Kate Preece catches up with songwriter and vocalist Barnaby Weir.
When Avenues talks to Black Seeds lead singer Barnaby Weir, he has a lot on his mind. He is preparing for 10 weeks on the road, as the Wellington-based group tours North America, Europe, New Zealand and Australia to celebrate its eighth album, Dust And Dirt. It's an impressive schedule, with shows in New York, Paris, Munich and more, as the band criss-crosses continents and cultures.
Barnaby is looking forward to revisiting venues such as London's Electric Ballroom, and is unfazed by performing to audiences for whom English is not their first language.
"The audiences are very much the same in terms of how they react to the music. Music, as we know, crosses boundaries and it certainly crosses that language barrier," he says.
The tour will bring the eight members of the Black Seeds to Christchurch on May 26 to perform at The Bedford's marquee on Moorhouse Ave and Barnaby is expecting the Christchurch crowd to be its typical responsive self.
"They've got a bit of a rep for being quite vocal, which I like. [They] like being very loud and interactive with the band. Always have been; every Christchurch gig. You guys scream, you know?"
With the latest album, The Black Seeds are shaking off their "barbecue-reggae" roots, a sound that triggered memories of a Kiwi summer. While the men are proud of this early link, "we're good all year round", Barnaby says. Dust And Dirt's gritty, retro and "not-too-clean" sound is expected to show the band's development. The album's first track, Out Of Light, is devoid of that once-characteristic reggae rhythm.
"If you're a fan of the old Black Seeds stuff, it's quite different to that. It's not your clean, poppy, reggae, like So True, as much, but there are songs that are just as good on there, if not better."
Song Pippy Pip, also on Dust And Dirt, offered fans a rare opportunity to become part of The Black Seeds' history. By following instructions on a YouTube video, budding musicians were able to send in their own vocal samples. Most of the 90-odd entries can be heard, in some form, at the end of the track.
Barnaby is just as pleased with Pippy Pip's video, which features children instead of the band - something he definitely prefers. "You date so quickly, so you look at yourselves five years ago and you go 'oh, s...'."
As one of the key writers for The Black Seeds, Barnaby says the band's songs address all sorts of issues, from imperialism (Settle Down) to love (Love Me Now), and most of the content relates to personal experience in some way.
"The Bend is about someone who uses substance abuse to get through life and finds that exciting, and I've been that person at some point and you kind of work on that."
While people might assume musicians lead unstructured lives, with spurts of creativity leading to all-nighters and unhealthy lifestyles, these musos take their work very seriously. "You've got to be quite organised. What's coming in this week, this month? What gigs have we got? What's the focus? You get used to the non-regular income and you've just got to make it work."
The band works a very civilised, and flexible, 10am-to-6pm day, and neighbours of its Wellington studio have no need to call noise control.
The Black Seeds' crew play in other bands as well, with one of Barnaby's most significant projects being Fly My Pretties. The Fly My Pretties collaboration brings together some of New Zealand's finest musicians to record live albums, a concept developed by Barnaby in 2004.
When he is not absorbed in notes and lyrics, Barnaby loves travelling, especially through South-East Asia. The Blacks Seeds might tour the world, but the musicians hardly get a feel for the cities they visit. "You go to a place, you have your own party, and then you leave, so it's really quite selfish."
Visual arts and Texas hold'em poker are two of Barnaby's other interests, but he's had to curb two more - drinking and smoking - after a health scare. Barnaby wasn't able to play at the band's last gig in Christchurch, at The Great Kiwi Beer Festival in February, as he was in hospital addressing "a heart situation".
"It was sad for me, but actually it was fine. Better to be healthy and in the right hands," he says. It was the first Black Seeds show he had missed in the band's 14-year history.
For the first five years, musician/comedian Bret McKenzie was a band member, too. Bret played keyboard for The Black Seeds, while also working on Flight Of The Conchords.
Despite the Grammy and Academy awards on his mantelpiece, Bret hasn't changed much, Barnaby says. "We're pretty proud of him. We like his work and, when we can catch up, we do. Yeah, he's the man."
With another video to be released this month and no break between the New Zealand and Australia shows, The Black Seeds "keep on pushing", but that's the way Barnaby likes it. It was always his dream to make a living from music, and now, he can't imagine life without it.