*by Maria (Mouv) Kouvarou
**για Ελληνικά πατήστε εδώ
Dan Kert is the guitarist, singer and one half of London alt rock duo Plastic Barricades. Prompted by the release of their “Optimist” video, Aégis Magazine contacted him for a chat.
Having watched your recently released “Optimist” video, I cannot help but make an attempt to get to know you better. So, Plastic Barricades. Are you up for a little Q&A session with Aégis Magazine from Cyprus?
Let’s do this!
In these troubled times, a proclamation for optimism sounds almost as a provocation. Still, your “Optimist” is well-substantiated by theory and anything but just a happy song. Do you want to tell us a bit about how the inspiration came about, and what the song-writing process had been?
I always thought that writing about things you truly believe in is the best way to express yourself. Sure, some people assume a separate stage persona and all that, but I am quite far from that – I am just not a very good actor. But I’ve always considered myself to be an optimist and to try to actively look for a silver lining and keep my head above the water. With the breakneck speeds of the modern world it is very easy to get bogged down by the unrest and paranoia, propagated by the media, the real problems that the planet is facing daily, the seemingly effortless success of peers on social media and so on. But I think you choose to be an optimist the same way you can choose your reactions to events – you can be angry and frustrated and even violent, or you can try to help, add compassion to the mix. “Optimist”, like the rest of our upcoming album, was written, recorded and mixed in a backyard shed studio. The main riff and structure came out of a jam with Paul and the lyrics followed shortly after. As soon as the first crude demo was done we both knew we had something special on our hands.
Is this your usual song-writing process (if you have any)?
When a song is born right in front of you, out of thin air during a jam I always get very excited. It is almost like the universe is talking to you, a wonderful feeling of controlled chaos and spontaneity. This is probably my preferred way of songwriting, because all band members are there for the initial conception phase and there is less overthinking and more instant reactions. However, this might be time-consuming and sometimes it is easier to have the framework of a song prepared before the amps are turned on. After 5 years of active studio work with PB I am convinced that mixing both these methods brings uniqueness and diversity to an album.
With Self-Theories, our upcoming LP, we really tried to embrace our limitations, capture that spontaneity and not mess it up with idealistic post-production and “polishing” and unnecessary edits. The album basically says: “This is who we are today, this is how we sound and how our studio sounds – and we don’t see any need to pretend to be someone we are not”.
How optimists are you as people? Do you choose a half-filled glass? Or does it depend upon the situation? Who is the most optimist among the band members?
Sometimes staying optimistic can be hard. But nothing worth doing in this life is ever easy. I try to keep my focus and stay positive, no matter what. Political situation in this country, ecological situation in the world, social media and all the rest can feel like a real burden, especially for a compassionate person (I think I am one of those super-empaths), but there is a lot of beauty in the world and most people are generally quite decent human beings. I believe that change starts within and daily habits of self-improvement, both mental and physical can really fill up that half empty glass of yours. We need more optimists in the world.
In your website there is a very detailed description of Plastic Barricade’s journey so far. Had I asked you for the three most significant moments of your history that affected the way you and your music developed, which would you name and why?
This kind of question can be difficult to answer, because even the smallest events can really shift the perspective. Plastic Barricades have been around for a while now and we had our fair share of rollercoaster rides, up and down. Moving from a small country called Estonia, where Barricades first became Plastic, was definitely a big change, that opened up a new world for me. It wasn’t easy, but the immense height of the ceiling of what can be achieved kept us going through hard times. I love London and since I was a kid I always knew I want to live and create here. Dreams come true, but that requires a lot of determination and hard work. Being an optimist helps a lot.
First UK tour was also an eye opening experience. Touring is many times idealized and romanticized, especially by those who have never done it. But you have to have really thick skin and really strong relationship with your band in order to stay sane. Touring teaches you a lot about who you are and how resilient you can be.
Finally, building my own recording studio, that I can access 24h, probably made the biggest impact on me as a songwriter and musician. I’ve spent way too many hours and way too much money in professional studios, looking at the clock. It is very hard to be creative when it costs that much. But the more you record yourself and your ideas, the more you can listen to them without the need to be playing at the same time (like in a rehearsal room). You can be your own band and learn all the ins and outs of music production and also seek for your own sounds and approaches through experimentation.
How involved have you been in the process of the “Optimist” video creation? Do you have a particular aesthetic when it comes to the visuals that accompany your work?
We are very lucky to have Elina, who has been our art-director and visual creator for the last decade. She’s made all those epic “impossible objects” for our previous album Mechanics of Life and its singles and shot most of our music videos. I really adore visual art in most of its forms, it is such an integral part of who we are as humans. I also feel that a song without a video is missing out on the opportunity to show how we see the world. And then there is the DIY approach. Everyone with a budget can just go and hire people, that are trained to shoot videos and have million brilliant ideas and all the equipment and expertise necessary. But when you do it yourself it can feel soo much more rewarding.
“Optimist” video was shot in a living room over the course of a couple of weeks, with minimal setup and a lot of enthusiasm. It was a lot of fun to create and this was one of those rare occasions when the stars aligned and everything went exactly according to plan and looked pretty great from the first shot to the last. It is all real, there is no CGI or post-production, even the colours are real. We are very proud of this video. Go check it out!
If with your music you could a) Make a difference in the world for the improvement of a social/environmental issue; b) Become extremely rich; c) Gain international reputation, which one would you choose first and why?
This is easy. Money or reputation don’t really mean anything if you don’t have a purpose. Personal gains are just plain boring. Making a difference, on the other hand, sounds like a nice contribution. We all can make a difference, no matter how small or big. Many times, making a difference isn’t even the main goal. The main goal is to be a decent human being, do quality work and share it with the world.
Where do you look for inspiration? Or do you let inspiration look for you instead?
There is a thing called “songwriter's glasses”. You cannot buy them anywhere, you just learn to find them again and again. But there is a lot of inspiration in art, literature and music. When people express themselves they usually have something to say. I like that: opinions and passion and stories.
In the competitive music scene of London, what do you think is your greatest advantage as a band?
Having a personal studio and not having a 9 to 5 job is definitely huge advantage. This isn’t due to some lottery or inheritance, this is a reward for working hard as a freelancer and setting up businesses that provide passive income. Even a small income becomes so much more important if you’ve done it all yourself and work for yourself and also don’t have to spend much time on it. This allows me to focus on the thing I love the most in this world – writing songs.
In a world where the “butterfly effect” is almost ever-relevant, and where changes in one field can have an effect in the developments of seemingly irrelevant fields, do you see it likely that the Brexit could affect the music/musicians/bands of the country in any way? If so, in what way?
Since recently we have this policy in the band – we don’t talk about Brexit or, in fact, any other political games, that the profiteers are playing. One thing I want to mention here is this: no matter what happens around people need to be supportive of each other and leave all their negativity behind. The world was always a tough place, but we are living in the best times ever (objectively). So just notice the good and make it better; the bad will fall off when you gain speed.
Thank you so much for taking the time for this interview. Before we leave you for now, please feel free to share anything you want with us and let us know which are your plans for the near future.
“Optimist” is out now, our next single “Weightless” should be out in early May and then the album will follow somewhere in summer. Just keep an eye on our pages to get all the latest updates. Here is what I want to leave everyone with: We are ALL in the same boat, but it won’t go anywhere and sink if we don’t work together. Be kind to one another and help each other out.
***PHOTO CREDIT: Elina Pasok