Thistle Sifter is an ambient instrumental post-rock project by English artist and musician Pete Barnes. The new album “Circles” is the follow-up to 2022’s debut “A Spectral Moon”, based on a serious cycling accident that catapulted Barnes into disarray in November 2020.
Written during an extended recovery period and far from family and friends in England, “Circles” is inspired by personal struggles with health, acceptance, and letting go of the past. Post-concussion syndrome symptoms forced Barnes to live a secluded life out of necessity, and during this time music became the ideal therapy. The result is a powerful ambient instrumental record inspired by Brexit, Covid, and the difficult, ongoing path to Barnes’ recovery.
Thistle Sifter recently released a new single taken from “Circles” called ‘To Kingdom Come.’ More on this track, the upcoming album, and live performances, we’ve chatted with Pete.
Hi, Pete! For starters, can you introduce the band to our audience? How did it all start?
Thistle Sifter is an ambient instrumental post-rock project based on a serious cycling accident I had in November 2020. The music was written during an extended recovery period and is inspired by my personal struggles with health, acceptance, and letting go of the past.
For a fan-to-be who may not have yet heard a Thistle Sifter track but is reading this as their introduction into your world, how would you describe your sound and where it’s going?
A mixture of ambient, instrumental, and post-rock music. Thistle Sifter has no set musical boundaries and is a platform to experiment with different musicians and artists. This will influence the direction of the music and live performances in the future.
How do you know when a track is ready? Does it ever become difficult to either refine ideas or to stop perfecting?
Both Thistle Sifter albums were written at home and because the albums are very personal, I wanted to leave the demos largely untouched to retain the emotional link I felt to them. This helped to reduce the amount of time I would normally have spent dissecting the tracks in the studio, which is something I tended to do in previous projects I’ve been involved in.
What inspired you to put together your song ‘To Kingdom Come,’ respectively your upcoming album “Circles”?
‘To Kingdom Come’ represents the primal pull I felt to be in the UK following my accident. I was physically unable to travel to visit friends and family in England due to my recovery process and the Covid pandemic.
Feeling dislocated and lost are recurring themes in “Circles”. In the last couple of years, I’ve suffered heavily from post-concussion syndrome, forcing me to live a relatively secluded life. Music became a form of escapism and the ideal therapy during my recovery.
Can you introduce us to the ‘To Kingdom Come’ creative process? What were your influences on this track?
It was actually the quickest song to finish and very little was added from the original home demo. I remember recording it on a freezing winter’s morning at Tom Broshuis’s studio and struggling to play the main guitar riff because my fingers were frozen. The same day we also re-recorded the synth and guitar layers, as well as reamping the samples I had made at home. I’m not sure if there were any songs or artists that influenced the writing process, but the final version is a nod to Sigur Rós.
Your work seems rooted in nostalgia. Can you shed some light on any stories or anecdotes that led to these sounds?
Although Thistle Sifter is a project based on an accident and the recovery period that followed, the last three years have also led me to reassess all aspects of my life, including my past. ‘To Kingdom Come’ symbolizes feelings of dislocation and loneliness, focusing on my struggle to settle in the Netherlands, having moved here from England in 2008. Accepting that the memories of your homeland are primarily based on youthful nostalgia and that your future does not necessarily lie there, became important hurdles to overcome in my recovery process.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
Music has always been very therapeutic and this creative process has always been the best way for me to express my emotions, be it picking up a guitar, playing the piano, or creating and recording samples. In the last couple of years, it has become an even more vital part of my life, a form of trauma therapy.
The creative process is the most important thing for me, so I regularly work on new music. I always have a lot of ideas floating around in my head, but sometimes it takes a while for a track to come to fruition. It normally starts by recording a guitar riff or piano melody on my phone, and then at a later date, I’ll sit down and develop that idea. More often than not it evolves into a song, but some end up on the scrap heap.
Music seems to have always been there for us no matter how dark a day may be. For those who listen to your music as their own medicine, what do you hope they get out of your songs?
“Circles” is a very personal record because it symbolizes the roller coaster I’ve been on in recent times. Hopefully, the listener will enjoy the dynamics and layers of the new album. The tracks are better produced than “A Spectral Moon”, which was predominantly recorded at home, and there are also more interesting progressions and instrumental choices on this record.
After releasing your upcoming album on 26th January 2024, do you have any live performances planned?
We have a special release show planned on Saturday 27th January at the Nijverheid in Utrecht together with our friends Moonwatch, who will be releasing their debut album on the same date. Artist Nici Metselaar has created new visuals for the new songs, which we will be using live. There are a few Dutch shows planned in the Spring to celebrate the release, as well as maybe one or two German and Belgian shows. All shows will be with a full band, which I’m really excited about.
What music have you been listening to recently and what excites you for the remainder of the year?
I’ve been listening to the new Aestrid album “Youth Care” non-stop. I also recently discovered lots of new bands at the Left of the Dial festival in Rotterdam, including Tummyache, Big Special, Porchlight, and Otala.
What other creative outputs do you engage in that we may not suspect?
I try to spend as much time as possible writing music at home and have recently started piano lessons. I also really enjoy gardening and spending time in my allotment.
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