Interview with David Barnett of The New Royal Family
by Aug Stone
For those in the know, The New Royal Family’s “I.W.I.S.H.I.W.A.S.GAY” was the song of 2008. I sat down with the man behind it all – Mr. David Barnett (ex-bassist for Luxembourg and The Boyfriends, author of Suede bio “Love and Poison”, and all-around International Man of Rock) at The Flask in Highgate, London to discuss.
Beverages consumed: 2 Frühli’s apiece.
Aug: Tell me about the idea behind it. As I gather these are, for the most part, songs you wrote a long time ago?
David: Really it’s a case of something that happened by accident, something that I’d kinda been planning in the back of my mind to do for a long time, in that when The New Royal Family started I was in a band called The Boyfriends that were doing quite well at the time and prior to that I had kinda given up making music because I was working in the music business which is a surefire way of destroying any sort of creativity or love for music you might have. So I’d been doing that for about 10 years and during that time I’d been in one or two bands but certainly for about five years prior to The Boyfriends I hadn’t really done anything musical at all. So The Boyfriends, whatever else one might say about them, certainly reignited my interest in actually creating rather than working behind the scenes in the world of music. So the reason that it happened was that we were offered a charity gig by Paul who now runs Maps Magazine but at the time did a thing called Joyzine and he’d been a massive supporter of The Boyfriends in their early years, he’d written one of the first reviews of us and was very complimentary and he’d put us on at various events that raised our profile. So I was really keen to do this charity gig that he was organizing because I thought ‘well, you know, he’s done us a lot of favours, it’s nice to be able to pay people back now that we were doing quite well.’ But as it turned out, our singer at the time, didn’t want to do it so I was kind of mortified and a bit embarrassed about this and I told this guy that even though we couldn’t get this band to play out, I’d do something. And my original idea was I was going to do like a solo performance and sing all songs from previous bands I’d been in including one by The Boyfriends. But I was at a party with Charley (Stone, from Gay Dad, Salad, many other bands) and I hadn’t seen her for years and I was basically saying ‘Oh, I’ve agreed to do this thing and I’m a bit scared, I don’t really know how I’m gonna do it’. And she said, “Oh well, I’ll play the guitar for you, that’ll be good fun.” And then I told Richard (Adderley) in The Boyfriends, “You know this gig we were gonna do, me and Charley are gonna do it now” and he said, “Oh, I’d like to do it, I’ll play the bass!” So suddenly we had a band, so I asked Jen (Denitto, from Scarlet’s Well, The Low Edges…), who was my girlfriend’s flatmate at the time and she plays the drums and she said, “Yes, I’d love to do it.” and then Alex from Luxembourg was in on it as well so we suddenly had this band that kind of came from nowhere and it was good cause everybody was in other bands so there was no pressure or anything, everybody had their serious band to do and it was just gonna be a one-off and it was gonna be a laugh. But because there was such a short period of time to get ready for it, I basically chose the easiest possible songs that one could do, which was all songs with two chords and the same words repeated over and over again, like “Anyone Fancy A Chocolate Digestive?”, the only reason I dug that one out was because it was so easy to do.
Aug: And it’s become a classic…
Anyone Fancy A Chocolate Digestive?
David: Yeah…if I had a plan for a band, I would never have thought that would be a sensible song to do. It’s a ridiculous idea, but you know, these things happen. Accidents are often the best way…so we did the one gig and it went pretty well. It was really well attended, it was quite nice, there were a lot of people that I quite admire like Jamie from The Vichy Government came down and James from The Low Edges was there, a lot of friends, it was good cause a lot of the people that stopped coming to see The Boyfriends (laughter) had actually come back out of the woodwork and came to see us…oh and also Marijne from Salad was there which was funny cause all the boys were really excited about her, I was quite excited as well cause she was quite nice…That was good, it was a really happy event and it was a real breath of fresh air, there was a lot of happiness and joy.
So that was the start…what was the question again? Have I gone off and completely done a…no, that’s kind of it, that was the idea, just to do something fun and simple and it just so happened that I ended up with all these people who were in really great bands that I really liked. It was quite funny cause everybody who was in the band at that point, I was a bit of a fan of. I’d seen Charley on Top Of The Pops when she was in Gay Dad and thought, “Wow, she’s really cool!” Cause she was really young then and you didn’t get many chicks in rock then and she was quite individual and was the best thing about that band by miles, obviously. And Richard had been in Jack who I quite liked. All these proper bands…and obviously I really liked Luxembourg and Jen had been in Linus, who I’d seen, although she was the bass player, when I lived in Scotland years ago, so these were all people who I was a bit of a fan of, so that’s quite nice…to end up being the frontman with all your heroes backing ya, it’s quite an interesting idea…it was a bit of a dream come true really. Could I manage to do a band of all my songs…especially having been in The Boyfriends and things, I was very much a passenger there, just kinda doing what I was told to do…It was good fun but I didn’t have much input really. And then suddenly to be able to say, “Right, you can have this supergroup and they’ll all do exactly what you tell them” (Laughter) It was good and it went really well and that’s how it all began…and all the songs that we did were all written when I was at school, really…
Aug: So who’s in it now?
David: I think Rob (Britton, from Luxembourg) wrote this great description on last.fm that says “a rolling cast of indie illuminati” and I thought that was really good, it’s basically like whoever wants to be in, can be in, but at the moment the line-up is me and Charley and Jen who’s been in from the start and Rob played on and off with us whenever Richard couldn’t do it cause Richard had a baby recently and Rob’s permanently in now and Alex left cause he’s got his new band (Jonny Cola & The A-Grades) so it’s pretty much us four. But for most of the gigs we’ve tried to get other people involved, we had Ed (Whatley) doing his rapping thing and on the new single we’ve got Martin White playing the accordion on one of the tracks and we had Eddie Argos (Art Brut) sing one of our songs and anyone who wants to be in The New Royal Family can be in them really, just ask…
Aug: Who’s doing the backing vocals on the new single, The New Royal Family Rules Okay?
David: Everybody. The main bit, we got this bit in the chorus that goes (sings) “Remember the rule that’s unspoken” that sounds like The Bangles that’s Charley doing (laughs) some American girl thing…
Aug: So what about the new songs, the ones you’ve written since you were at school, that you’re performing?
David: Well, the only one that’s new is “I.W.I.S.H.I.W.A.S.GAY” which is…it isn’t really a song…(laughs) it’s just something that me and Eddie Argos, we went to a lesbian disco that Anna (Spivack) was DJ’ing at, and it was one of those moments when you’re a bit pissed and you go, “Wow! This is much better than a straight club, isn’t it? This is much better, the music’s much better, everything’s better…Bloody hell, I wish I was gay…” You know, it was one of those silly conversations and then we just started singing “I. W. I.S.H…” We must, one day we will record this, this was about 2004 and we ended up doing it, but I don’t really count that as a proper New Royal Family song anyway…
Aug: Really? Cause my question here (laughter) is Many, myself and Mr. Alex Sarll included, have said that “I.W.I.S.H….” was the song of 2008…
David: Well, that’s very complimentary but like I say, I don’t really…it’s one of these things, isn’t it, it’s not really a song but it took on a life of its own, especially when we did it live, cause it was originally done with Alex from Baxendale and me and then Eddie just shouted on the top of it and I remember going to the studio with Alex and saying, “Right, where do we begin?” and he said, “Okay, what’s the chords?” and I said, “Well, I have no idea, it doesn’t really have any” and he went, “Okay, that’s not a problem.” (laughter) “Let’s start, just sort of shouting and we’ll work something out” so it was sort of done backwards from how you would normally do a song. Then when we got Ed Whatley to do his bit, that really brought it to life and then the last time we did it that was amazing because we got to the breakdown bit and suddenly all these people in the audience were singing “Beat me with your penis”. It was amazing, that was a really amazing moment, it was really quite sweet and that’s the great thing about this band, every surprise that comes you just think ‘How did that happen?’ It’s so unlikely and yet it’s a very happy sort of thing.
The New Royal Family Rules Okay
Aug: What’s the inspiration behind the songs? They all seem to have this big, fun idea behind each of them…
David: Well, yeah, as I say, that one’s a little bit separate from the rest but the other ones, they’re all…(thinks)…the insecurities of a teenager really. I think one of the reasons that I really like doing the songs and that they have a certain amount of power is that at the time they were written they were kind of deadly serious and I really sort of thought I was some kind of an amazing poet and now I see that they’re really quite ridiculous. But I quite like the combination of that, it’s interesting cause there’s no way now I could write a song like any of those because I’d just be too embarrassed and if I tried to do something with the same amount of intensity it would seem really pretentious or false or whatever so…there’s a real honesty and a naivety in them that’s impossible to fake, and I think that’s why they have quite a good impact and people seem to really like them. I don’t think you could really get away with that, in a way it’s a little bit like adopting an alter ego, like Ziggy Stardust or something, cause it’s me but it’s not really me, it’s me when I was 16…and I couldn’t get up and write like that now, cause I think when you’re a teenager you’ve got all your hormones going mad and you’re rebelling against the world and everything, you’ve got a whole load of emotions going on, and I don’t really have those now, I’m kind of a boring old fuddy-duddy (laughs) who couldn’t really care about anything. Ha, no, that’s not quite true but when you’re that age you really think you know everything and that you’ve got a lot to say whereas now I’d be too embarrassed to foist my terrible opinions on the rest of the world, they’re probably best kept to themselves.
Aug: The new single – The New Royal Family Rules Okay? – seems to have a very Primitives feel to it. Are you a fan?
David: I didn’t really think of it like that but…I was quite a big fan…I think The Primitives came along after that was written actually…I really did like The Primitives a lot, in fact, I stagedived to The Primitives, when I was about 19, at Strathclyde University and I got up on the stage and I started dancing about to Really Stupid which was one of my favourite songs of theirs, then I stagedived and it was the first time I’d ever done anything like that…but not the last. We gatecrashed the dressing room afterwards and met Tracy Tracy and gave her a kiss on the cheek and it was one of the greatest days of my life. But that song was written long before then. But funnily enough we did a bit of Crash at one of our gigs, we segue it into The Cornflakes Family, cause they’re quite similar. It’s probably because of the girly backing vocals and because it’s really obvious chords, I suppose it’s always gonna sound like that. But I can honestly say that wasn’t…it’s actually really ripped off from, it’s really obvious what songs it’s ripped off from but I’m not even gonna say which ones. They’re two of my favourite and I’ve stolen a song from each of them and put them together to make a new one. And I’m not gonna say which ones they are cause it’s so obvious that that would actually, if I said it, I’d get sued because they’d go, “Oh yes, so it is” (laughs).
Aug: So who are the influences behind The New Royal Family? Barring those two bands who shall remain unnamed…
David: (Laughter) Well, at that point, it was always my favourite bands, which are still my favourite bands really – the Sex Pistols, Adam & The Ants, the Smiths, the Housemartins, the Cure, people like that, lots of great bands. I really like The Beatles as well but I don’t think there was much of an influence of them on that stuff because I was a bit Grrrrrr, you know, angry and they weren’t very angry, were they?
Aug: So what’s this about playing at the Adam & The Ants convention?
David: Apparently it’s true. That last gig that we did, at Nambucca, the girl that made our video (Anyone Fancy A Chocolate Digestive?), Caroline (Richards), she is one of the people behind this thing called Ant Liberation Front, which is basically people who felt let down by the official Adam Ant fan club so they made their own. They organize these conventions that have been going on every year pretty much for about 10 years now and I’ve been at a few of them and I’ve played at a couple of them just jamming and stuff and they’ve always been really good fun. And basically Caroline brought one of her friends, who is one of the other organizers, down to the last gig that we did and she loved it and said ‘Yeah, come and play at the next one’. So I think we’re playing it, it’s in November, it’ll be great if we do, really good, mmm…
Aug: Okay, so novelty punk… (laughter)
…a hard genre to do well, and this is something that’s shown up, if not completely dismissed, in some of the reviews. Your thoughts on that?
David: Well, um, novelty punk, that’s a funny phrase, isn’t it? I thought it was such an amazing phrase that I decided that we would actually advertise ourselves as ‘Britain’s Leading Novelty Punk Group’. I suppose, in a way, Anyone Fancy A Chocolate Digestive? has been a bit of an albatross, really. I can’t believe anybody liked it. It’s hilarious. Yeah, novelty punk, great…brilliant.
Aug:So what’s the best novelty, punk or otherwise, single?
David: I think Friggin’ In The Riggin’ is a really good single, I guess you would call that ‘novelty punk’, isn’t it? Cause it’s not like a normal punk single…I think it’s amazing, I think the string arrangements on that are really, really, really good. It’s quite a sophisticated piece of…it’s a great clash…in everything, there’s this amazingly posh orchestra and then punk rock guitars and this really obscene and old…but it’s an old English traditional song, so it’s quite nice, a nice meeting of all these worlds that works really well. I think it’s amazing.
Aug: I’ve often said that there’s something about a really great pop song that’s akin to the feeling you have after you’ve kissed someone you’ve really fancied for quite a while. What do you think is inherent in all great pop music? Or any similar comparisons?
David: (Thinks for some time). Yeah, I know what you mean…hmm…I don’t know, that’s too big a question for somebody like me to answer…I think the thing is, as I say, because these were written when I was much younger, because they were written with great honesty and great passion, which are things you can’t really fake, but I wouldn’t (laughs) be able to come up with the passion or sincerity now cause I’m corrupted as an old man. My 16-year old self would probably be shooting me now (laughs) “Don’t sing anymore!” Perhaps that’s what makes a great pop record, somebody expressing themselves genuinely and unfettered by convention or embarrassment. Most great pop music is completely ridiculous, isn’t it?
And as it gets less ridiculous, it gets really uninteresting. If you take the sort of bands that you and I like, like Suede or the Manics, when they started out they were completely ridiculous and actually quite laughable but that’s what made them great. If you look at You Love Us or The Drowners, they’re hilarious and then you look at what they’re doing now and it’s like a different thing and it’s so dull now, but which one would you rather listen to or watch? But it’s the same with any band really, isn’t it? David Bowie, when he’s really dull, like when he’s a bloke, it’s Tin Machine, and when he’s a bisexual alien with an eyepatch, he’s making some of the greatest records of all time. So I think that’s a great balance, you have to have stupidity there but mean it.
Aug: So what about your other musical projects?
David: I’ve got a band with Rory who was in Pink Grease and Jeremy who was in Piranha Deathray and a girl called Renu who’s actually a percussionist who’s worked with Grace Jones and people like that, Mika, I think. And we formed a band but we haven’t agreed on a name yet, so we keep changing our name. We were Nightbeast for the first one, then we’ve been the Sex Tourists. [They finally settled on White Witches].
Aug: Favourite colour?
David: Black’s not really a colour, is it? So red.
Aug: Favourite film(s)?
David: (Thinks for a while) I really like the Bugs Bunny/Roadrunner movie. It’s really good. One of these things where it always really makes me laugh, really cheers me up. (After the interview, “The Sound Of Music” and “The Great Rock n’ Roll Swindle” were put forth as contenders)
Aug: Favourite book(s)?
David: This year I really enjoyed “The Trial” by Franz Kafka. I’d not read any of his stuff before and I thought it was great, really liked it. It’s funny that it’s supposed to be this nightmarish world because to me it seemed exactly what the world’s actually like (laughter)…really frustrating and slightly scary and sinister and yeah, a bit mad.
Aug: Beverage of choice?
David: I’ll have another Frühli please (laughs)…I like tea. I drink a lot of tea. That would be my beverage of choice.
Aug: Favourite member of ‘The Young Ones’?
David: My favourite member of ‘The Young Ones’ is definitely Rik. In fact, the biggest influence on The New Royal Family is definitely The Young Ones’, because that’s the period when I was writing those songs. But the thing is that I didn’t realize that Rik was supposed to be like this twat…I was completely unaware of this, I thought he was like the coolest guy on the planet. So he was really my hero and that’s kinda what I was striving towards. Most people would have like Morrissey or Robert Smith as their hero but mine was Rik from ‘The Young Ones’. I actually thought he was ‘The People’s Poet’, so he was a massive influence, obviously you can hear their version of Living Doll, that’s quite similar to Anyone Fancy A Chocolate Digestive?, but I actually did think that Rik was really cool and I had that funny little pigtail thing he has, and I had red pointy shoes at school, I think I might even have drawn a big anarchy sign on the back of my coat. But the thing is I still now find myself, you know how when you’re impressionable like that you sort of adopt the mannerisms of your heroes and use the same phrases as them? I did that so much and so intensely that they seeped in and they’re still in there. So I can really associate with Rik’s character, not Rik Mayall, but Rik’s character on ‘The Young Ones’, he’s kind of what I based this persona on and it still hasn’t really gone away…so I don’t know what that says about me (laughs) But that’s the key to The New Royal Family, imagine if Rik formed a band, this would be it.
Aug: What’s the perfect song?
David: I don’t think there is a perfect song, is there? It’s imperfections that make songs good anyway, isn’t it? But I’ve just heard Art Brut’s version of Catch (by The Cure) the other day and that reminded me how much I really like that song, I think that’s a great song. It’s really simple but it’s a great concept, isn’t it? It’s quite funny but it’s really sweet as well. And one of my other favourite songs, whenever anyone asks me I always say Our Lips Are Sealed by Fun Boy Three. The Go-Go’s did it as well but the Fun Boy Three version is much better, it’s amazing.
Aug: What’s the perfect album?
David: I think possibly Rubber Soul by The Beatles is the closest that anybody’s come to the perfect album. The great thing about that is there isn’t any singles on it and at that point they were on such a roll and so confident that the day that it came out they released Day Tripper and We Can Work It Out as a single as well, neither of which are on the album. That’s pretty amazing, I don’t think anybody would do that now. They had two of their best songs and they thought ‘Actually, we’re not even gonna bother putting these on the album, cause it’s so great’. So that, and I also think Never Mind The Bullocks is a great album. That’s pretty great, isn’t it? It’s only got about 3 crap songs on it and they’re still pretty good.
Aug: Last question – say you’ve just stolen a space shuttle and are flying it directly into the sun, for whatever reason, what would the soundtrack be?
David: Oh god. Probably Ride of the Valkyries by Wagner or something like that (laughs) It’d have to be something really loud and kind of stirring.
David Barnett can now be found fronting The Famous Cocks as well as playing in Keith TOTP & His Minor UK Indie Celebrity All-Star Backing Band. A New Royal Family Greatest Hits album is also in the works.
The New Royal Family’s last.fm page with free downloads.
The New Royal Family myspace page here.
The Anyone Fancy A Chocolate Digestive? single at iTunes here.
Luxembourg’s Last Holiday Before Divorce: Deleted Scenes From An Unfinished Sequel free download with David on bass.
David will be on Keith TOTP’s Fuck You, I’m Keith TOTP album out in May. Two Of The Beatles Have Died can be heard now here.
David and my Eiscafe song, Slag To Love, can be found here along with other free songs.
This interview was conducted by Mr. Aug Stone, whose own blog can be found here.