“I’m excited for festivals this year, more than any other year” – as part of The Ocelot’s festival guide, and ahead of the release of his debut album, Claire Dukes caught up with rising star Ten Tonnes.
Ethan Barnett, aka Ten Tonnes, is by no stretch of the imagination new to the music scene. And with his hit single ‘Lucy’ already in the bag, and his first album ready for release, he’s undoubtedly one of the fast-rising names in indie-pop – certainly, a weighty force to be reckoned with.
At 22 I was studying at university and making some questionable life choices… But at 22 Ethan has already played to sold-out arenas, worked with renowned music gurus and is releasing his self-titled debut album ‘Ten Tonnes’ May 3. So, how did he get to where he is at this age?
“I’ve been asking myself the same thing [laughs],” he tells me. “It’s a lot of hard work! I don’t want to toot my own trumpet, but I had to do a lot of shit gigs to do the good ones.”
After dropping out of university Ethan hit the open mic nights hard for the following two years – sending off demos left right and centre “and not getting responses”. As well as a “good old dose of luck” his hard work has paid off, leading him to working on his album with former Kaiser Chiefs’ drummer Nick Hodgson.
On working with Nick, he says, “He’s such a good songwriter – which helped a lot! We got the title and then we spoke about what would sound cool and definitely wrote it with the live show in mind, so it has a sing-along vibe. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want things to be catchy, because that’s what I love – The Beatles were the absolute best to me, and all their tunes just have that level of catchiness to them.
“There were so many different options of what the album could have sounded like, but I think you can get bogged down if you think about it too much. So, I just went on my gut.”
As we talk Ethan’s youthfulness and creative inclination becomes naturally apparent, but his breezy disposition is not to be misinterpreted as non-sensical. In terms of the album it becomes clear that the collaborative project has been orchestrated to build upon his own musical influences as well as, as he terms it, the “general musings of a young lad.”
“It’s a mixed bag,” he continues. “I wrote some of the songs when I was 18, so the album’s been done over a long period of time. It’s about living in my home town and wanting to get out when I was younger. I wanted to make it feel pretty young because obviously the songs I write now are different, but I didn’t want to lose that kind of youthful naivety to it, – I wanted to make sure that stayed – especially for my first record as well because people put out music so quickly now. I think EPs skip over a whole period of your life like ‘oh that was three years ago so I’ll just leave it’ but I wanted to make sure it felt like a first record not some weird mismatch of things. I’m super excited to finally get it out, and the tour starts the day after the album comes out, so I’ll be straight into the shows which is really exciting.”
The young singer-songwriter’s clearly a savvy guy but is still seemingly up for taking some risks. In the often-ruthless world of social media he’s become rather self-aware of the personas constructed across the likes of Instagram and Facebook – and in theory he could pick any cardboard rock ‘n’ roll cut-out of his choosing. Instead, it’s all about building on the gap, – or the ‘Cracks Between’, if you will – between himself and his fans. He says, “I’m just trying to be myself. I think people can still like your music and still not follow you, so you kind of need to get people bothered about what you’re like as a person.
“I just try and stay pretty similar to what I’m like usually – and just don’t get too weird, I guess [laughs]. I don’t want to scare people away!”
He’s even gone one step further and cut out the middle man entirely by playing shows for fans in their living rooms – a bold yet seemingly astute idea. “It’s just a cool way to get some fans going,” he explains.
“It has the potential to be so fucking weird, but I think it’s a testament to my good fans because everyone was so lovely. I told my mum and she said ‘that sounds like your idea of hell’ because I’m bad at meeting people! But I think more acts should do it – it’s a cool way of getting to know people.”
Socially-challenged he may be, but Ethan is on another level entirely when it comes to getting on stage. He says, “I just get really excited – like that manic energy of getting butterflies. It’s never like ‘oh my god, I’m shitting myself’ because we rehearse enough, and I feel confident in what we’re doing. On the last tour that I did, which was my headline show, it was only like four shows, but they were all so fucking good – I’ve just spring boarded off the back of that and I’m raring to go!
“It feels like it’s been so long since I played a show. I’m quite antsy at the moment, and not very settled, so at the moment I don’t know what to do. I realised the other day I don’t really have any hobbies [laughs], but music is all I’ve ever done, and is all I did, and now it’s my job. I do still play guitar in my free time but it’s a bit different now because it’s hard to separate playing guitar for the fun of it and not be thinking ‘oh maybe I should write a new song’. I just want to be playing gigs! If you leave it too long, it gets a bit like ‘what the fuck do I actually do…’
“I’m excited for festivals this year, more than any other year, because the album’s going to be out, and it feels like it’s built around more of a thing rather than a few random songs. Hopefully by that point people would have heard it [Ten Tonnes] and made up their mind if they want to come and see me, or not.”
This festival season Ethan has two particular highlights – a cruel question I present to him on both a personal and professional level. “On a personal level, Reading definitely. That was the first festival I went to when I was 15 – I turned 16 that weekend, I got my GCSE results and just saw these amazing bands. It was such a wicked weekend! This is also the fourth time in a row that they’ve asked me back – which is so fucking cool. So, I really love going back just because I look back at being a kid, which I was, to then being one of the people playing there.
“On a professional level I’ve wanted to play Truck for ages – I think it always has such a cool line-up and definitely fits in with the music that I make.
“There’s a lot of young, indie kids into guitar music so that should be a good one.”
Don’t miss Ten Tonnes on tour:
Where: The Bullingdon, Oxford
When: May 16
Where: RunFestRun, Bowood House & Gardens
When: June 1
Where: Barn on the Farm, Over Farm, Gloucester
When: July 7
Where: Truck Festival, Hill Farm, Oxfordshire
When: Date TBC
Where: Truck Festival, Hill Farm, Oxfordshire
When: Date TBC
Where: Reading Festival, Richfield Avenue, Reading
When: August 23
For further information about Ten Tonnes, the upcoming album and more tour dates visit www.tentonnes.com