"On Track" with Barney Kenny
"Wistmans Wood" was written by Barney Kenny and appeared on his band; The Dustbowl Children's debut EP "English Skies" in 2014. Barney is a self taught multi instrumentalist but has gravitated towards the Weissenborn as his main song writing aid. His rootsy, blues, folky style is a real ear pleaser when his band put on a show. Live they have an undeniable raw edge to their electrified sound, Barney especially is totally captivating chugging out hard hitting wah-wah infused riffs. But to me it's when you strip all this showmanship and wall of sound down to its bare bones that Barney's delicate, sensitive songwriting skills really shine. No more so than on the track "Wistmans Wood" which given the solo acoustic treatment on the Weissenborn takes on a totally different vibe. The story really shines, the naked vocals and raw emotive playing make it for me a stand out track from Barney and the band. So I recently caught up with this young, creative, and talented singer/song writer to talk about this great song amongst other things.
It's great to talk to you Barney. First up give us a mini bio about your self. You've packed an awful lot into your 21 years already in the music industry. Tell us a bit about yourself and how your band 'The Dustbowl Children' were originally formed. Also how did you ended up playing the Weissenborn in the band as apposed to normal guitar say?
Hi Aron, nice to finally talk to you! Ok, so The Dustbowl Children originally formed as a backing group for my solo project, which is a lot folkier and more traditional in its sound as opposed to what TDC now produce. It came to a point fairly quickly that we realised we could do something a bit different with our sound crossing neatly between trad-folk and folk-pop/rock, which was where we were musically in the early days. We were already playing tracks like ‘Jonny’ and ‘Clodagh’, ‘Wistmans Wood’ and ‘To Be An Englishman’ under my name so we already had the basis for an EP ready to go, plus a few covers here and there. So after a few gigs I made the call to change the name of the band and exclude my name from the title. So ‘Barney Kenny and The Dustbowl Children’ became a thing of the past.
When it comes to the weissenborn, I have been into slide guitar since I was a kid. I guess it comes from being a bluesman from the off! That will always be my go-to with guitar; the blues. I’ve been playing rock n roll and blues since I was 13, growing up listening to the likes of SRV, Joe Bonamassa, Clapton, the Stones, Derek Trucks, Robert Randolph, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee. The list goes on. But slide guitar is of course a pre-set of a lot of blues and rock music. Even on tracks like ‘Rocket Queen’ by Guns N Roses (one of my all-time favourite bands) where the slide guitar solo is just bang on and to me, the tone is just epic. So to now be able to put my own stamp on the instrument by combining my hard rock/blues roots and also my love of folk is a real blessing.
I’ve also had the privilege of growing up on a music scene where the instrument is hugely popular. So I have been watching the likes of Sam Green and Wille and The Bandits since I was 15/16. I guess it was inevitable, and as soon as Anderwood Guitars approached me through Harbourside Sessions to do some production work, the transition was made. But when it comes to guitar, I still love to rock the Stratocaster with the band here and there!
How would you best describe your bands style?
It’s such a hard one! We can never really pin it down to one thing and it feels as if we’re almost inventing a sound as we’re going along, which is really cool on one hand, but then on the other it’s hard to find bands to gig with. The closest we’ve come so far would be Wille and The Bandits. The blend of folk, roots, blues, rock, dance and R&B is such a weird combination but it works so well for us. I can still write my folk lyrics and incorporate nice melodies, whilst still embracing my inner need to be a rock star! Plus the guys in the band all bring their own thing to the band, so it isn’t centred around the frontman or the lap steel. For instance, I’ve been playing with our drummer, George Barrell, since we were kids playing in covers bands and now we’ve watched each other grow musically, were interlinked now which is just a great thing to have with a friend and a bandmate, it makes everything a lot easier. George always lays down these intricate but hard-core patterns that even now still make my eyes widen! He has this talent to just make people move and dance. And Joe (our new guitar player) and Pete in their own right are incredible musicians so it’s just a real pleasure to play with them all to create what we do. So yeah it’s a strange genre that we’ve boiled down to (with the help of the BBC!) “Swampy Funk Blues Rock” but I think we’re going to narrow it down to “SwampRock” and see where that gets us!
To date you guys have released a 4 track EP "English Skies" which included a full electric version of "Wistman Wood". Talk us briefly through how that EP came about, how it was funded, where it was recorded etc etc?
Yeah the first EP was a milestone for us. I think initially we just wanted to record the band as it was to be honest, but it’s changed so much now our sound is almost unrecognisable from that record to the present sound. It’s more or less a different outfit. At the time I was doing a tour module for a university course and thought it would be awesome to take the band on a mini South West tour, so we knocked up a quick 5 track EP and took it on the road. It was strange actually, as the track ‘English Skies’ we never rehearsed together and wrote it in the studio as we were going along, so the first time we played it together was actually the first date of the tour. It went surprisingly well…but yeah it was a good achievement for a week’s work in the lounge of a student house/come recording studio. We still can’t thank the public enough for helping us crowd fund that project and yes it’s available to buy on iTunes, stream on Spotify and buy signed hard copies at live shows still. Shortly to be a BOGOF with our new EP which is nearly ready for release!
So let's talk about the actual track in question today, "Wistmans Wood". Tell us first of all what story the song tells, is it historical or totally fictional?
So ‘Wistmans Wood’ is an interesting number I think. Originally it was written on a Mandola, but then we put it on weissenborn and it sounded equally cool! It just became a little more niche. I wrote the riff years back and never had a song to put to it until my girlfriend took me to a place called ‘Wistmans Wood’, which is now one of my favourite places to visit on Dartmoor. It’s a tiny wood made of I think dwarf oak trees, millennia old which are growing from the rocks there. It’s a mythical and wonderfully intriguing setting which seems to straight out a Tolkein novel! You can’t help but be mystified by and I encourage anyone to go there. It is a historical based song which contains the legends surrounding the wood. It is said to be where the devil rides his hounds on occasion, hence the last verse lyrics. The rest is based on its aesthetic and the idea that these trees and rocks have seen so much over their time in the valley that they must have seen death, life, rebirth and history pass them by. So I like to think that although poetic licence is used, that there may be some truth in the lyrics!
The OTB Session video version of the track which is at the top of this feature. Tell us how that came about and what made you record this stripped down acoustic version of this song in particular?
Well OTB are great guys and I love their ethos behind videos. I was at Uni in Falmouth with them and we’re all good mates as it is. I had booked a session with them for that day and actually didn’t have a song in mind until I got to site and thought, ‘you know what, ‘Wistmans Wood’ might sound quite cool’ so I just did it in one take and it came out great! Although I did forget I was wearing a TMNT top so I apologise for that!
Any plans for the remaining tracks off the EP to,get the same OTB treatment?
To be honest that EP is a thing of the past for us, apart from Downtown and ‘Wistmans Wood’ and occasionally ‘English Skies’ which has gotten more electric now. I did a session for Choosic which is of me playing a VERY early incarnation of ‘Downtown’ whereby the key is different and lacks a bit of this and that and there’s a backstage version of ‘To Be An Englishman’ on my channel somewhere, but other than that we’re focussing much more on the heavy side of things now we know where our sound is going. I have done some more OTB stuff which is more strat based, more bluesy and dark. Tracks of my own from years back like ‘Jealous Man’ is obviously heavily influenced by blues and is actually borrowed from a SRV track called ‘Commit A Crime’ which is well worth checking out, from his Live Alive album. But yeah, I also did a session of a new song called ’16 Men’ which is on my weissenborn in a Dm tuning.
I thought you might record a Harbourside Sessions version but I suppose that would be difficult as you're the main man behind that company aren't you?
Well it has been talked about, but as you say it was always a bit of a shaky area for me. Might have looked a bit self-promoting having built the platform myself but I think it’s something we will be considering as time goes on. We do need some fresh material!
Any plans for solo acoustic album anytime in the future?
Yeah I would like to have something done to be honest, there’s so much I’d like to do with my solo stuff. I’ve always wanted to do a cover album of traditional Irish/English/American folk songs as well as solo releases so we will have to see where time takes that.
Tell us about the Weissenborn you use in the video, it's an Anderwood I believe. Do you know Ed Greenfield personally?
Ed is like the Wizard Of Oz. He’s this illusive, mythical presence that looms over the Anderwood circuit who everyone knows about but few have ever met. However I did have the pleasure of meeting Mr Anderwood last summer at a neat little festival called “Dam Fine Affair”. He’s a great guy and so supportive, and we wouldn’t be here without him. The ongoing support and endorsement from them is incredible and one of the most valued things about the band. I will always choose Anderwood to be my lap steel provider, as I owe them everything to date and they are fantastic instruments as well. I can’t wait to get my hands on their Weissenbro (dobro hybrid) or one of the electric steels. It’s all too exciting over there! That’s all I can say. They have made this band possible and I am ever grateful for that. So thank you Ed.
What tuning did you use on the track, I see you capoed the guitar?
Ahh. Yeah the songs in Eb haha. I don’t know why I did it and to be honest I regret it big time as it makes tuning a nightmare at gigs for the guys. It’s just neither here or there for them as it’s one step from drop D and one step the other way from standard! Yeah I capo 1 for that track. As I say I don’t know why, Eb is a horrible key!
Tell us about your bands recent BBC "Introducing Cornwall" radio appearance that must have been quite a buzz for you guys?
Well it’s always a pleasure working with BBC; they’re actually very lovely people! David White is a great supporter of us as a group and plays us far more than he should on his shows! He’s a great guy and a lover of music and emerging groups so again, another man we owe a lot to! As our first ever interview, it was bloody terrifying but I think we handled it ok apart from the odd slip here and there. But stripping the band back for the first time was a great experience and something we will be doing more of in future. A nice change from full-fat gig mode! The reaction has been great from that BBC session and the stuff that’s come from it has been awesome. We just can’t wait to get new material out to the airwaves and especially on David’s show.
Tell us about the single 'Bad Plans'.
‘Bad Plans’ is going to be huge haha! It’s such a big track. That’s all I can say. It’s our first time we’re showing the public where we’re at RIGHT NOW. It’s current for us, it’s radio length, it’s dirty, gnarly, and loud. It’s a rock track, straight up. And we can’t wait to launch it. It’s really exciting in the studio at the moment with the new EP ‘Hollow Lands’ half way done. It’s going to be a 5/6 tracker full of new material, non-stop energy and full on Dustbowl mania. We’re buzzing.
What summer festivals or band tours/dates are coming up for you?
This summer is largely about a re-brand for us. Recording new material, boosting our promo, getting air time, booking tours, booking shows, getting more fans, just generally updating our image and straying away from where we were this time last year. Getting out of the rut we’ve been in. Growing up you could say. All our dates are easy to find on our Facebook page and website. No festivals alas, but next summer will be a big one for us. Ideally we want to be heading to Europe soon enough so keep an eye out for that.
Tell about your latest business venture Pandorica Arts.
Ah another attempt to make a contribution to the arts world. Pandorica is something I’ve wanted to do for a while and is still very much in the early days. It’s a PR and artist management company, but not just music. It is Creative Representation for all types of creative people. For instance, we get gigs for bands and do their social media for sure, but I also get work for people in film, photography, art, illustration, song writing etc. It’s basically getting paid work and exhibitions for the people in the arts community that deserve it. I have a lot of talented friends, so to represent them is something I love doing. So if you’re a creative person with a talent that needs work or needs recognition then please get in touch and I’ll see what we can do. We’re already managing 2 bands and a few photographers are on our books as well as partnering with Harbourside Sessions and a film production company. So things are on the boil here. It’s all go!
Long term plans and goals for you and the band?
As I said, TDC is going to change. The sound is bigger, harder and heavier. The dates are going to be bigger, the image darker and the band may even expand depending on how the next 6 months go. We ideally want management/a small record deal relatively soon after we drop the EP as we have a lot of faith in the tracks. So keep an eye out for us and come down to a show, I’m sure you won’t regret it!
Thanks for talking to us Barney it was a pleasure :-)
No worries, always a pleasure my friend. Take it easy.
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