Interview with Phil Barry (Be My Enemy)
Phil Barry has pulled off the act of the phoenix. After the break-up of Cubanate and following nearly ten years of artistic malaise and a personal battle with depression, he has arisen in full flight with the new project “Be My Enemy”.
Cubanate, of course, being one of the early mainstays of the nineties industrial scene formed in London and became notorious for the infamous crowd violence that accompanied their tour with Carcass in 1994. Their albums—four in all—document the development of sounds that pioneered a genre, moving from techno infused heavy guitar riffs into the early experiments with drum’n’bass. Ranging this electronic gambit, Cubanate’s evolution was punctuated by a continuing thirst for the ‘new sound’.
Spawning hits such as 1993’s "Body Burn" [Antimatter], and 1995’s "Oxyacetylene" [Cyberia], Cubanate would also influence a diverse hybrid of fans, crossing the gap between techno industrial to heavy metal. This wide range has made Cubanate a pinnacle example of audio eclecticism and became a staple for a generation of rockers and rivetheads alike.
Phil Barry and Cubanate bandmate Marc Heal parted ways and went underground soon after the release of Cubanate’s final album “Interference” in 1998 on TVT Records. Barry’s personal journey took him through years of soul searching and rediscovery, and nearly ten years on, his journey through silence finally came to an end. In 2008, Phil reemerged with a new concept called Be My Enemy, an electronic act that would again strive from the get-go to break convention and cover new grounds. This spate of creativity resulted in the release of the EP “Shot by Both Sides” and was quickly followed by the debut album “This is the New Wave” in 2010.
Back in control (and reviving rock and roll), with the release of “This is the New Wave” under his belt, and reunited with Marc to compose a new Cubanate album, Mr. Barry is once again in position for carving out a new piece of the shoreline.
I sat down with Mr. Barry to discuss his method, his years of self-exploration, and the rising of his new wave:
First off, greetings Phil, and thanks for taking the time out to talk. For those who are unaware, can you give us a brief introduction to Be My Enemy?
P. Barry: Hi there. No problem. Be My Enemy is a melting pot of my musical influences, you have Drum and Bass, Techno, Metal and Punk mashed together with a liberal sprinkling of my vocals over the top. It’s energetic music and not too easy to categorise or pigeon hole, I don’t think it fits in to any particular musical genre.
Getting to the nuts and bolts, the debut album “This is the New Wave” has been met with an overwhelmingly positive response. In the years between Cubanate and Be My Enemy, things have been relatively quiet. What were you up to?
P. Barry: The last 2 years of Cubanate were just horrible, it had ceased being fun, afterwards I distanced myself from it and decided I would do anything other than that style of music. So I started loads of projects that never really went anywhere and which I was never really happy with. It wasn’t a complete waste of time, I did do a few decent dance tunes that did well and I certainly honed my production skills over that time. But there was a period where I didn’t play guitar for 3 or 4 years though, criminal really.
How does your approach to music creation differ working as a solo artist than as part of a group?
P. Barry: Well even though Cubanate was a group it was only me and Marc in the studio so not that much different really. With Cubanate I would normally start a backing track and give it to Marc to write a song over, I still do the same whether I’m working on my own or not.
Much has been said concerning the title track “New Wave”. Should we take the lyrical message as autobiographical?
P. Barry: Yes the song is autobiographical. It was the first song I wrote for the album and very much kind of set out my own doubts I had about starting and fronting my own project and the way those doubts were playing with my head. The choruses are a very much a 'pull yourself together and sort your shit out Mr. Barry, or else.'
As far as the focus of theme of the album, infused with the dance beats, the lyrics speak of a spirit of rebellious independence. “Break Your Body” seems almost instructional on cracking molds while “Wasted Life” repeats a string of ‘government approved mantras’, and “All American Psycho” seems outright critical of certain caricatures of American life. Weighing the personal elements with the social commentary on the album, what can you say about this discourse and how should we approach the conversation?
P. Barry: I’m usually really not into overtly political songs or anything like that but it would be very difficult to ignore all the stuff that is going on everywhere in the world at the moment and not put down some of that frustration that I feel about it into some songs. But I’m not going to preach, I’m really not into that kind of thing, it puts me off some bands when they do that too much. I would also like to point out that 3 songs on the album, "Death Drive", "Disintegration" and "Ghost In The Machine" are about psychology and mental illness. I had a brief brush with mental illness years ago caused by stress and it really stuck with me, it was a hugely frightening experience which I’ve never forgotten. It’s a personal experience I can draw on for some songs, it’s good I can turn that negative experience into something positive.
In general, what is your goal with the Be My Enemy project?
P. Barry: The initial goal was just to get an album out. I didn’t really have a plan or goal after that. I really had no idea how the album was going to go down. But now I certainly have a few goals, a second album, getting a band together and gigging are on that list.
In terms of the style of “This is The New Wave”, you’ve played around with a lot of crossovers and genre bending, bringing together a lot of elements ranging the gambit from dance-punk to industrial-rock to hardstyle. Is there a method to the madness?
P. Barry: There is a definite method to the madness. I wanted the band to have energy, loads of energy. I also didn’t want the band to be tied down to a particular musical style otherwise it all might become too formulaic and predictable for future albums. I kind of didn’t want to be a part of any scene; I wanted to make my own. I could of done a whole load of 4/4 techno with distorted vocal but then I’d be pigeon holed with all those other bands doing that. I’d just be another little fish swimming around in someone else’s crowded little pond. Instead, I’ve set up my own pond.
Regarding the album title, it’s an extremely bold statement.
P. Barry: Yeah I know. You should see some of the emails and messages I got over the album title. Some people really should chill out. But then again, that would take away my fun. But in all seriousness, the first song for the album that was finished was called ‘The New Wave’ and I was going to call the album that. Then, someone suggested to me that sticking ‘This Is’ at the start might look better and I thought it was a good idea. That it has annoyed some sensitive types has been a bonus.
As far as rooting for the underdog; you’ve set the standard with this solo output, as well as in your previous work with Cubanate. For those familiar with your previous work, it’s well agreed that BME is a major change in direction. How would you characterize this step and what elements from your history have you brought with you into this project?
P. Barry: I don’t think it’s a massive change but maybe from the outside looking in it’s different. It’s still dance beats, guitars and a bloke shouting over it. But it does differ from Cubanate with the sounds and the beats I use are slightly more Rave influenced rather than Techno and Industrial influenced. Stuff that I brought in from my history are some of the old school rave sounds on a couple of tracks and a few guitar riffs inspired by bands I love like Nirvana or System Of A Down.
Other than the album and the EP released mid-2010, you’ve been doing remix work for a number of artists including Mangadrive, 16volt, and Caustic. Can you offer us any hints on anyone else you’ll be working with?
P. Barry: I’m just about to do a mix for Every Thing Goes Cold, after that I’ve nothing lined up although that can change week to week. What I do with these remixes is try and do a Be My Enemy version of the song, so I usually bang loads of guitars on top and even add my own vocals if I think they add to the track. Hopefully my mixes are a break from the normal type of mixes bands usually do for each other. I enjoy doing them a lot.
It has been announced that Cubanate is reformed and working on an album for release later this year. With this in mind, what can we expect from the sound now that you and Marc have settled back into the studio?
P. Barry: Hopefully it will be an updated version of the sound with the usual great verses and choruses from Marc. Albums take shape as you record them, sometimes what happens is there will be a track recorded early on which stands out and gives you a idea or a blueprint to where the rest of the album should follow. It's early days and I don’t think we have got that track as yet. One thing I would say is it probably won’t all be like ‘Interference’ which will please some people. What was good about that album was it wasn’t just another 4/4 roll out the barrel album. Some people think that was the best Cubanate album, some people thought it was the worst.
Will this album also carry over anything hinted at on the unfinished “Search Engine”?
P. Barry: I had nothing to do with ‘Search Engine’, I thought it wasn‘t very good. So the answer is no. I’m not interested in polishing anyone’s 10 year old turds.
What does the Cubanate reunion mean for Be My Enemy?
P. Barry: I’ve seen a couple of people suggest that the Cubanate reunion will impact on future Be My Enemy stuff. It won’t. I’ve already finished 3 songs for the next Be My Enemy album and have demos for a few other songs. There will definitely be more Be My Enemy albums.
Any thoughts on taking BME on the road, and will we see a tour in 2011?
P. Barry: I will get a band together before the release of the second album and take this madness out on the road. The thing is I want to do it properly and not Karaoke style so I’ll need 2 guitarists a drummer and keyboards, all the stuff that costs money to take out on the road. I will find a way though.
The format and sound of “This is the New Wave” kept fans guessing and on their toes. Can you offer us any hints on what’s in store for future releases?
P. Barry: With Cubanate we always made every album completely different and I plan to do the same with Be My Enemy. So expect the same but more bonkers. I’ve actually written a slow song for the next album, so that’s already something different right there. I try never to repeat myself though, I’m not into the paint by numbers albums some bands end up doing once they have their formula.
I take great pride as a fan in talking to you, and thank you so much for taking the time out of your schedule to speak to us. Any words of wisdom to share before we conclude?
P. Barry: In my studio I’ve a white board to scribble notes on quickly if I have ideas which means I don’t have loads of paper lying all over the place all the time. At the top of the board for most of the making of the album I had a couple of quotes from Tony Wilson and Malcolm McLaren written down on it which really helped me when I was struggling for inspiration or had lost my way. I’m still learning new stuff every day I work in the studio. It’s still fresh and exciting which is pretty cool after doing it for close on 20 years and hopefully that’s what it sounds like when you get to hear the music that comes out of it.
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