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  • Ru Pearson

“I’ve never felt more creatively fulfilled”: In Conversation with Independent Artist, Lo Barnes

© Tifani Truelove

Meet Lo, the thirty-something rock’n’roller with a timeless sound and a refreshing outlook on the industry: “According to most people in music, I am not the right age to be starting my career. I say: fuck that.”

2023 was the year of “getting shit done” for Margate-based Musician, Lo Barnes. Moving from the “isolating” bustle of London with big plans to form a new band, Lo found a fertile creative network by the seaside. She quickly built a rapport with local musicians Josh, Elias and Henry, and set to work developing a new iteration of a solo project that has been nascent for almost ten years. Since then, the band have played a string of support slots around Thanet and London and, seeing the year out on a high, Lo opened for none other than The Libertines on the Saturday night of their ‘Margate Weekender’. 


Never Hurt Again is a confident and refined first EP that explores themes of heartbreak and melancholia with a distinctly 60s aesthetic. Inspired by artists such as The Shangri-Las, The Doors and The Ronettes, Lo combines smooth, sultry vocals with layered guitars and a smattering of retro-western riffs to create tracks steeped in romantic nostalgia. 

Just before Christmas, INJECTION spoke to Lo to discuss the process of releasing an EP as an independent artist. With incense burning and warm winter sunshine illuminating her effortlessly stylish Margate home, the conversation meandered freely into topics such as finding beauty in imperfection, forging new modes and methods of creativity, and discovering that what feels familiar needn’t always be cliché. 



Hey, Lo! 2023 was a busy year for you; you put a new band together and released a three-track EP. How are you doing?


Things are going great! It’s been busy for sure. I’ve been playing with two of my band mates for just over a year now. Our time together has been a bit surreal…within a month of us first starting to play together we supported The Wave Pictures at the Lexington in London. It’s all been a bit fast-tracked. We went from barely knowing each other to playing really cool gigs super quickly! We recorded the EP in February 2023, mixed it through to May, then released a single and a music video one at a time, every month for three months. It was hectic but I loved it. We rounded off the EP release with a headline show at the Tom Thumb Theatre here in Margate, which sold out. 


I remember, I couldn’t get tickets! What was that show like for you?


We weren’t expecting it to sell out at all; it was our first headline show as a newly formed band. Performing to a room packed full of friends and locals was so magical. I’ve performed on stage loads before; I was a backing singer for The Heavy and other artists for ten years and I’ve been working on this solo project in some form or another since 2015. But something about that gig was really special. When I walked out onto stage it felt like I’d stepped through a portal into a dream. 


In the days after the show, I would be walking around town minding my own business and people would come up to me and say something like “I heard your show went well!” It was a nice reminder that it actually did happen, you know? It’s a beautiful feedback loop. Feeling that post-show buzz was very reassuring, too. Making music is only the first hurdle. Planning and considering how you actually present that body of work to people is another thing entirely. 


I suppose you have to wear a lot of different hats when you’re an unsigned artist… one day you’re Lo the musician, the next you’re your own PR manager or social media content creator. Did you have to learn a lot of these skills “on the job” so to speak?


Yeah, that’s very true, there’s so much to think about when you’re a DIY, independent artist. It was really important for me to feel “in charge” of this release. Putting on all those different hats was intense, and I actually found it quite difficult to delegate any work or responsibility outwards. It all felt too precious and close to me, and I wanted to do it all myself. But at some point, you have to let go of that fear, or you’ll never finish anything. I had a lot of help from a lot of incredible people, like the sound engineers and merch designers and the friends who helped me make the music videos. So, although the project was very collaborative in many ways, all of the ideas and the creative decisions began and ended with me. 

© Photo by Tifani Truelove, collage by Penelope Valentine

The EP is definitely something to be proud of! Was it an easy adjustment for you starting your career as a solo artist? 


I definitely wouldn’t say it was easy, haha! Through most of my creative journey, I’ve been supported and guided by other creatives further ahead in their careers. While that’s really helpful and necessary, I really wanted to be my own boss and not have to lean on anyone for advice or help. I have a lot of Aries and Capricorn in me, so I definitely have it in me to be bossy, but I think I’ve held that back in the past because it’s not very cute or “ladylike.” I think that, for people that are raised as women, it can be really difficult to embrace actually having the answers. I definitely struggled with that for a long time. I needed to push myself to answer my own questions or solve my own problems. When I left space for questions to be unanswered, I always found that, eventually, I already had the answers myself. The whole process was consuming and tiring but also so enjoyable; I’ve never felt more creatively fulfilled than I did over the summer bringing this all out.


You recently supported The Libertines here in Margate. What was that like?


It was crazy! I’ve never been congratulated for something more than that. Getting that gig was so wild to me. Margate has such an intrinsic creative network that you’re only ever two degrees of separation away from Carl Barat for example. I feel very honoured to be able to pin this show in my own map. The Libertines fans are wild, too. That show felt like a family reunion or something. People came from so far to see those shows and it really re-energised my faith in fandom in a way. In a time where making music can sometimes feel quite detached and “online,” playing an amazing show like that just brought everything back down to earth, to one room where everyone was sharing an experience and loving it. 


Your sound is a wistful, melancholic sort of rock’n’roll. What music are you inspired by and what were you listening to when making the EP?


I’ve been stuck in a loop of listening to stuff from the 50s-70s for a while. I’m always listening to Nancy Sinatra and the Shangri-Las. I also like a band called The Mystery Lights, they’re doing a really cool, contemporary take on the 60s garage punk stuff. I’m one of those musicians and writers who doesn’t need everything they do to be wholly original. I know some people feel really strongly about doing something innovative and completely new but that’s not the case for me. One of the biggest compliments someone can give me is if they hear me play and ask: “did you write that? It feels really familiar.” I want my music to feel timeless. So, if someone feels that my music is nostalgic or classic in that way, it’s honestly the highest compliment. I don’t know for sure if I’ll feel this way forever, but it’s certainly been the case for this first EP. 


Your music has a cinematic quality to it; I can see Don’t Wait being part of a film score for a modern western or a Tarantino film or something. How does that sit with you? 


That’s another enormous compliment so thank you! I have had people say that before actually, and they’ve mentioned Quentin Tarantino and David Lynch so it’s cool to hear that again. It’s funny…when we first recorded Don’t Wait in 2021 it sounded totally different. We had a full band and there were hand claps and it felt really jolly. It had a bit of a late 60s Neil Diamond vibe to it. I sat with it for a while, but it didn’t feel right. Later, I was listening to Elvis’s rendition of Blue Moon - a really specific old mono recording - and it felt really gentle and intimate. The guitars are percussive and small-sounding and tender and there’s a bunch of tape hiss. I realised that was how I wanted Don’t Wait to feel. So, I recorded a new demo with three layered guitars playing open, ringing harmonies and I realised I’d found it. 


So many of my favourite songs are stark and raw like that. There’s something so charming about that type of sound because it feels very human; so much of our experience is about accepting that we’re all imperfect. Having been a session singer in the past, when my approach to musicality had to be very rigorous because I needed to deliver exactly what someone else wanted from me, I was used to being very technically “on point.” The more I make my own music, the worse I’m becoming technically, but I definitely feel more embodied and authentic in my expression. It feels real. 

© Tifani Truelove


What’s your process of making music like? Is it a solo endeavour or are your bandmates involved in writing the tracks too?


Generally speaking, I write the songs alone. The ideas come to me in a solitary state but as a band we flesh out arrangements and finish things together. It’s been great to learn how to leave room for others to bring in their ideas and their creativity. When we first started playing together I had very strong ideas and opinions about how I wanted things to sound, especially seeing as I was in this headspace of reclaiming creative direction. Now that we’re evolving together, the boys can write themselves into new material which is really exciting. The more you play together, the jammier things get in rehearsals, too. It’s a trust thing and a comfort thing, I think. Josh will start playing a cool bassline and then we’ll write a song around it. It has felt very important for me and my personal journey to learn how to take my hands off the wheel a bit when the trust is truly there.


The lyrics on the EP explore intimate themes of heartbreak, self-nurturing, and reclaiming your power after a debilitating breakup. How does it feel to have your words out in the world for the first time?


Putting a song out into the world is always an intense feeling because that song is like your baby. I definitely use song writing to process my feelings but I also quite like the idea of never really talking too specifically about what a song is about. I want there to be a slight veil that protects the song I suppose. I want to maintain some mystery because it’s more likely that a listener will project their own experience on to the song in that way and therefore find something that resonates with them. There’s a narrative arc that runs through the three tracks that I’m really happy with. It begins with Don’t Wait, which is about the wish for love, then Let the Devil Ride is like the manic surrender phase, then Never Hurt Again, which feels like licking wounds and debating whether it’d be worth experiencing that cycle ever again. I’m really heartened to hear that you sense a level of intimacy in the lyrics because, like I said earlier, it feels like a compliment to me if my songs feel classic or familiar. In the past I definitely fenced off – sonically and lyrically – permission to just live in the familiar. Now, I’m trying to be unafraid of using cliches or writing about topics that have been written about a hundred times. 


There’s a reason they’ve been written about a hundred times, though! Everyone can relate to them; they touch our heartstrings…


Yeah, you’re right. I think that love and acceptance and trust and vulnerability are all at the core of the human experience so it’s hard to avoid those topics. I was looking at the new material I’m working on at the moment – there’s five tunes and all of them have the words “love” or “heart” in the title. I think I’m just going to have to find a way to claim that and make it an intentional thing. I’m clearly not done processing some stuff right now.



I really loved the video for Never Hurt Again, what was that like to film?


I felt so supported when making that video but I also really started to question what I’d got myself in for. I had this idea to make a video that was in a white, blank space that gave the impression of being a one-take video. We filmed it in Fire Eye Land here in Margate. It was a fun day. I choreographed my own goofy dance moves. The first minute of the video is basically just me in a white room dancing to the camera. I was suddenly like “why did I do this?! This was a terrible idea!” I felt really exposed and vulnerable, I guess. Thankfully, watching it back I was pleased with it, and it had the energy I had envisioned for it. 


Watching myself on screen afterwards was surprisingly difficult. My body is changing all the time but in general, it’s expanding. I’m taking up more physical space in my flesh suit at the moment than I have done in the past. I remember watching the video and seeing this one little fat roll coming over my skirt whenever I moved. I judged myself so harshly for it and even questioned if I wanted other people to see it. But then I realised it was important to show it; it’s my body after all. As a midsize person I want to show other mid-size people that we’re allowed to move and exist in our bodies without being minimised - literally and figuratively. Even that process of saying “Ok. That’s what I look like” was important for me. I don’t have a huge fan base, but I have a small group of followers and if just one of them sees that my little fat roll hasn’t been edited out and it makes them feel ok about their little fat roll – then that’s perfect. That makes me happy. 


That feels really important – I’m proud of you for that! 


Thank you… I’ve actually found working on the visuals side of things surprisingly fulfilling, as much as it’s just another thing on the to-do list! But having the opportunity to let videos and artwork fortify the story-telling and world-creating that you want the song to do is really cool. 


Lastly, what’s coming up for you in the new year, Lo?


At the moment I’m allowing myself to have a fallow period - a restful few months to recuperate. It’s a consuming task having to think about how best to spend your next round of energy. When planning the next phase in a project like this, you’re forever banking on energy you will have at some point. But how do you get to that point? It all comes down to resting and listening to your body. 


There are five tracks not on the EP that we’ve been practicing and playing live a bit. I want to show people what we’ve been working on. I’d love to hit the live side of things a little bit more in 2024. We’re going to start doing shows again in February and I’m going to keep my ears to the ground for good support slots and I’d love to go on a tour, but we’ll have to see what 2024 brings.


 Follow Lo on Instagram for all the latest news, updates, and releases.


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