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CrashCarBurn: Stepping into the Headlights

Garth Barnes chats heavy disclaimers, picking the next single and covering Tom Petty on their new album.

6 Apr 2018 / Interview / written by Tecla Ciolfi / Pic by Andre Badenhorst

I got on the CrashCarBurn train a bit later than most, and despite having written quite a few pieces about them over the years I’d never had the chance to chat to vocalist and guitarist Garth Barnes about any of his projects, so when he finally found time to shoot the breeze with me about all things CCB and their new album “Headlights”, naturally the first question I ask him is Tweak-related.

Tecla Ciolfi: Garth! How are you my friend? I’m very glad that we’re finally getting to do this interview, it’s only been 6 years in the pipeline [Laughs]. So I suppose I should say welcome back, but I saw you the other day onstage with Tweak so, uhhh, it’s good to see you again. Speaking about Tweak – is that it now? Are you guys finished and klaar?

Garth Barnes: Texx! Firstly, I am fine, thank you very much for asking. I trust that you are also fine and so, with the formalities out of the way, let us proceed…

To answer your question on Tweak – I have no idea what the future holds for that epically-silly band. I won’t lie, it is a lot of fun jamming those tunes from my childhood with my old high school buddies, but it’s most definitely an ad-hoc thing especially given that everyone is sprinkled across the globe right now. No plans for another tour, but can’t say it won’t happen again. Most importantly, we have a new CrashCarBurn album out, so that is most definitely the focus for the foreseeable future.

TC: Fair enough, so let’s get down to CrashCarBurn business. “Headlights” has gone off down a very different musical road. Do you think it’s fair to say that this album comes with a heavy disclaimer for your fanbase that have grown to know CrashCarBurn for a specific, maybe heavier, sound?

GB: Ja well no look… I am pretty sure you can still hear the album is CCB, and there are two songs on it that I think would fit in very nicely on any of our previous albums, but the rest… yes I think there needs to be a bit of a disclaimer. The disclaimer goes like this:

Dear loyal CCB Fan, firstly, sorry it took us six years to get you a new album. Thank you for waiting so patiently! Secondly, we know the jams on this one are maybe a bit slower and there is less distortion and maybe some quieter drums, but lets face it – you would be disappointed if 6 years went by and we didn’t hit you with some new shit, yes? What is important, is that we think, despite the new sound, this is very much a CCB album and we really love these songs. We think that you will too! Enjoy!

TC: Wow, you legit gave me a disclaimer. So, for me, old-school tracks like ‘The Light’ and ‘Serenade’, are indicative of your quintessential CCB sound with that tour de force chorus. On the new album I get the same kind of anthemic feeling from tracks like ‘In the Sky’ and ‘A Beautiful Year’. Are those kinds of choruses easier to write as opposed to a more free-flowing track like ‘Nobody Wants You’?

GB: I think those big anthemic choruses are what we grew listening to and that style of writing is what comes most naturally to us. If I sit down to write a song, nine times out of ten, that’s the way it will turn out. That said, the way we approached the writing on this album was very different to previous albums, which explains a lot.

In the past, we’d all pile into the band room with a basic idea and then and flesh out the song very much by feel so, how does this feel when I play it live? What this method did was immediately eliminate any chilled or slow jams because they just weren’t “fun” to play. With this album we tried something completely different. We sat down and wrote in the studio and, instead of asking “is this fun to play”, the only question we asked was “does this sound good?” I think it’s that process that allowed songs like ‘Nobody Wants You’ and ‘Headlights’ to reach fruition.

TC: I see. So while I have ‘A Beautiful Year’ top of mind, I’m assuming that it’s about your wife, Andrea? If it is, it’s massively cute. Has she heard it yet? 
GB: Yeah there is quite a long story behind this – and it gets even more romantic. I have a buddy who wanted to give his wife the ultimate gift for their one year anniversary. He got a bunch of muso buddies together (some big names I’ll have you know, he went all out) and we all wrote songs for his wife and recorded them in one day.

Of course I wasn’t married at that stage but I had to base it on something, so I just imagined my wife (then fiancé) and what I hoped our first year of marriage would be like – by the way now that I have been married for a year, I can say I think I got it pretty close! So obviously the song has evolved since the first version, but the core is very very close to the original. No I haven’t told my wife this story because I felt like the bar for one year anniversary gifts had now been set impossibly high by my mate! [Laughs] She does know the song is about her though.

TC: That’s a way better story than I was hoping for. Now let’s talk about the first single ‘Summer Forever’. I thought it was a very smart choice because it’s got a solid pop punk vein to it and lyrically it’s instantly memorable. Something like the album title-track ‘Headlights’ is more left-field for you though, it’s almost got an ‘80s pop undercurrent to it. Did certain tracks stand out immediately as singles or do you think it’s going to take you some time to feel out what you’d like to release next?

GB: The internal struggle to select a single is one that only gets harder the longer you are in a band. You are basically a parent being asked to pick your favourite child. In the end we went with ‘Summer Forever’ because we thought it was a good stepping stone from our old albums to the new sound. If you heard that jam on the radio, someone who knows the band would be like “Oh yes, that’s CCB”, but if you heard ‘Headlights’ and the DJ back announced “That was CCB”, that same person might be “Really, CCB??”. So ja, to answer your question, we haven’t thought about what will be the next single, but maybe it’s time to take a gamble and choose the quiet child who doesn’t say much but has an IQ of 2000.

TC: Your last album was “Gravity” in 2012 and Fabian Sing was still playing guitar for you then. How did the writing and recording process change, if at all, after Jaco Brittz joined?

GB: Correcto – and can I just take a second to thank you for doing research and asking interesting questions! First time I have had to really think about the answers for an interview in a long time!

Yeah, so as I mentioned earlier, the whole writing process was turned on its head for this one, so I don’t think one can compare the process in 2012 to what we did this time around. Of course Fabian had his own distinctive style and Jaco has his. But the process is generally the same: the guitarist sits down and whittles away until he settles on something that best compliments the song.

TC: The last time I saw CCB perform at Mercury in 2016, you mashed up ‘Thunderstruck’, ‘Enter Sandman’ and ‘Livin’ On A Prayer’ which I thought was pretty ambitious, but on this album you’ve included a cover of Tom Petty’s ‘Free Fallin’ that you slowed down and that’s underpinned by a simple synth-rooted melody. Apart from it being a classic, why that specific track? 

GB: Ambitious indeed… if you butcher a Metallica fan’s favourite song, you are going to hear all about it! Hence, when we do that medley live, we generally bash it out as close to the original songs as possible to avoid any sacrilege. But that’s live, we’ve never recorded and released a cover version before, so we wanted to be sure it wasn’t just a re-issue of Tom Petty’s version, we needed to put our own spin on it and make it our own. I think we’ve managed to do that.

As to why we chose that song? When Tom Petty passed last year, we were toying with the idea of adding it to that classic rock medley you were talking about. It’s just such a classic tune. I sat down at the computer and started putting down ideas and then just got completely carried away. I was loving the super slow synth version but wasn’t sure what the rest of the band would think, so I shot them a mail with a demo asking like, “Sooo, what do you guys think of this?” Everyone responded almost immediately with a hell yes.

TC: What I really like about you dudes is that you’re constantly pushing to do something new – whether it’s a Symphonic Rocks performance with a 64-piece orchestra or a left-field cover with Kwesta – what would be your ultimate feat to achieve with CrashCarBurn?  

GB: Well, when you’ve been playing in bands for 20 years, you have to actively think of ways to keep it fresh. Not only for the fans, but also for yourself! We’ve been crazy lucky to have been involved in some unique projects, the orchestra thing was surreal, what a treat to do a song with Kwesta before he became a mega-star and we’re very grateful for all these little adventures along the way.

As for ultimate feat to achieve? I know this sounds lame, but just to keep making music, that really is enough for us. If it wasn’t we would have thrown in the towel years ago! We’ve long passed the point of wanting to take over the world and become international superstars. As long as we’re putting out music (even if it takes us six years) and playing the occasional live show, we’re very happy campers!

Follow Tecla on Twitter.

Listen to the album on Apple Music.