After attracting music industry attention with his self-released 'Lucy' EP last year, Ethan Barnett, aka Ten Tonnes, signed to major label Warner Bros Records in August, going on to further showcase his solo songwriting talents with this year’s 'Born To Lose' EP (produced by The Maccabees' Hugo White), and new single, 'Cracks Between'.
Having since worked with The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach on four as yet unreleased songs, the future is looking bright for the Hertford-native who is ready and raring to go - "All that matters now is getting out there and delivering the goods. To me, I’m already living the dream. The last year has been mental, so I’m like all guns blazing; you know, ‘Let’s smash it.’ I’ve got one stab at this. It's time to do it."
Coup De Main caught up with Barnett in London recently to discuss his 'Born To Lose' EP, collaborators, and what’s in-store for him next...
...there is that saying of don’t meet your heroes. So I don’t know whether people I would like to meet and write with would end up making me not like the music?
COUP DE MAIN: You’ve been playing a lot of shows lately, how has that been going?
TEN TONNES - ETHAN BARNETT: Really good, thank you! I’ve done a lot of city festivals, Dot To Dot and The Great Escape, did Bushstock this Saturday, so lots of like the big cities in England - kind of just hitting those up for the city festivals. But yeah it’s been really good, I’ve done a lot of solo stuff as well, because we’ve got a band now but they’re still kind of fresh, so we’ve not used them loads yet. We’ve got a gig next Tuesday which is my first headline, so that’ll be with my band. Then hopefully after Summer we’ll stop doing solo ones and it’ll just be all band gigs.
CDM: Do you prefer playing with a band?
ETHAN: I’ve always played alone so I don’t mind that at all, but it’s so much more of a shared experience when there is more people on stage. You can come off-stage and be like, ‘We did a really good job,’ instead of just like, ‘Oh that was good.’ So I definitely prefer it. We can play the songs as they sound on the record, so it always sounds a bit better I think. The further it goes on, the less and less I can do solo shows or people will be like, ‘Oh this sounds a bit… compared to the record.’ So it’s good to do them with a band.
CDM: Do you have much touring planned for the rest of the year?
ETHAN: Not at the moment, but we have an ongoing discussion of getting a couple tours in for October around Autumn time. We’re releasing a couple more singles before the end of the year, so…
CDM: From the album?
ETHAN: Not sure yet. We’re just releasing them as songs and seeing how they do. If they do well then they will be on the album. If not, then nope. That’s kind of the plan.
CDM: Recently you’ve been running these competitions where you are giving away free t-shirts to your fans. Why did you feel that was an important thing to do?
ETHAN: Just to give a bit back to all the lovely people that support my music. It’s just a great way to get more people involved in it really, and get people more engaged with the music. The EP was only released on vinyl, which I understand a lot of people don’t have record players, so it’s a nice way to get people engaged in the music and as I said, just to say thank you to everyone that has been really good. We’re doing another one in like a week, so there will be more t-shirts out, we’re gonna keep doing it.
CDM: What was it about ‘Born To Lose’ that made you want to title your new EP after it?
ETHAN: It just always felt like the title-track of the EP. It felt the most fully formed and the most representative of what my sound is and what we’re trying to do. It was the song that was most representative of what the future will hold and what the songs sound like.
MY FAVOURITE SONG ON THE ‘BORN TO LOSE’ EP IS…
CDM: 'Love Me To Death' is such a bittersweet song, it’s romantic but also really sad. Do you think that realistic love is difficult in real-life?
ETHAN: Well I’ve only had a few brief encounters with love, but they’ve always been a bit weird. When we were writing it, it kind of felt like, do you know that song, 'Fairytale Of New York' [by The Pogues]? It’s a bit of a British classic, but it’s kind of like, two people hate each other but they also love each other. It is kind of that, you’re stuck in no-man’s land, but it’s also great, and it’s also kind of shit. I wrote it with a guy called Simon [Aldred], it was one of the first co-writes I’ve ever done because most songs are written just by myself, so we kind of just wanted to write one of those bittersweet songs.
CDM: Are the other songs you wrote on the EP the songs you wrote with Dan Auerbach? Or are they new songs?
ETHAN: No, 'Born To Lose' and 'Silver Heat' I wrote by myself, and the other one I wrote with Simon. The ones with Dan are yet to be released, but they are very good.
CDM: What was it like writing with Dan?
ETHAN: Fucking amazing. I’m such a Black Keys fan. So when I found out, I just rang my best friend straight away and we just screamed down the phone at each other for about five minutes. It was the first thing to happen that was kind of like, ‘This is really surreal.’ Those people to me seem so untouchable and just legends - modern legends of songwriting. It was an absolute pleasure. We wrote four songs in two days, and we started at 10am both days and were done by 2pm. His work rate is just insane, it’s so quick. I’m usually quicker, but when I’ve been writing with other people it can be a bit slow, which is why I don’t really prefer it because I find it can kind of ruin the initial spark of, ‘What’s good? Let’s go let’s go let’s go.’ Dan was really good at kind of having the same idea of, ‘Let’s go. What’s good? No, that’s not good, let’s keep going.’
CDM: And it’s a good bonus if you meet one of your heroes and they’re nice.
ETHAN: <laughs> Exactly. Absolute legend.
CDM: Who else would you like to write with?
ETHAN: Good question. I’ve been having this conversation a bit with the label and stuff at the moment. The thing is, there is that saying of don’t meet your heroes. So I don’t know whether people I would like to meet and write with would end up making me not like the music? So I’d love to write with Elvis Costello or someone like that, but I’m not sure whether-- I’m sure he’s a lovely bloke, but there might be people that might sour your view on them. A lot of the people I write with are just songwriters as their job, so they’re good to work with because there’s less of you getting involved.
CDM: What was running through your mind while writing 'Silver Heat'?
ETHAN: I was doing a day with a producer where you produce one of the songs up into a demo, it’s called ‘Balancing Act’, which should be out-- possibly as one of the [upcoming] singles, or it will be on the album. So I was waiting for him, and the verses are kind of just what I was doing when I was waiting, I was watching my reflection in the window screen. <laughs> I kind of started getting a bit nostalgic and thinking about when I was sixteen or whatever. It came really quickly, it was really enjoyable to write, it felt really cathartic to write and just fun to write. I always wanted it to be quite a fun, no-holds-barred song.
CDM: What was it like working with Hugo White (from The Maccabees) on the EP?
ETHAN: Again, The Maccabees are a band I grew up on. My sister used to listen to them, so that meant my brother listened to them, which meant I listened to them. They’re really really big, and they’ve just split up. They’re the indie band of indie bands in the UK, they’re such a national treasure. They’re just such a homegrown-- everyone is absolutely in love with them, and rightly so. Hugo produced their last few records as well, he’s an amazing producer as well as an amazing guitarist, it’s such an honour to work with him. He’s going to hopefully do my album as well. Because they’re splitting up they’ve got a bunch of farewell shows, but they haven’t played together for like a year so they’re doing a lot of warm-up shows. So at the moment Hugo is not available to produce with, but as soon as he is done with those shows we will be back on it.
CDM: Have you found that you’ve learned more from Hugo being in the studio with him than you did studying music production at university?
ETHAN: Definitely. I did two years of A Level, so I just went to university and they didn’t teach me anything new, so it’s cool to see it in practice which I never really saw. It’s good as well, the small amount of knowledge I do have, helps a lot with conversations like, ‘Can you change the EQ on that?’ It helps that I have a brief understanding of what they're on about.
THE THEME-SONG OF MY LIFE IS...
CDM: Do you still play drums at all? Because you started off playing drums right?
ETHAN: I did, yeah. I still do a bit. When we are rehearsing I get on the drum kit and realise there is a reason I don’t play drums anymore. I’m pretty bad. Drums are so boring to play by yourself, it’s usually like two chords, you can play every song basically but you just have to imagine the song in your head when you’re playing drums so it’s a bit harder. I think it’s helped to have a sense of rhythm somewhere, like when we’re recording I can picture what the drums are doing, but I can’t play it.
CDM: You’ve just released a trilogy of music videos for the 'Born To Lose' EP featuring you performing in different places. Do any of those random locations have any special significance for you?
ETHAN: Not massively. I actually love bowling, so that much is true. It was either the route of having a girl in the video and acting like you’re in love... and I was like, ‘I’m not an actor for a reason.’ I’m a musician, I don’t really know how to do that, I was much more happy doing a performance-based video. They are all performance-based. Instead of having a clear storyline to them, they’re all just like tonally-- the kitchen is all frantic and whatever, because I didn’t want to have a video where I’m singing to a girl that I don’t know or whatever.
CDM: So you’ve said that your album is coming out next year, how much have you written so far?
ETHAN: I’ve written a lot of it so far, because as I say, I write mostly by myself so I’ve got about thirty songs already, and some of which are absolutely god awful. Obviously all thirty aren’t going to go on it, so I feel very comfortable in the place that we’re at. The main focus is that people actually listen to it when I put it out. Just trying to grow... The next singles are just going to hopefully keep growing the amount of people that listen, and hopefully that means when I put the record out people actually engage with it and whatever. I’m super, super excited about the album. Albums for me are what I buy and what I’m bought up on, it’s very much singles at the moment which are the most important, but I’m still a very much album-centric guy so I’m very excited to have my own album on vinyl.
IF I HAD A DAY OFF IN NEW ZEALAND, I WOULD GO TO…
Ten Tonnes’ latest EP 'Born To Lose' is out now - click here to purchase.
Watch Ten Tonnes’ music video for 'Love Me To Death' below...