With a big brother* who is arguably one of the most recognisable songwriters of the decade, Ten Tonnes has some seriously big shoes to fill. Fortunately for Ethan Barnett he’s yet to let familial fame overshadow his passion, instead using it as a tool to craft his distinctive blend of indie and 50s rock n roll.
Setting himself apart from the hordes of banal, twee haircuts and monotone nu-folkies, we took him aside for a chat about family collaborations, Elvis Costello, recording with The Maccabees and going 70s.
Where did ‘Ten Tonnes’ come from?
Well, I don’t really have a cool story. It’s just from playing a lot of open mic nights with lots of other singer-songwriters. I came up with it so as not to be like everyone else because names are just names aren’t they? I wanted to make it sound a bit different – I always wanted to be in a band but none of my mates really liked music. But yeah, I just came up with it in the pub.
I’m slightly disappointed you don’t weigh ten tonnes…. That is what I initially thought before I saw you.
I am pre-emptively giving myself a bit of leeway so people can say “he did give us some warning”.
Amazing. I think the first time I heard one of your tracks was “Stop” on Burberry Acoustic. That has quite a 50s country blues feel, as your sound continues to develop, do you think those influences are still going to come through?
It’s quite interesting because you develop without realising it. I think those influences are less in the songs that I write now but I love all that stuff and I still think it comes through a little bit in the lyrics. With that stuff, I think it is so difficult to not sound really shit when, writing those sorts of songs. It still is part of the music I make but it is definitely less so.
So what are your predominant stylistic influences?
I listen to a lot of Elvis Costello and 70s and 80s indie. I’ve always listened to a lot of The Smiths and then rock n roll stuff like Eddie Cochran which is all still there.
Are there certain experiences that you take most of your lyrical ideas from, or do they just come to you?
Not really, it just comes out of the blue. I really like solid, good songwriting which can be hard to do. The Beatles are the gold standard and I just want to write good, solid tunes like that.
It’s interesting that you say that because it seems as your popularity grows your music has become a lot more pop focused. Would you agree with that?
I think most acts do. I’m definitely not going to come out with some sub-bass album. I really enjoy playing the four minute song in A minor but they all love it when I play two minutes in E because it’s a banger. I think you start to look at it from an audience perspective a little bit more. Most acts are starting a little more on the left then get given opportunities to not have to record songs in their bedroom.
“Lucy” is your big song and in some ways catalysed your movement to larger audiences. Can you tell me a little bit about your mindset when you were writing it?
Well, it’s a song I still love loads and I think we are going to re-release it, get it reproduced and mixed properly; it is still my favorite tune. I wrote it in my first year at uni and I dropped out soon after. I spent most of those days asleep and then went out so I just wrote it around that. It started out as some proper shit tune – sometimes I can be on the same song for a couple of months and then go back to it – so I kept going back to it to make it better and better until I eventually wrote it how it sounds now.
I’m sure you get this all the time but what was it like growing up in a household so rich in music and musical talent, did that energy inspire you to start playing?
Both my parents are teachers so they have always been really good at letting us explore different avenues and basically being able to do what we wanted. My dad always had a couple of guitars lying around the house and we always had music on. It was kind of like a background thing for me and I didn’t really take notice of it until I was 11 when George started learning bass and I started learning drums. After that, I realised playing drums by myself every day was quite boring so that’s when I decided to pick up the guitar. I always felt like mine and George’s musical things were quite separate from one another, it was never like “oh I’ve written a song let’s hear it” it was more about the house. There was one point in time where I was learning drums, George was learning guitar and Dad was playing guitar as well and my sister said: “It’s the closest thing to hell I’ve ever seen”.
Any plans for a familial collaboration?
I don’t know, possibly. I think it is a cool thing to think about. Ten Tonnes could be a thing that just lasts a little while and then could maybe do something else, make a new band or whatever. Potentially, we will see how it goes.
You worked with Hugo White of The Maccabees on “Born To Lose” right? How was it working with him?
It was really really good – I have always been a big Maccabees fan, my sister was, and for a time all the music we used to listen to fed down from her. I’m back in with him next week actually, we are doing some more recording. Stuff like that is the coolest bit of it all, getting to work with musicians that you really admire.
As a lot of these indie bands are throwing in the towel, do you think your music could fill their void?
I don’t think you ever could is the correct answer to that I think. I’ve never seen myself as an indie band even though I do make music which is quite similar. There are a lot of songs I have been writing recently which are nothing do with that at all, and sound nothing like it either. There’s a 70s vibe going on. It’s cool to switch between genres.
I was at your Sebright Arms and you seemed to become an entirely different person the minute you started playing the guitar. Tell me about that.
I fucking love being on stage. There is this quote from Keith Richards and he says “It’s your stage, piss all over it, be a dog and mark your territory”. Obviously, I’m not going to go to that extent. I used to be quite shy on stage but now I’ve just realised more and more if you have a good time hopefully other people will do too.
So finally, what’s next for Ten Tonnes?
So, doing some more recording with Hugo for a couple of weeks; there are going to be a couple more tracks this year in October and November. Playing Reading and Leeds, Boardmasters, Festival No.6, and got to record an album at some point.