The Black Seeds take the Kiwi sound overseas

The Black Seeds take the Kiwi sound overseas
Photo credit: David James

This is the first instalment of a new Newshub Q&A series where we sit down with influential Kiwis who are making their mark on the world.

The Black Seeds have dropped a new album ahead of their upcoming tour of Europe in August. 

A staple at every summer backyard BBQ, the Black Seeds are reggae band from Wellington, who are best known for their tracks 'So True' and 'Cool Me Down', and more recently 'Better Days'.

Lead vocalist Barnby Weir said the band is excited to head back overseas on tour. 

Newshub sat down with Baranby to talk about taking Kiwi sound overseas and their new album. 

Why did you choose to tour Europe and the UK?


It's been a wee while since we have been there, I think five years and really we just wanted to get back on that saddle.

We had lots of good reasons why we haven't been in previous years. With album releases and budget and those kinds of things, but we are just really pleased and excited to be getting back and hitting a few countries in Europe and the UK. It's just time to get back on the road for us and get back in there.

How is touring in Europe different to New Zealand?


We are seen as something a wee bit exotic being from New Zealand and touring there. We definitely feel the difference, there is an excitement there because we don't travel there and play there often. There is that excitement that it's unique show and that the opportunity doesn't come around a lot, so we feel that from the audience. 

What are the fans like?


The audiences are actually very similar to New Zealand audiences but they have their own understanding and appreciation of our music. It's just a slightly different perspective from where they come from and what they listen to and so being that slightly exotic band from all the way down in New Zealand creates that bit of extra excitement. 

Have you had any crazy fan experiences?


When I'm travelling in different parts of the world, I am always kind of surprised and pleased and impressed our fans, no matter what language they speak, they seem to know a lot of Black Seeds' history and lyrics and they know the songs and they often have a bunch of songs that they really identify with and that triggers memories from the years gone by. We also bump into a whole lot of Kiwis as well that have the Black Seeds in their hearts. 

We hear stories of people who've met their wives at our gig 10 years ago and are still together or people tell us they had their first baby and the song they had in the hospital was 'So True'. So there are lots of stories. 

Have you had any experiences that have surprised you while touring overseas?


It's always an adventure. We compress a lot into a small amount of time. There are lots of different challenges. Sometimes the schedule is really crazy and you only just make the bus or plane. 

One time we caught a taxi to the wrong airport and it cost a lot and we were running late, that was in Edinburgh, but we made the show - we always make the show.

One of my silly stories was after a gig in Leeds, this is probably in 2005, we had a massive night there, drinking a bit too much. The plan was for the car with all the gear to go to Ireland on the boat and for the band to fly. But I had left my passport in the car that was going on the boat. So we were driving to John Lennon Airport and I realised I didn't have my passport, so the guys managed to find a motorbike courier at a post office, they paid him $50 and he zoomed my passport last minute to the airport where I was waiting and I caught the next flight and the show all happened. When Tim, our base player, was trying to find a courier, this guy walked in said, "are you guys Kiwi? I will take the passport to you" and then took it to the airport where I was waiting. 

Do you benefit from Kiwis having a good reputation overseas? 


Yeah I think there is definitely a bit of that. I think we are generally quite sincere people, fairly honest, and if they can help us out they will because they know that we would do the same.


What's the secret to a successful tour?


Maintaining energy and keeping focus on the job which is performing the best shows that we can every night. 

After about 11 in a row you do start to feel it, and there are a lot of things to complain about when you're uncomfortable and tired and all those things, but really we are so lucky and it's such an hour to be able to play our music over there so you just have to focus on that and really focus on the energy that is needed for the gig and try to be at your best. 

Also eating well and sleeping whenever you can and not letting the little things bug you. We all have different personalities, we all get grumpy at some point and it's important to be able to let it go, unless it needs to be sorted out. You just have to power on.

What's your favourite city to perform? 


I've got a couple. I really like playing in Berlin because we have some good support there and we love the people there and they have been really generous with the Black Seeds. The city is amazing, arty, diverse, history-rich and it feels like a really free city. It's different to anywhere in Germany so we do have a bit of history there. 

I really love playing Amsterdam, we aren't playing Amsterdam but we are going to the Netherlands and we are playing nearby. 

Obviously London, Electric Ballroom is a cool, medium-sized venue and a lot of Kiwis come, a lot of Brits too, and that always feels great to play. It just reminds us that we are far away from home and that people do love our music there. 

Somewhere we haven't played before that we are playing is Boom Town at this massive festival in Winchester and so I am looking forward to that really new school, loose, dress up kind of wild party. 

What has helped the band stand the test of time?

We have stuck to our guns in terms of our own sound and what we produce and who we are, our creative and musical integrity is totally intact. 

Sometimes you can't do everything in a year and you just have to keep focused on the tunes and keep enjoying the production side, which takes a long time, and really enjoy the gigs and always have a good live show and always respect your audience.

Sticking to your guns is really important as a band.

How has your music changed over the years?


I think we have come better at producing music and better at playing music. I think that we are experimenting with new slightly futuristic sounds, we say future retro because we are ultimately a fairly retro-sounding band. But in our new stuff you can hear that there is definitely a modern sense of reggae dub sounds. 

We are always exploring that in different ways. 

What does it feel like to be played at every Kiwi backyard BBQ?


We love that. Music is part of your being, it's part of your memories and part of what makes you remember emotions and so to be in that basket is really cool. 

It's not like 'aww you're the funeral band or you're the band on the shitty day when I'm depressed that I like listening to', which would be fine as well. 

I think our music has many layers to it but I think what people have told us is that our music is great in summer when they're on holiday and having a good time and it's on in the background for the BBQ and that's totally sweet. 

We could be like 'we are not a BBQ reggae band' but we are and that's totally fine.

I think there is a distinction between a light reggae band, which we are not, and a meaningful more heavy band, which I think we are. But to be matched with those great memories in people's lives is a real honour. So we are happy with that.

Has one of your songs ever come on at an event you're at?


In the supermarket when you're doing the groceries it comes on and we give ourselves a little pat on the back. 

How does it feel?


It does feel good, when I was a little bit younger I would think they were just playing it because I was there but often they are not. 

Often the people in the cafe or whatever are just playing it because they love it, so it shows that it can pop up anywhere.

There are some summers in Wellington where it's on outside a lot of bars and it does feel good because people are listening to it and that's what we want, so there's almost nowhere where we wouldn't want to hear it. 

Tell me a bit about your new album?


It's called Refabricated and it is four brand new tracks that are totally new and haven't been released before, which is cool.

Then there are two remixes from Fabric. The remised are by Bolt 42 and  DJ Mu from Fat Freddy's drop. And we have an English MC on one of our tracks and Israel Starr, who is a Kiwi, on another. 

Why did you decide to include remixes?


We wanted to release something that we thought was worthy and we wanted new tracks, but also a couple of versions and a couple of other people's takes while the timing was still fairly fresh.