Interview by Brenna Kischuk
The music of Barkhouse (Will de Zengotita – guitar and vocals; Jay Mort – bass, keys, and vocals; Olmo Tighe – drums) is solid rock & roll, but with an edge that can only be described as distinctly their own. At times their sound harkens back to songs of the 60s and 70s, other times it sounds perfectly current, and even others like something listeners haven’t quite heard before.
Their music is both unpredictable and cohesive, which is likely a result of their longstanding relationships—Will and Olmo are cousins, and Jay and Will went to nursery school together. While they’ve played together in various bands over the years, Barkhouse began in 2012 with their self-titled EP release. The debut captured their eclectic taste and set the stage for the music that followed, including their most recent album, Wolves At The Wall. Here, Will talks with The Angle about their music, their videos, and a dream venue turned parking lot.
How would you describe your sound?
It’s always hard to find words to describe music. It’s rock & roll, but more than that we like to think that our styles maintain an identifiable sound alongside the variety and range of our songs.
Who are some of your musical influences?
It’s a little strange listing all the wonderful musicians who have had an influence, especially because most of the time those influences aren’t easily identifiable in the music you make. Of course, that doesn’t mean they aren’t there. Older music has been important to all of us – we’re definitely not bound by generations. Comparisons have been made to Talking Heads, The Cars, The Black Keys, and Television.
What is your creative process like when working on new material?
We do a lot of collaborative writing. Occasionally someone will come in with a finished song, but more often one of us will have an initial idea and the other two will help fill it in. So any given moment in a song could be chord changes one person wrote with a melody another person wrote and lyrics by the third person.
Your cover of Rihanna’s “Stay” (video below) is haunting and completely badass. How did you decide to cover that song and what was it like navigating when to stay true to the original and when to insert more of the Barkhouse sound?
The guys at Wreckroom were doing this “Under The Covers” series where they had bands do their own versions of current hits and Olmo said “Stay” was the one we should do. It’s a departure from our style but it turned into something really cool for us. We’ve met Mikky Ekko (the writer of the song and male vocalist on Rihanna’s version) a couple of times since then which has been great. As for when to switch things up from the original, most of it happened naturally. After all, you can have an all male three-piece rock band try to do Rihanna to a T and it’ll wind up sounding different…
Any other songs you’d like to cover?
We like to mix covers into our live sets every once in a while. Recently did Led Zeppelin’s “The Wanton Song” and “Vitamin C” by Can. As for recording, we don’t have any cover plans at the moment. There are too many of our own songs we still need to get on tape.
Your music videos are also a creative – if somewhat strange – endeavor, and as a viewer/listener it’s exciting to experience them. How do the concepts arise?
All our videos have been done by the wonderful Damien Paris from Wreckroom. And our most recent one for “Wolves at the Wall” certainly did get a little wild. Most of our Wreckroom videos are straight live performance pieces so there isn’t too much to explain, but the “Stay” video and the “Wolves At The Wall” video both make people wonder if they should be laughing or not. With “Wolves At The Wall” the answer in the end is definitely yes, but with “Stay” it’s harder to say. Some people think it’s all a big joke and others find it solemn and moving. Either way is fine with us.
How is your music influenced by playing live shows vs. recording in a studio?
Getting ready to record is a great time to finalize things, flesh them out and make it whole. Getting ready for a show is a great time to figure out how to make it all work.
What are some memorable experiences or moments in the band’s history thus far?
Our first recording session with Jim Bertini at Galaxy Smith Studios and of course our first Wreckroom video and all the music we’ve made there since with Brian Koerber. But mostly, the support we’ve received from the people that come out to see us every time we play. It’s been truly moving to see.
What is your dream venue to play?
The Cavern in Liverpool, England. The Beatles grew up playing there before they were famous and I went on a little pilgrimage there years ago and unfortunately it is now a parking lot. So, that one will have to remain a dream. So many great acts have taken the stage there, and we’re thrilled to be included.
We’d love to hear Van Morrison sing our song “Wonderful Signs.” No collaboration, just sit and listen to him sing it.
What current/future projects are you working on?
We’ll be back in the studio this August to record a still undetermined number of songs, so look out for a fall release.
Photography by Christopher DeCicco (images 1-6) & Alex Weber (images 7 & 8)