These New Puritans in icy times

Reykjavik's glistening gem Iceland Airwaves starts today despite trepidation over the country's economical crisis. We chat to These New Puritans about the festival, the credit crunch and entering a toilet after Warren Ellis.

As this goes to print, no foreign bands have received advance payments for their pending performances at Iceland Airwaves due to the continuing collapse of the country's banks. These New Puritans are part of the British contingent set to wow crowds and woo industry insiders at the musical showcase.

The Southend-On-Sea quartet are sonically difficult to pin down – a mixture of bookworm lyrics carved around strict jerk guitars – but they make for rewarding listening given half the chance. Amongst musos they were set to be one of the biggest acts of 2008 and their debut 'Beat Pyramid' sent critics in a whirlwind.

Now on the brink of recording their sophomore offering we catch up with their lead singer Jack Barnett before he heads to Iceland and learn how the economical struggle can shape a band.

Virtual Festivals: You're playing Iceland Airwaves, definitely a country in need of a lift. Can a festival help lift the spirits in these uncertain financial times?
Jack Barnett: "Yeah. Some music can lift spirits, maybe not ours, but some can. A lot of the time I find 'uplifting' music depressing and although ours isn’t particularly uplifting maybe we’ll give them some energy."

VF: Do you think These New Puritans will help cheer up the Icelandic people?
JB: "Maybe, we're not really known for our ability to cheer people up."

VF: The financial crisis is making people worry about their jobs, money, homes etc. Do you feel the same pressures being in a band?
JB: "I thought about this the other day. We were playing a show that was organized by a quite big company and it felt like an older system where musicians were employed as craftsman. It's like a return to the patronage system. But for us it's a way of making a living, I don't know if that's a goof thing or not yet, but we've got to eat. It's the same being in a band as it is for anybody else, but we don't change our sound or our demeanor to make more money though."

VF: Have you ever been to Iceland before?

JB "I've always wanted to go, but never managed it. But from what I've heard it sounds interesting."

VF: What have you heard?

JB: "It sounds like its like geologically young, but from photos it reminds me of Essex in a strange way."

VF: That will be the Bluewater shopping centre.
JB: "Yeah."

VF: Speaking of which, there is a famous outdoor lagoon near the festival, which festival-goers usually have a dip in. Will you be taking off you chain mail and having a swim?
JB: "Probably not, I don't think we'll have time."

VF: Your tour continues to Moscow and then Beirut – some interesting destinations – are you looking forward to them?
JB: "I can't wait to play Beirut. We've wanted to do a tour of the Middle East for so long, but it never really got past the planning stage. I suppose this is our way of making up for it and Xiu Xiu are playing there at the same time as us. It's probably the most western city in the whole area, but it will do."
VF: How do foreign audiences react to what is arguably a very British sound?

JB: "Oddly, more people seem to like us in Japan than they do in England, apparently it's the same in France as well. We tend to get a better reaction when we play mainland Europe, so it will good to gauge the response we get from Iceland."

VF: Iceland Airwaves rounds off a busy festival year, what's been the best performance you've seen at a festival?
JB: "It has to definitely be My Bloody Valentine at an Irish Festival [The Electric Picnic] they were incredible."

VF: What's been your anthem of the summer?

JB: "A song called 'Quartet For The End Of Time' by Oliver Messiaen, a beautiful orchestral piece."

VF: Cool, what's been your favourite festival moment?

JB: "There's been a few, I've been thinking of compliling a coffee table book about celebrity toilet encounters. I had the misfortune of using a cubicle after Warren Ellis; it wasn't very savory to say the least. I think that will be the first chapter."

VF: What are your plans for next year?
JB: "We're going to start recording for the second album before next year, then it we'll be touring that. Hopefully I'll be able to record an album of my own at some point, but that's top secret. Its one of a few unorthodox things we've got in the pipeline."