For Wellingtonians, The Black Seeds are one band which needs no introduction.
Similarly, their co-lead singer, Barnaby Weir is synonymous with the band. Since 1997, The Black Seeds have been serving up great beats, as fresh as Havana Brewed Coffee. So how have they kept going for so long, especially with the move from CD to streaming music through the 2000's? On a sunny Spring day, on the cusp of touring their new record, I met Barnaby (who I'd never met personally but know friends who had known him a long time), over a steaming cup of joe and a chat overlooking Wellingtons boatsheds. We chatted about how he got started, family, and why he is a believer of copyright.
Who is Barnaby Weir?
Barnaby is a founding member of Wellington legends, ‘The Black Seeds’. This iconic Wellington band is part of the dub-roots scene and has been playing gigs around town, and around the world for almost 20 years. Their latest album, Fabric, has just been released, making their first return for 5 years. They're currently touring New Zealand and Australia, with their Wellington show on this Friday night (tickets here!).
How would I know him?
You’ve probably seen Barnaby all around Wellington over the year, playing at The Matterhorn, brunching at Fidels, or walking the Wellington waterfront. Despite all his worldly adventures, Barnaby still calls Wellington home and now lives in Oriental Parade with his partner, Gemma. He is the main man of The Black Seeds, frequent coffee drinker and partner in his family restaurant Poquito, on Tory Street.
How did he get here?
Barnaby was born at St Helens Hospital in Newtown, in 1978. His family lived in the Western Suburbs for the early part of his life. “We did have a stint in Dunedin for a bit” Barnaby remembers, “But apart from that, we were a Wellington family and still are at heart.” Barnaby’s mother worked in advertising and magazines like ‘The Listener’ and his father worked producing a children's radio show. “When you’re younger, you think everyone’s parents have the same job. I thought everyone had a dad who had a cool studio and voice. In the weekend we’d go down there, to Old Radio NZ house on Bowen Street, and spend hours down there watching him produce or mucking around myself. When people think about ‘Dad’s work’ they think about boring work but that wasn’t the case at all with our Dad.”
Barnaby grew up attending Samuel Marsden, Karori Normal School, Kelburn Normal School and Wellington Boys College. He studied arts, design, music, drama, film & TV. By the stage he reached College, Barnaby had dabbled in Piano and started playing acoustic guitar. “Jed Bartlet was my teacher and we’d strum some tunes. Jed put me in the school production, which gave me a bit of confidence - playing in front of an audience” Barnaby recalls. He liked De La Soul, Public Enemy, and Bon Jovi. “The first record I bought, when I was still quite little, was a present my great uncle and it was a 7” of Culture Clubs’ ‘Karma-Chameleon’” he says.
University called - however not for long (he's still waiting to complete his degree). When Barnaby was 21, at the end of 1997, he started The Black Seeds with friends. “I’d been distracted away from music at University. We decided to be a serious band and record an album. It took us 3 years. It was a dub-by sounding record from Wellington. Most must up until then was quite rock based, like Shihad and Fur Patrol. This was a reggae sounding record. We toured it as well.”
Where did the reggae sound come from?
“When we were in high school we got a Bob Marley record my friend and I got a video out about him and liked it,” Barnaby says “We also liked the idea of smoking weed. At first, we didn’t understand the rich history, but we came to learn it. Our interest in reggae was reinforced by listening to Radio Active, a local radio station. It wasn’t the latest stuff - it was crusty, different. Eventually, we came to DJ at Radio Active, ending up with ‘Caffeine and Asprin’ - a show which still runs today.”
Now, in 2017, the band have families, side careers and responsibilities. But they still come together over their iconic music. They’ve just started touring their new album, which Barnaby says they’re very excited about.
What are the best band memories?
“Going to the first ‘One Love’ concert in Rotorua - play to 27,000 people in the sun. That was epic and we knew that people in New Zealand backed our sound. Also, playing at big festival gigs is always fun and being overseas seeing people from all over the world love your music. It blows my mind” Barnaby says.
How has technology changed how they distribute their music?
“Our first album was in 2001. Then, it was all about the physical CD. It was before streaming. Then came ‘Into the Dojo’.” Barnaby says “It was our biggest CD. We had a number 1 album, selling 45,000 copies. That felt huge. After that, Napster came along and everyone thought that the sky was falling. I thought it was all bullsh*t. It just was a new way of thinking about music. We drifted along, as did the music industry, not doing anything about streaming for ages. Between 2006 and 2011 there was a huge drop off in sales and a slow pickup of streaming.” he pauses “I do believe in the idea of copyright” Barnaby says “But, my belief, is that we need to increase the royalty to artists. Perhaps it could be a Telco subsidy or something. Streaming does have its upside. You can access people all around the world. Or if you’re Lorde, you can get 3 million streams in one day. The best thing is you can share ideas all at once on release day, to fans in Mexico, Germany and Brazil - they don’t have to wait to hear it.”
How does Barnaby protect himself from burnout?
At the end of making the 6th album, Barnaby admits he got ‘too internalised’. “It’s like, you have to remember that the reason you do it is to make music and share it” he says. “It is stressful. You just think that it will never be finished. There are times where you don’t want to do it and you look at your guitar and computer and think ‘Flag’. I like playing poker, cooking (Chelsea Winter’s roast chicken? Nailed it the other day) and being social at our cafe, Poquito at 11 Tory Street. It’s small, but we like it there. I also design posters and stuff on the side sometimes too.”
What annoys his family about him?
“When I come in and move things around at Poquito. My mums been working all day (she’s the daytime manager), and I come in and shuffle things around. I like it there because it's a little low-lit cocktail bar and it is owned by our whole family” he says.
What does Wellington need?
“A bigger, buzzing live music scene. We need to boost that up again. Craft beer and burgers are awesome and I love them but they don’t play music to you!” Barnaby laughs. “We need the town hall fixed up, so it can be used again. Shed 6 means you have to bring in all your own gear so its a challenge. We want to play in our Wellington venues.”
What is Fabric about?
“We put a lot into this album,” Barnaby says. “It is a good evolution from the last ‘Dust and Dirt’ album. We’ve always had a sense of mixing it up. It is a progressive sound. If people know what we’re about, they should listen. We’re older, better musos, and have our own character. I think we’re still doing something special and have that bond with the band.”
Barnaby admits that after 20 years, it is amazing to keep telling their story via The Black Seeds music. “Fabric is like the Fabric of our lives. It’s like, how deep does that fabric go, the connectedness. We as a band have heard so many stories about how our fans have woven our music into their own lives, whether at a wedding, a child’s first gig or simply a barbeque with friends. We’re grateful for that and very proud. We’re proud of this album. You can stream it, but also buy-in on Vinyl Record. So really, there’s something for everyone.”
“Keeps me here. I just love it. It’s not that I’m stuck. With a taste of travel, it is great to be in. On a nice day like today, it’s even better.”