For someone who was, by his own admission, “extremely shy” as a young child, Ethan Barnett, aka Ten Tonnes, cuts a strikingly confident figure. The 21-year-old musician from Hertford possesses a breezy, seemingly effortless ability to fashion snap-crackle lyrics and earworm melodies.
Huw Stephens has already emerged as an influential fan, and has backed Ten Tonnes with regular airplay and even named him in his Alternative Tips for 2018 list. More support came from MistaJam, Phil Taggart, Jo Whiley, John Kennedy, Radio X and BBC Introducing, while MTV profiled him as a Get To Know breaking artist. Meanwhile, his live shows have included sold-out headline shows at The Camden Assembly and The Lexington and a tour as guest to Rat Boy. A run of arena dates with Stereophonics and further shows with Tom Grennan are also on the cards.
So that’s where Ethan’s at now. The question is, how did he get here?
Until the age of nine, when he enrolled in the same drama club that his elder siblings had once attended, he scarcely spoke a word in public (he’s certainly making up for it now). “You used to have to do singing in the club, and a play at the end of the year. That helped me massively. It changed my character completely, because I’d been very self-contained before that.”
Home life was nurturing, his parents, both teachers, encouraging their children to be creative, to express themselves. Ethan’s dad “had a couple of guitars around the house, and there was always music on, things like Paul Simon and Van Morrison.” He started out playing drums at the age of nine before switching to guitar five years later.
That passion continued, leading Ethan to study music production at York University. He quickly discovered it wasn’t for him. “For me, when it comes to music, I want to do it, not learn about the theory. I wanted to get out there and go for it. Besides, so much of that course was about the science of it, and I’m absolutely shit at science. I mean, really bad. And working out what a sound is, I’m not bothered about that. I just want to make the sound.”
That year in York involved, Ethan says, a lot of late nights and very little work. “I ended up getting zero marks, because I didn’t hand any work in. My parents were very good about it, all things considered.”
From his independently released debut EP ‘Lucy’ through to his Warner Bros. Records debut ‘Born To Lose EP’ and the recent single ‘Cracks Between’, Ten Tonnes’ songs capture a mix of wry humour, wistfulness and poetic imagery with a real power of observation.
“Maybe I lean more towards the diarist side of songwriting, but having said that, I don’t tend to think: ‘This happened to me, I’ll write a song about it.’ But things do come out, it’s just that you’re not necessarily aware of that at the time. I suppose that’s the magic of songwriting. You like to think you’re in control, but most of the time you’re not.”
It’s an approach that allows him to express immediately relatable thoughts about often complicated emotions. His latest track ‘Lay It On Me’, produced by regular collaborator Hugo White, is a case in point. As he explains, “The song is telling someone if they need you, you’ll be there. You’ve been away and distant, but now you’re back.”
Ethan isn’t bothered about what people call his music – besides, it’s out of his hands now, he says. Mention genres such as garage-rock and folk-pop and he smiles enigmatically; adjectives like propulsive, raucous and tender produce a similar response. It’s all just music, isn’t it, he eventually suggests. “Everyone goes on about things being cool or not cool, but I can’t see the point of that. What does it mean, anyway? I couldn’t make music with that hanging over me. And why complicate things? The songs I write are pop, but the rough edges are still there. That seems pretty simple to me.”
Labels aren’t important, all that matters now is getting out there and delivering the goods, he says. “To me, I’m already living the dream. I’m like all guns blazing; you know, ‘Let’s smash it.’ I’ve got one stab at this. It’s time to do it.”
King Tuts Wah Wah Hut
Already announced as support to Rat Boy on his current UK tour, main support to Stereophonics on their UK arena tour, and main support to rising star Tom Grennan on his UK…Read More