The eclectic and captivating Eastern Barbers is the project of brothers Ross and James Fernandez, backed by a rotating array of family and friends. Their music feels like a soundtrack to their inner-city upbringing and the bleak prospects of their generation. Classically trained from a young age, the soulful samples and lo-fi jazz sound of their music is just the tip of the iceberg for this talented pair’s burgeoning potential. We caught up with Ross to dig into the band’s origins and find out what makes them tick.
So it’s you and your brother James in the band. What brought you to make music together?
We’ve got two other brothers and we all started off on classical instruments. We all played piano, then I played flute and James played percussion, then I learnt percussion and guitar. So we kind of started off classically trained and when were about 10 or so, I supposed, we started to veer off a bit from the classical stuff and started to play the stuff we listened to. A couple of years later we started to get into a lot of jazz together. We used to, like, pick pop songs and then jazz them up until we could learn standards and stuff like that. And then we formed a little jazz trio. At the time we were, like, 11 or 12 and playing functions and little jazz clubs. It must have been weird for people who went to these functions.
Do you think your classical training makes you more eclectic in your writing? How does it affect the music you make?
I think it’s great because it’s given us a musical basis that we’ve always had. And through doing classical pieces and classical performances I’ve kind of learnt to, like, prepare myself. The way you prepare yourself for a classical performance is completely different to how I’d prepare myself for a gig or something like that. It’s a lot more intense. The way we practice and construct songs, we’ve taken that from the classical side and tried to bring it in to what we do now.
Both of you have travelled quite extensively. How have you brought that into your music?
I lived in Havana and I spent a lot of time in Latin America, and then the next place I found myself staying for a bit was Istanbul. At that time James was in Tokyo and we used that time to absorb all the music that we had listened to on the way. We collected a lot of samples. And then I went to India, James was still in Tokyo, and we listened to a lot of different stuff. At the time Eastern Barbers was just a WhatsApp message, it wasn’t even a band. It was just sending ideas over to each other and collecting samples from a wide range of music knowing that when we finally came back to London together we’d use it all.
So you moved back to South East London, what’s the music scene like around where you are?
South London is where it’s at really. There so much stuff going on, there’s so many good people. I know there are so many good people across London, I know East London quite well because all the venues are there, but you could spend all your time going from place to place, pub to pub, in a little South East London bubble. Everyone’s in the same boat. Everyone’s different and individual but everyone’s influenced by that South East area, everyone’s got that influence somehow.
What does the future hold for Eastern Barbers?
You just want to get your music out there and you want people to relate to it, or like it, or question it. Also, we’re writing a lot of different stuff all the time. We were in the studio at the weekend working on some stuff to bring out in February or March. We need to get better at putting it down and moving onto the next thing. We see ourselves hopefully being able to have a plan for making new stuff. We have all these influences we still need to draw on.
What your most memorable moment so far?
We played Glastonbury. That was memorable because that weekend our older brother was getting married over the other side of the country in Norwich. We got the email that we could play but it was the same day as our brother’s wedding. Everyone was cool about it, they wanted us to go. Then we spoke to the nice lady at BBC and she changed us to the Sunday, she was so nice! We were so thankful. It was long though. We went down to Glastonbury on a Thursday, then drove five hours on Friday from West England to East England, did the wedding and then drove all the way back on the Sunday and played the Sunday. That was pretty memorable.
Their latest single ‘Blue Flakes’ is out now on Soundcloud.