27 May 2017

Former Shorty Street star Johnny Barker's brand new album

From RNZ Music
Johnny Barker playing his guitar

Johnny Barker Photo: Supplied

Forget Shortland Street. Johnny Barker (formerly the 'Ferndale Strangler') has just released his brand new album Sleepwalking. RNZ Music's Alex Behan chats to him about learning new instruments and living in Spain.

The debut album by Barker isn’t really Johnny’s Barker’s debut album, but he’d rather you didn’t know that.

The multi-talented artist is best known as Shortland Street’s Ferndale Strangler, but he’s been making music the whole time, first with his band Jester, then a solo record under the moniker Sleepy Kid.

“I’d be more than happy to forget about that one. It’s soppy. It was at a point in my life when I was listening to too much Jeff Buckley. There’s still a box of [those CDs] in a garage somewhere.”

It’s fair to say Sleepwalker is sonically a strong and significant progression from both Jester and Sleepy Kid. Barker has spent a long time getting the sound of this record just the way he wanted and in order to do so he learnt a whole new way of making music.

Johnny Barker

Johnny Barker Photo: Supplied

“It’s that funny thing where you’re working, writing songs on a guitar for years and years and years and you get stuck. You end up writing the same thing over again. So then I got a piano and I learnt the chords and then I was like ‘oh wow’ because it was so different and you work in a different way.”

Then the iPad comes along and I can play any drum kit, any rhythm, and that triggers a whole new group of sounds.” 

The layered sounds of the album owe a lot to the iPad - not only did Barker program all the drums and create the arrangements on it, he found he could use it to quite easily and economically bring in a wide range of new instruments and sounds. 

“One of my best discoveries was using the old iPad 1 that my wife had given me. I started downloading all these really cheap synths, like a dollar twenty each. And they sound amazing.”

Having elevated past his Jeff Buckley phase, Barker wanted to approach the songwriting with a little less personal attachment to the songs. He says he tried to write each one like a mini film script. 

“Anything you write is going to be reflective of you and some kind of subconscious story that you want to tell. But I made sure in the writing process that the songs were from the perspectives of characters. I used that as a jump start for writing … instead of thinking “oh girl” or “I’m sad’ or ‘I’m pissed off’ or whatever it is.”