Interviews Music

One Track Mind: Quinton Barnes

The singular R&B artist gets jazzy with Nina Simone and John Coltrane

The premise of One Track Mind is pretty simple: I ask artists to pick one track that means a lot to them – either something they’ve discovered recently, something that’s been with them for years, or one that reminds them of a specific time in their life or career – and tell me what makes it so special to them. I get to talk to the artists I love, and they get to talk about the artists they love. Love all round!

Kicking off the series in 2021 is the incredible Quinton Barnes: easily one of my favourite musical discoveries of last year and a truly extraordinary artist. I’ve had his album Aarupa on hard rotation since it came out, and I genuinely believe his is destined for greatness. His music is highly personal, unpredictable, urgent, sensual and impactful, and I just can’t get enough of it. Thankfully I don’t have to wait too long, as he has new music landing in the next few weeks, which is one of the few things making the start of this hideous month vaguely bearable.

For his selection he’s broken basically the only rule of One Track Mind and picked two tracks: but all is instantly forgiven, as they’re both stone-cold classics, spoken about with an irresistible passion, and I’m incredibly grateful to him for taking part.

Nina Simone – Be My Husband and John Coltrane – Mars

“Creating music is an exercise in restraint. With each passing day I grow more resolute in my opinion that the most adept artists have a keen awareness of space – that what matters most is not all you can add, but what you’re left with once you take it all away. What happens in between the notes is just as crucial as the notes themselves and must be considered with equal measure lest the whole thing fall into chaos.

“No two songs demonstrate mastery and awareness of space better than Be My Husband by Nina Simone and Mars by John Coltrane. Mars is an astonishing example of organized chaos – Coltrane had certainly shown a capability for raucous cacophony on releases like Ascension, but on Mars he set to achieve the same level of jarring confrontation by simply stripping it all back – the only instruments present here are drums (played by Rashied Ali) and the saxophonist himself, playing off of each other and the empty space that surrounds them. See space demands delicacy – the more there is the better you must be, lest you be exposed as empty. The worst thing for a musician is to be regarded as full of hot air.

“Be My Husband is a full-throated exhortation so urgent that I’m sure it demanded restraint – there was simply no other way to get the point across. I get the impression that the song would have absolutely no impact with a full band arrangement – Nina had to speak directly to the listener in the most effective way possible. What resulted is one of the most beautiful songs by one of the most imposing artists of the 21st century. The old adage remains true, even when discussing the abstract minutiae of music composition – less is more. Truly. Strip it all away and just give ‘em the basics – if they’re still listening, you’ll know you’re onto something.

“There are points throughout that absolutely rip my heart out lyrically, and the grand baroque arrangements throughout just send me absolutely spinning in this world she creates. Normally I’m a sucker for really simple arrangements and pared back stuff, but I just love the romantic painterly way this album is constructed. I think it is the most completely transported I’ve ever been by a record, and that feeling hasn’t dulled with time.”

Quinton Barnes – Switch is out now