Britain's These New Puritans had its first taste of the U.S. in March at the South By Southwest music festival, the cacophonous meat market where 2,000 bands try to stand out from each other. Distinguishing the group wasn't difficult, though: First, frontman and guitarist-vocalist Jack Barnett performed in a chain-mail shirt, which he wears "for protection." (Keyboardist Sophie Sleigh-Johnson dressed like she just came from a job interview.) Second, of the myriad influences heard during SXSW, the likes of The Fall, PiL, and Big Black weren't terribly common. But listening to These New Puritans' heavily rhythmic, melodically sparse post-punk—full of fractured beats and melodies, and repetitious vocal fragments—the association was undeniable. The group's music, like Barnett's chain-mail outfit, is oblique by design. Beat Pyramid contains thoughtful examinations of numerology, esoteric literary references, and the sort of thudding abrasiveness that eschews hooks but remains engrossing.
Singer-guitarist Jack Barnett on why These New Puritans probably won't ever write a love song:
"Everyone's written songs about that. We like to take stuff that we're interested in and make it into something. Why not take something that's big and make it mean nothing? When people previously said that love songs are just an attempt at finding something universal that will sell to everyone, I didn't believe it. I thought it was just a cliché. Obviously I'm not talking about Stock, Aitken & Waterman—they're open about it. I mean 'authentic' artists. But anyway, love songs are amongst the best songs; I like some of them."
On whether people are dismissive of or interested by TNP's idea-heavy music:
"I think it's 50-50, actually, of people who just think it's ridiculous and rubbish, and people who think it's interesting. For us, it's more interesting to make music with stuff like that in it. I mean, it's dance music or pop music, but it's got something else, like a magic part."
On guitar music:
"I don't like guitar music; I don't listen to it, really… We're a band with guitars, not a 'guitar band.' I think it means we approach it in a slightly different way, because I don't think playing the guitar is a particularly 'cool' thing to do."
On the impact of technology on TNP's music:
"There are more ways of being a band. We want to be lots of different bands at the same time, so it helps us."
By Kyle Ryan
April 18th, 2008