Rubbing Elbows with Barbudo

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Today we have the pleasure of rubbing elbows with Harry and Ben Stanworth, the sibling masterminds behind Havant’s premier nu-eyed soul band, Barbudo.

Joined by Elliot Salter, the trio have been treating the music of the 1970s like one would treat the pick-n-mix at the local Odeon (other brands of cinema are available).  Picking and choosing elements from funk, soul, disco and psychedelica as they please, Barbudo have been able to develop a unique sound that, accompanied by music videos with tongue firmly pressed to cheek, has seen them garner a lot of attention this year. Nowhere is this more evident than in their win at the inaugural 2018 Record Store Day Unsigned Competition, which will see 500 of their records pressed to vinyl.   

Following on from the success of their EP Pleasures and stand-alone single Secret Admirer, we caught up with the Stanworth Two during a period of writing and recording to talk Kelly Rowland, finding their sound, and controlling every part of the musical process.  

Egyptian Elbows: You guys seem to play London a lot, are there any gigs that come to mind that you’ve particularly enjoyed?

Harry: We’ve loved all of our single release shows, they’ve all been great. We played a really good one at The Victoria earlier this year. We supported Club Kuru at the Lexington, that was a great show.

My friend Max saw you at Servant Jazz Quarters and said you broke out some R&B covers.

Harry: [Laughs] Not exactly! We were playing one of our new songs and someone said it sounded a bit like George Michael so we kind of meshed that in, and then later on we dropped a little bit of Nelly and Kelly Rowland ‘Dilemma’ in there.

So should we expect to see more Nelly in your future sets?

Harry: No I think that’s gonna be a one-off unfortunately!

How long have you guys been playing live as Barbudo?

Harry: Not that long really -

Ben: I’d say it’s about a year with the current set-up, which is a five-piece, and then about a year again before that.

Harry: At the minute it’s Ben, our friend Elliott who plays bass, myself, and then the other guys come in and play when they can.

Like a revolving membership?

Harry: Yeah i suppose!

And did you spend a lot of time working things out before you started playing?

Ben: No it was literally a few weeks after we started writing together -

Harry: Yeah Ben had a fews songs, and I had a few songs written, so we put them together and just kind of went full steam ahead! Luckily one of our friend puts on gigs in Portsmouth so he was able to put on some gigs for us. Our first gig as ‘Barbudo’ proper was in London though.

It feels like there’s a real shift in style from your first Bandcamp EP to Pleasures and Secret Admirer. From a quite psych-based sound to being more funk and soul influenced. Did that happen naturally or was that a conscious effort?

Harry: I think it was natural. The essence of the songs, the songwriting, the melodies, that hasn’t changed at all. What we’ve changed is more how the songs are recorded and presented I think, which takes a lot of cues from funk and soul.

Ben: There’s definitely still psych-rock elements there, but there’s just other elements that have been brought in.

Harry: Psych-rock is so popular now and there’s so many people doing it, whereas we wanted to move towards a sound that was more our own - obviously not that funk and soul music is our own thing, but this definitely feels like more of a ‘Barbudo’ sound.

Was there a particular song where how you wanted it to sound really fit into place?

Harry: I’d say Realise the Reality off our last EP. We’d written a version of it together, and when Ben went to work I started messing around with it and it came out so much funkier. It was the last song we recorded for Pleasures but that’s where I think it all came together exactly how we wanted.

When I was listening to your songs I was really struck by how well-recorded they sounded, so I was impressed to see that they were recorded and mixed by yourselves. Why did you decide to do it yourself rather than go to a studio?

Harry: Well, I did sound engineering at Uni. So that’s exactly what I’ve always wanted to do really. And I think it’s way better for us to do it ourselves -

Ben: It gives you so much more control over the songs and how they end up sounding.

Harry: Yeah, and it gives us so much more time to work on it than we would have otherwise.

I suppose in a studio there’s always that time pressure.

Harry: Yeah, exactly. If you go to a studio you could be paying £500 for the day, and it’s gonna take you half the day just to set up all your equipment, so in the end you’re just rushing through it. But then again, because we’ve got all this extra time we end up obsessing over tiny details for way longer than is probably healthy!

Where do you record, do you have a rehearsal space or something?

Harry: No, it’s all done at our house.

And who plays what, when you’re recording?

Ben: We both play a bit of everything really.

Harry: Yeah, there’s no real set pattern, it’s just whoevers nearest an instrument at the time.

Even with the drums?

Harry: Yeah we both play the drums as well. For Secret Admirer I played them, I think. But for the music we’ve been recording recently we’ve had someone else come in to play the drums instead. Although we can play, it was nice to get a ‘proper’ drummer in.

And is it all recorded on to computer?

Harry: No it’s all recorded onto a reel-to-reel tape machine.

Ben: An old Tascam.

What made you use that rather than using Logic or something?

Harry: You get a much warmer sound from it, which I think sounds a lot better.

Ben: And it looks cool [both laugh].

So what have you guys got coming up? Secret Admirer’s a bit of a stand-alone at the minute, is there an EP in the works?

Ben: Yeah, so we’ve been writing and recording in our studio all year, and now we’ve got a few singles lined up for release early 2019.

Harry: After that we’re gonna be releasing an EP, so Secret Admirer will finally have a home!