The Libertines are the most notorious band since the Sex Pistols. Their founders, Pete Doherty and Carl Barat, have had one of the best love and hate rock and roll relationships in a while. There has been a lot of pain and pleasure and friction in this band. This has led to Doherty's addiction to crack and heroin, and his two-month prison term for burglary. Doherty's actions have prevented him from playing on most the American tours. He has formed his own band The Babyshambles in the meantime. Doherty has also been known to ramble on the Internet saying odd things. This is all the tip of the iceberg in the topsy-turvy world of The Libertines.
They began as a band about six years ago. The band had a number of members before they settled on Pete Doherty (vocals/guitar), Carl Barat (vocals/guitar), Gary Powell (drums), and John Hassall (bass). This is the original lineup. Anthony Rossomando has since joined them as a replacement for Pete the past year. A libertine is "someone who is unrestrained by convention or morality." The band actually sacked their manager for being too strict. Alan McGee (of Oasis fame) has since become the new manager. The Libertines have upstaged headlining acts The Strokes and The Vines early in 2002. Their first single "What A Waster" went into the top forty without any radio play. Mick Jones produced their first album. Their first album Up The Bracket (2002) was released in October. It was a romantic dream of Albion and East London. The Libertines were compared to The Jam and The Clash.
After touring the world in 2002 and part of 2003, they released the great single "Don't Look Back Into The Sun." They are awarded best new band by NME in 2003. I was supposed to interview them several times in early 2003, but they cancelled several shows and even at Coachella, they only got to play ten minutes. Somehow they have stayed together, with and without Pete. Their first new single "Can't Stand Me Now" went to number two on the single's chart in the UK. The song has both Carl and Pete singing about their unhealthy relationship. The second album The Libertines (2004) comes out on August 31st. Their live show is explosive and energetic. If you want to see Pete you are going to have to make a trip to England. I spoke to Carl Barat right before their sold-out show at the Troubadour and TV performance on Jimmy Kimmel.
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AL: When did you record the new album?
Carl Barat: April, I think. I am not quite sure. It was kind of a blackout. Around then. It took about two months altogether. It was ten days of live recording. We spent a lot of time playing pool and worrying.
AL: How do you go about recording a song? Is it all live takes?
Carl Barat: Yeah, it's all live. We usually record a song three of four times, and keep the best one.
AL: How many songs did you record?
Carl Barat: I think that we must have done about thirty-five songs in the session. Only sixteen stayed.
AL: When did you write the songs?
Carl Barat: A couple of the songs are really old. We wrote them when we first started about six years ago. We wrote some songs right before doing the album and some during the album.
AL: How was it different from making the first album? Most bands have a group of songs and that becomes the first album. They usually take some time off to write another album. You seem to have a lot of material written.
Carl Barat: Yeah. We had a bunch of songs that were never recorded properly. We thought it would be nice to do them. They were all right.
AL: What was it like to work with Mick Jones (of The Clash) as a producer?
Carl Barat: He's great. He's like one of the boys. He has done a bit of backing vocals with us. He has played the piano on our songs.
AL: You have also worked with Bernard Butler (of Suede). How did you meet him?
Carl Barat: I think that he is a friend with the record company. I think that they might manage him. He heard us and liked it and wanted in.
AL: How is Bernard different as a producer than Mick Jones?
Carl Barat: They are quite different. They have different philosophies. Mick is into recording sound. He is into capturing a band live. Bernard is more into the science of making a recording. It's a more layered process. Mick does everything live.
AL: Did you get sued about the song "Horrorshow?"
Carl Barat: No, not really. That was an NME blowup. There was a question about who came up with the idea for the song. You might have heard about that.
AL: Yeah. But I heard that some ex-girlfriend thought it was about her.
Carl Barat: Something like that.
AL: Do close friend take songs personally?
Carl Barat: Sometimes, yeah. But they seemed to actually like the first line of that song. That was what the argument was about.
AL: In "The Good Old Days" you have the line: "If you've lost your faith in love and music the end won't be long." What was that about?
Carl Barat: Exactly that really. No hidden meaning there.
AL: What was it like playing with Morrissey?
Carl Barat: It was all right really. It was his show with his fans and devotees. It was really quiet nice being chosen by old Mozza. It was quite a while ago. It was quite hard because we weren't announced playing the gig. No one had heard of us. It was quite a hard bunch to please. We did all right. Since we received his blessing, I think they accept us now.
AL: Morrissey shows up at your gigs too.
Carl Barat: I have seen him a couple times. Yeah.
AL: You do a lot of secret shows. The Libertines are known for doing a gig unannounced. It could happen any day.
Carl Barat: It's just last minute really. People get a buzz off it going to a secret show. We just like playing. It can be good doing proper tours as well.
AL: What is the band Babyshambles like?
Carl Barat: Bit of a shambles....
AL: Does Pete plays Libertines songs?
Carl Barat: Sometimes I think. I don't watch the Babyshambles much.
AL: How do you write songs in the Libertines?
Carl Barat: We both do it. Someone has an idea. We sit down and stick our ideas together really. Through that cohesion we find a common ground.
AL: Every song is a collaboration?
Carl Barat: More of less. There are a few songs that I have wrote, and there are a few of Pete's. There are a few individual songs on the new album.
AL: Pete played on the new album?
Carl Barat: Yeah.
AL: Will Pete ever play with the band again?
Carl Barat: I hope so. He has to stop taking crack and heroin first. It's not really conducive to being in a band.
AL: He hasn't played very many shows in America.
Carl Barat: No. It's quite hard to get a visa especially if you have any criminal record.
AL: You tried to visit Pete when he was in Wandsworth prison. What happened?
Carl Barat: I tried. I went to Wandsworth prison and they had moved him that day. I saw him when he came out. It was a bit hard to see him. It was good to see the old boy again. It is all water under the bridge.
AL: How did you meet Marilyn Manson? Is he a fan?
Carl Barat: We played the David Letterman show together. There's not much of a story.
AL: What other bands do you like?
Carl Barat: I like Hope of The States. The Coral is good. It's quite hard to have time to listen to other bands. I have been busy. I haven't seen my record collection in a while.
AL: Do you have other hobbies?
Carl Barat: I watch films. I like writing.
AL: What would you do if you didn't make music?
Carl Barat: I don't know. Maybe I would be a gardener? Actually that is not true. Actually I would like to be an actor.
AL: Barat doesn't really seem like an English name.
Carl Barat: It's French. I am English. But in the past there is some French relatives.
AL: Do you like to write songs, play live, or record songs?
Carl Barat: Playing live is my favorite part. That is why I got into it in the first place. At some point in the future I guess that I could get into recording. I might not have the patience. We have played hundreds and hundreds of shows. It's always great.
AL: On the American tour, who is Pete's replacement?
Carl Barat: That is our American cousin, Anthony Rossomando. He's keeping Pete's seat warm in the meantime. We met him in New York City. He plays with this band The Damn Personals. We had the chance to see them live. They were pretty good. He seemed like the right man for the job.
AL: You are playing a few shows this week, but the real American tour starts around the end of September 2004 and go on for three weeks. What songs are you going to play?
Carl Barat: We will play a few more songs than the album. The set changes every gig. We do what we feel at the time. We see how we feel before a gig. There is no science to it.
AL: Some bands play the same show and the same songs every night.
Carl Barat: That would be a pain in the ass. That would be quite a drag. You have to keep it interesting or it becomes quite mechanical. We start and finish with a lively one. That's it.
AL: Are you going to play a secret show on an off night during the next American tour?
Carl Barat: Yeah, if there is a capacity for that to happen. If we are not too busy and we are stranded somewhere.
AL: Do you read any of these Libertines messageboards or communities?
Carl Barat: No. I don't really know how to use the Internet.
AL: There are people on the Internet who say: "Carl and Pete are always kissing and hugging each other. They are a gay couple." What do you think of that?
Carl Barat: (laughs) Oh, nothing. People are really into conjecture.
AL: That is all bullshit?
Carl Barat: We are all normal. My girlfriend may beg to differ.
AL: The NME seems to have written a lot about the Libertines. What do you think about that?
Carl Barat: They have been really good to us, all things considering. We took a gamble with them. They can damn you straight away.
AL: Sometimes they drop a band because they want to move on to the next flavor of the month.
Carl Barat: They do that a lot. It's fun to keep them busy and keep them guessing. We can't control where they want to focus things. They can't tear you down if you keep doing stuff.
AL: You seem like you still have a lot of unreleased material. Do you think that the third album will happen very fast?
Carl Barat: Right now I have been so busy. I would like to chill out and have some downtime. I reckon it will be a while until the third one. We just came out with the second one. We have to deal with that first.
AL: Does your families follow the band?
Carl Barat: Yeah, they are pretty good like that. They get excited. They come to shows sometimes. Not all the time.
The Libertines Interview By Alexander Laurence
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