Interview: Drew John Barnes

Here at Gigslutz, we’re interested with everything to do with music – whether it be the musicians themselves, those filming their videos, producing their music or taking photos. Drew John Barnes is a photographer and videographer from Paisley, Scotland, who has grown from taking pictures of local bands to teaching himself how to direct.

He’s directed videos of musicians like Enter Shikari and Kobi Onyame, and even worked on Guy Ritchie adverts featuring David Beckham – he’s done it all. We asked Drew a few questions about his career and how he’s got to where he is today…

When did you first want to work in music?
Some time ago… I have always had a deep relationship with music going to gigs from my early teen days when MySpace was the hip thing. I had always wanted to be a musician to be honest with you. I tried drums out for a while; unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be. When I was in college, studying photography at the time, I came across a few music photographers who got paid to follow artists around and film or photograph shows. I finally saw a way I could be the industry that I have always had a deep longing for and feel at home with.

Was it always photography and directing you wanted to do?
I kind of feel into both really, I had always been told I had a sharp eye for seeing things visually and never had a problem picking up a camera and getting something that looked good at the time. I used to dream about working for MTV or something to do with skateboarding growing up. I guess being a part of the 90s MTV generation had a big impact on me. When I started photographing artists, it was at the time where DSLR’s had just got HD video put in and before I knew every artist and their management would start to say ”oh could get some video of tonight” and before I knew it I was directing music videos. I guess deep down it always felt like I was going to do something creative.

What was your first job?
My first job was for a local band which took place inside an old abandoned coal railway station which we had shot the performance piece inside what I think was one of the storage units for the coal and I’m pretty sure the brink curved roof was ready to collapse especially because we had amps and drums playing four hours straight, health and safety in the early days doesn’t really come into play.

Can you tell us about your most recent projects?
One of my most recent projects with Scottish duo Saint PHNX has been pretty successfully, which I really enjoyed working on. I have known the guys in the act from being in the scene for a while, so I know there struggle in music which every artist does go through. The track ‘King’ is based on overcoming odds to be king and stand above the crowd proud knowing one day you will be king. I am all for believing and fighting for what you want in life. So this track was the perfect project. It sees a young protagonist boxer training and building up to his moment in the ring, we filmed in Glasgow’s east end which was very interesting filming with equipment well worth over £60,000 with no security it wasn’t long before we had some residents make some phone calls telling people we were filming so we wrapped those shots pretty quickly. The track has been premiered on Radio’ 1’s Greg James’ show and had over a million streams on Spotify as well as countless uses for TV shows and live sports.

I am also working on a personal project at the moment called ‘5 Questions’, which I really just decided to do because I felt that I have always met such inspiring and incredibly successful people with whom we would share all these stories backstage or working on set, some of them have been so inspiring to me so I felt obligated to share them with the world to inspire other musicians and creatives to take up their dreams and do what they love. It’s been an interesting ride so far I’ve been lucky enough to sit down with Grammy winner Fatmanscoop to MOBO Award winner (who has opened for the likes of Kanye West), my good friend, Kobi Onyame.

Who has been the most enjoyable to work with?
I would say a mix between Kobi Onyame and Scottish artist Little Eye they both have been worked with me for a while and we creatively have no rules to follow and they gave me the creative freedom on our projects which is a big deal for me. With both acts, we have gone through working with almost no budget to working with thousands of pounds. Which creatively always pushes to go deeper into yourself and come up with an idea that you might not have given the constraints.

What advice do you have for those wanting to break into the industry like you did?
My best advice is to always start whatever you are wanting to do in the industry now. People always tell me I’m going to work as a runner then work my way up the production ladder to director, which can be fine and will take time. But someone told me a long time ago “why would you hire a runner when you’re wanting a director, so start directing now”. What I mean by that is don’t wait around for someone to call to you work on a music video or take there photo. Just plan what you want to whoever is around or you know friends or family and make it yourself a budget or no budget. If you continue to that eventually people will come knocking because your work will always speak for its self.

What are your plans going forward?
I have quite a few things planned I am wanting to continue producing and directing music videos but I’m working on a few music-related commercials quite often now artists are using big brands to support them in their journey and represent the company at the same time. It’s a very beneficial process that needs content to match. I also have a few visually immersive personal projects more art based that is working it’s all early stages right now.

Huge thanks to Drew for answering our questions! Find out more at his website.

Mari Lane

Mari Lane

Editor, London. Likes: Kathleen Hanna, 6Music, live music in the sunshine. Dislikes: Sexism, pineapples, the misuse of apostrophes.