certain moment which may not be how I feel even the next day.
Is it fair to say Trade Wind and Wish You Were Here are sort of brother bands, the closest of two of your projects?
JESSE: I think so especially now because, with Trade Wind, I definitely use a softer voice than I originally did. It’s the same voice I use with Wish You Were Here. When Trade Wind first started, a lot of people compared it to a band like Thrice. Once I started using my softer voice, a lot of people related it more to Wish You Were Here.
The other band that you are part of is Ways Aways which, sound wise, is like a Samiam record.
JESSE: That’s what a lot of people say, which I love. Then I sing over it and it all of a sudden doesn’t become a Samiam record because Jason (Beebout) has such a distinct voice. The funny thing about that band is when I was asked to do it, I said no, I’m at capacity, there’s no fucking chance. And then I found out Sergie was in it, because I was originally hit up by somebody else, like, “Hey, want to do some music?” I was like, “No, no way” and they were like, “Okay, no problem. It’s me, Sergie from Samiam ….” and I was like, “Okay, fine, I’ll do it.” Both Samiam and Knapsack, and even a band like Racquet Club, I love these fucking bands so to be able to write with Sergie is like a dream come true for me. I don’t have a lot of starstruck moments but to be able to write with him, I idolize him as a songwriter so I love doing that with all those guys.
Because you weren’t able to tour with any of your bands in 2020, did you find that you threw yourself into more projects as a way to pass time?
JESSE: For me, the “forced” time off has been great, it’s been like a near spiritual experience because for the last 10, 12, 15 years, it’s been such a blur with the amount of touring that I’ve done, just with Stick To Your Guns alone, let alone plugging in a Wish You Were Here tour or a Trade Wind tour here or there or a Ways Away show. I’ve been non-stop, like eight months a year.
At the beginning of the pandemic, I was like, “Okay, this is cool.” And then I hit the moment – because my body is so used to being constantly moving and constantly being in different time zones – it started being like, “Bro, we’ve got to the get the fuck out of here.” Once I overcame that hurdle, now I love being home, I love working on my projects, I love waking up and just being like, “My whole day’s ahead of me, I’m not on a schedule” although I am, I also run the record label and there’s things to be done.
Having said that, it’s been an eye-opening experience and it’s helped me recalibrate the way that I think about the business of music in a personal sense just because this next record, with Stick To Your Guns, is going to be the last one with our current contract and we may do things different, we may start to see what it’s like to own our own masters and own our own music. The idea of making money, while just sitting at home, just sounds fantastic and I feel like every artist should be able to experience that. The whole idea of being a road dog, I love it and I’m glad I got to experience it and I’m sure I’m going to continue to experience it but humans aren’t meant for that. There’s a whole list of problems that come along with that kind of lifestyle – a lot of physical ailments come from that kind of life, but also emotional. You forget how to connect with people. It’s just a tough life and it’s just helped me rescope all that kind of shit and put it into perspective.
So while I’m not grateful for the pandemic, I’m grateful that I was able to have a moment – sometimes we’re too close to things that we can’t see it for what it is – and so I’ve been able to back up and see it. I’m grateful for all the touring I’ve done and the things I’ve learned from it. It’s given me a lot of skills that I feel like a lot of other people miss out on. It’s a bittersweet thing and I’m not saying I’m not going to tour anymore but I turn 34 this year and I’ve got to start thinking of other ways to make money through music that isn’t just in touring. I guess I shouldn’t say make money, that’s not the goal, but support myself.
The email I got announcing the Trade Wind album said “For fans of Portishead, Low, Hovvdy.” That’s the reason I opened the email. Were those comparisons you made or was it your publicist?
JESSE: They definitely came from James, our publicist, and that makes me happy because I really admire James and think he has great music tastes because it’s not only awesome, but it’s also eclectic. But, Portishead, definitely, I think you can hear that right off the bat. That’s a band that influences us. All those bands – all those spacey, indie bands that are heavily electronically influenced – I love all that shit but at the same time they’re not in my top favorite bands.
The way that this record came together is interesting. The drummer, who’s a massive *DJ Shadow*-head and a Hip-Hop-head, he just basically made all these beats and a lot of people think all the beats are drum loops or made on a drum pad, that’s literally him playing all that shit and then EQing it in a way that sounds like electronic drums. He made a Dropbox folder of 100 different beats and then Randy, our bass player, who’s an absolute savant, he started putting sounds and shit over it. I’ve never created a record like that. They sent me and Tom a bunch of shit and Tom did guitar work over it and then I just started singing over it. It was a really strange thing because everyone just kind of did stuff independent of each other. And it came together in a really awesome way. Each person might have been influenced by a different thing.
If there hadn’t been a pandemic, would you have gotten together in a studio to record this all together?
JESSE: Tom is in Nashville, Randy is in New Jersey and Andrew, our drummer, is in Toronto and then I’m in L.A. It probably would have happened that way either way. We’re just like a bunch of grumpy old men, the four of us, with the exception of our drummer who is happy-go-lucky. Maybe that’s the Canadian in him. Every time I’m done with a Trade Wind record, I’m like, “Never again.” And then I get sent a song and I’m like, “This is good. Okay, fine, I’ll do it.” I love them, we have that kind of brotherly relationship. We see each other and we want to beat the fuck out of one another but we also love each other deeply.
I hope you don’t take this the wrong way but when I’ve needed music to fall asleep to, I listen to The Day We Got What We Deserved. It’s chill and helps me wind down. Of course, I usually make it two songs before I’m asleep.
JESSE: Look, I don’t think that’s bad at all, for a world that, every day, people are filled with more anxiety and more sleep problems, if that can help you get to sleep and recharge and hopefully help you feel better about your life, fantastic!
You mentioned sending files back and forth. Who puts it all together like a puzzle?
JESSE: That’s Randy, he’s the captain of the ship. He records bands for a living so he’s the guy who throws everything in the Dropbox folder and sends us ideas and then we, in our group text chat, talk back and forth. Everyone stays out of my way, at least vocally, that’s in my unwritten contract with everybody. I’ll do the band, I have no problem if I’m about it and passionate about it, let’s go, but stay out of my lane. That’s not to say I run things like a tyrant. If people have a problem with a lyric or a vocal part, they tell me and then I’ll do my best to be accommodating. I try to stay out of Randy’s way, Randy stays out of my way. It’s a big, happy family.
When you’re adding your vocals, are the songs already done, or close to being done? Or, do you get the final song back from Randy and think, “This is not what I was expecting?” At the end of “Blue Notes,” there’s all this layered noise and I was wondering if that’s what was on the files Randy sent you to add vocals to or if he added after the fact.
JESSE: He adds all the weirdo shit. I will send him a dry vocal but I’ll send him stuff knowing he’s going to do some fuckery to it because he’ll never be like, “Oh cool, well that’s the vocal, what’s next?” He treats everything as an instrument, that’s what’s great about Randy. And he can sing his ass off. A lot of the time, I’ll do whatever harmonies or background vocals I hear and then there is stuff he hears and he’ll just do it. It’s awesome.
Besides being in a few bands, you run a record label – Other People Records. What are your goals with the label?
JESSE: I feel like (Trade Wind guitarist) Tom (Williams) and I are really creating a community around a certain type of sound or at least around a certain type of artist. I think that’s important, cultivating a community. That doesn’t mean that everyone is going to like every band we put out but I think, for the most part, people are like, “I trust these guys and their tastes.” But they still have to listen to it and be like, “Ooh, that’s awesome” and buy the record.
Is running the label as time consuming, or more time consuming, than being in a band?
JESSE: Definitely, that’s the part that feels like a full time job. But, also, you want to do right by these artists, especially with a label like the one that we have. We offer, by far, the most favorable profit splits of probably just about most labels out there because Tom and I are artists and we genuinely get fulfilment and joy out of signing checks to bands. We love that. That’s what we’re in it for, we’re in it for the band to help them cultivate a career and hopefully lift them up to a level where they can go and decide, “Now we want to take this route.”
A lot of times we call ourselves a stepping stone label, we’re completely okay with that. We’re cool with owning a band’s first album and helping that band get to a different level that they were trying to get to. It puts the pressure on you to really want to do right by these people, but that’s good, that’s how it should feel.
The bands that we have, bands like Gleemer, Modern Color, Allie, Ways Away, Trade Wind, everybody loves working with OPR because we don’t own your masters forever, we have contracts and music goes back to you after a certain amount of time, and we don’t sign anybody to a contract that is more than just one album and an option. We hand over a contract that we’d want to see ourselves. That is the ultimate goal. Let’s say we have eight bands on the label, it’s almost like being in eight other bands because we feel like we’re part of that team.
The video for “DIE! DIE! DIE!” is awesome. Where did that idea come from?
JESSE: What’s good about Trade Wind is they stay out of my lane as far as everything creative as well. I really love coming up with video ideas and artwork ideas and they just trust me to do it. It feels good to be trusted with that job because it’s an important job. I did the second half of the record with everybody, we all decided to meet up because it just wasn’t getting done on my own. It was hard for me to do it on my own because I had so much other shit going on. I needed to block out four days and just bang it out.
We got together and I was like, “Yo, we should do this video. I have this idea where basically I’m just emotionlessly going through a house killing all you guys.” And they were like, “What the fuck?” But, ultimately, the idea of the video was to show our caste system that we have here in America and how unless people come together to try to fight it, it’s just going to slowly, one by one, take us all out. That’s what it’s supposed to represent. I think it came out awesome and I was super pumped at the end result.
What does the rest of the year look like? Are you already starting to think about 2022?
JESSE: My comrade, I’m well into 2023! Granted, all those things can be planned out like they normally are because who knows how things are going to open up? There’s another Ways Away record coming at the end of this year. There’s a Stick To Your Guns record coming at the end of this year. And there’s a Wish You Were Here LP coming out in early 2022. I think everybody in the touring world is acting as if 2022 the gates are going to be open for everybody to hit the road so I’ll probably be doing that as well.
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