- Words Sophia Hill
Barny Fletcher sits down to break down his philosophy on life, and the makings of his latest mixtape, 'JETPACK', a whimsical whirlpool of catchy tunes and freewheeling flows.
As we speak through our screens, dusk is settling in over London and Somerset-born artist Barny Fletcher looks down at his phone with a beaming smile stretched across his face. This grin speaks volumes to Barny’s character. He feels glued together by an untenable energy, something that reaches all aspects of his life it seems; whether that is his considered live performances or his hands-on approach to making music (budget or no budget).
Barny is in the middle of a photoshoot that day, and as he paces to and fro in amongst the towering skyscapers of the city centre you get a sense that his current lifestyle is round-the-clock busy. When I ask him about his weekend he divulges the hectic details, split between a booze-heavy launch party for his latest project to a Sunday spent in his hometown, helping his grandmother move house.
The 24-year-old’s latest mixtape, ‘JETPACK’, was largely created during the pandemic and although the songs may not reflect just one chapter of his life, they are knotted together by his candid vocals. Fletcher has the propensity to create a centre of gravity for his patchwork of sounds and influences, as his playful triplet flows can breezily veer off into swaggering melodies – layered over bouncing instrumentals.
With influences like comedy group Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band and Tyler, the Creator, it’s no surprise that Fletcher’s creative mind is chock-full of ideas. To get a sense of what this might look like: imagine a cartoon setting filled with goofy, well-dressed musical characters. He is a firm believer in having a formula-free approach to his career, and rightly so with such a rich imagination – why box things up?
It’s not just music he has a flair for, his college days were spent forging his understanding of the fashion world. After completing his studies, his only real interest in furthering his education was to explore couture but decided he was better off following the footsteps of his idols, like Rat Boy, who made a name for himself in music before setting out to create his brand Scum. In 2017 he decided to start downloading beats off YouTube and trying his hand at writing his now-trademark flirty, illogical lyricism.
Last week, his lead single “Intergirlactic”, which comes with an ornately edited visual, was selected as part of the first BBC 1xtra x BBC Introducing LIVE collaboration at Maida Vale Studios.
What do you want listeners to take away from this mixtape that they might’ve not known about you before?
Good question. Honestly, with an album, I’d want a full-on, running theme for it. But with these mixtapes, especially this one, because it was done over COVID and was so disjointed over that whole period of time – they are just songs I really liked. I think the thing which ties all the songs together is probably my voice and the way I write. But I don’t believe there’s an underlying message I’m trying to hit home to people… people can take whatever they want away from each song. Really, it’s just a bunch of music I enjoyed making, something I was very proud of and I wanted the world to be able to hear this. The takeaway will be unique to each person. But maybe that’s the beauty of it as well.
You swerve between rapping to melody, which is incredibly impressive, I think I even heard a skit sampled in the intro track of your new project which alludes to this. How did you approach the vocal production on ‘JETPACK’?
I’m a very visual person. So even when it’s little voices and bits, like that skit you mentioned within the project, it’s all quite cartoony. I see all these little characters and stuff. So when it comes to recording I do like to kind of manipulate my voice because it can provide a good texture and make the listening experience more exciting or interesting. I also grew up listening to this band, which, looking back I realised did quite a lot of that – they were called the Bonzo Dog band and they were like a comedy band in a sense; with a lot of characters. The songs and melodies were really good. I enjoy doing a bit of everything, I’m very much melody driven so this tape is a balance of all of that, it’s leaning on the rap side but I enjoy doing all of it.
I can imagine it really furthers the intrigue in the music, like Gorillaz and their animated characters. The music video for ‘Intergirlactic’ is really fascinating as well. Were there any particular references or inspirations that went into the making of this?
Nick had the initial idea and I really loved it, so we sat down and thought about how we could create this little story. Obviously, we were restricted by budget as well so I had to tell him, it can’t be a big crew and crazy sets or anything like that. So we worked within our boundaries while trying to make it as interesting as possible. It’s a little vague but at the end of the video you find out the girl has been controlling me at this arcade the whole time. I had this idea that I should get a bunch of my friends in the arcade, put them all in suits and make it feel like an office. So the whole process was a lot of back and forth, and we even winged it a little bit on the day, there were parts which were completely unrehearsed. In one day we shot everything within 12 hours. On the tube scenes, there were lots of variables we couldn’t control because obviously, we couldn’t rent out a whole carriage, you probably need some sort of licence. So it was a matter of just waiting for an empty carriage and hoping no one would come on. We were in there with strobe lights and two bubble machines, so it was a bit crazy. But a fun experience.
That’s awesome. A lot of DIY stuff. I also noticed you give out a lot of energy in your performances and videos. Some people really find their confidence on stage and some people struggle with it. What does performing your songs live in front of an audience do in terms of how you feel towards your music?
For me, the live show is the big reward at the end of everything. Being able to play live, that’s the most fun I have because the live show is so good. I’m so proud of the live show that I’ve put together. It sounds just like it does on the tape, there’s singing and rapping, everything. I’ve been to so many rap performances before where these artists are rapping over their own vocals or singing over their own vocals and I’m just left thinking, damn, I could make this way more interesting. I see the performances as my chance to prove to people who I am. When you’re on the road performing it really feels like you’re some kind of preacher going from town to town, trying to make people into believers. And when I’m writing songs in the studio or wherever, I will always think of how the song will come across in a live context. There’s one of the tracks on the mixtape called “Breakfast At Isabel’s”, which is the last track on the tape, but as soon as I had the intro for it I realised it would be perfect to open the show with. The live element is always at the forefront of my mind when it comes to creating music.
It’s like you’re bringing those characters you create in your mind to life…
Definitely, and as the budget goes up we can have more fun with it too.
For some, growing up in the countryside or small towns can be a reason to move to the city as soon as possible and make a name for themselves. Did your upbringing in Somerset influence the way you approached your career?
I don’t know if it influenced things because moving to London was always on the cards. I don’t think I ever resented growing up in an area like Somerset. Culturally there wasn’t much going on, it’s not very diverse. But at the same time, it is a beautiful part of the world and I’ve started to appreciate it even more as I get older, but I was never in a rush to get out, I just always knew I would move on. But I’ve got a lot of love for Somerset and it’s a great comfort to come back and nothing has changed. But when I was growing up, a lot of things I was into like Odd Future, were just a world away. And now, if I’m in a studio in LA or something, I really start to think about how this is the polar opposite of anything I could’ve imagined in Somerset.
In an interview a few years ago you said “I just want to take the music as far as it can possibly go and enjoy the journey. There’s no right way of doing this. No formula.” Do you still agree with this statement three years down the line?
I do. There’s no real formula to it, but there are things you can add to the formula to help in this day and age. Something like TikTok. If you can add that to the formula, then it will help… Not that it will guarantee anything because there are millions of people doing it. But platforms like that are levelling the playing field a bit. There are some kids who have millions pumped into their projects by major labels and they’re getting less traction online than kids who are in their bedrooms just writing cool songs. I could go to a party this weekend and meet someone who will become a great connection down the line, it’s all about making connections too. So it’s hard to say that there’s a formula and I still agree with that statement.
And you chose not to go to uni and essentially jumped straight into a musical career in 2019?
I really didn’t want to, but for me the whole point of uni was to be taught something I didn’t know anything about but seriously interested me, especially paying £9000 plus a year. So I applied to do fashion at Westminster and a few other places but they told me I had to do an extra couple of years in BTEC Fabric and at that point, I just didn’t want to go back into the education system like that. I had lots of friends who went to uni so I didn’t fully miss out on the uni lifestyle either.
There is this ideology that we have to go straight into uni and that’s the only way we’re going to succeed but it’s not at all the case…
Absolutely! I think, especially with things that are subjective like art and fashion, there are technical elements to them. So receiving a grade from a single teacher’s perspective for your art seems wrong. But art is so subjective and in that sense, I wouldn’t think it’s worth going to university. I mean, if you want to be a lawyer or a doctor, of course, that makes sense.
You said you were going to go into fashion after college… Is that something you still keep an ear to the ground with?
I absolutely want to do something in fashion eventually. But right now I need to focus my energy on the music. When that blows up and there’s a bit more money behind things… That’s when I will want to do some stuff with clothing. If I’m making clothes I want to do it really well, not just print graphic tees for merch or something. Otherwise, you’re just another t-shirt brand which prints their logo onto something. Merch T-shirts and stuff are things you just buy and then wear to bed, no one actually really wears that shit. But if you make a brand and have that as your merch… like what Odd Future or Rat Boy does – he started a brand called Scum – which is completely separate. So I want to wait until I can do it properly and have a standalone brand which has its own legs.
Do you think creating in your bedroom, where you might feel a bit more comfortable, versus the studio produces a different sound?
Yeah, definitely. I always think even to this day, even if I’m making music in the studio I can always produce lyrics and structure the song in the studio and get three or four song ideas and a bit for the hook or something. But when it comes to writing verses I always prefer to do things in my own time and get into the zone with it. When I’m in the studio I’d rather not have loads of back and forth and waste the producer’s or instrumentalist’s time, so we focus on the music side in the studio. And I’ll often jump from the first verse to the second verse and then back to the chorus, which you can’t really do in the studio unless you’re sitting in front of the computer. So when you’ve got two producers there and then a really sick instrumentalist, I don’t want to waste anyone’s time, so I find it better to get the verses in at home.