Oxford-native Chris Barker aka Premium Leisure recruits hometown indie elite on stellar new EP.

We tracked down Premium Leisure to discuss the slacker-psych-pop excellence of new EP ‘Easy FM’.

Words: Brad Harris | Photo: Ash Cooke

The Vibes Are Off, apparently. According to Kaitlyn Tiffany writing in The Atlantic, there are too many competing narratives as to what this summer should be and it’s just existentially disappointing. Try telling that to Oxford-native Chris Barker aka Premium Leisure. Although reticent to call himself a slacker, his latest single The Opener, the final track on Easy FM – released through producer Oli Barton-Wood’s new Plum Cuts label – asks us to turn on, tune in and drop out.

The ethos behind these tunes was carefree and easy he says, taking the pressure off himself to just write without fear. With a cast that includes Willie J Healey, drummer Mike Monaghan of Gaz Coombes‘ band, Harry Deacon of Razorlight, Ash Cooke of Be Good and Casper Miles and Jack Kendrew of PETSEMATARY – the assemble referring to themselves as “an Avengers” of talent, the vibes are in keeping with Mr. Healey’s excellent Twin Heavy that dropped last year.

These names serve as more than just nepotism however, but as the inspiration behind The Opener itself. “It’s a thank-you-note to the people who’ve influenced me, and encouraged me to ‘have a go’ over the years,” he says, “a recognition of the good fortune of being able to broaden our horizons and discovering things that can also act as therapies during challenging times.” Out of interest, I caught up with Chris to see how he is managing to stay afloat in these weird-ass times.

Hi Chris, or should I call you Premium Leisure? Obviously, judging by your credentials you are a bonafide slacker, but I was wondering where exactly did that moniker came from?

“I’m not entirely sure, maybe it’s a reference to the psychedelic aspects of the Premium Leisure tunes, or maybe the fact that I’m quite reserved and don’t move about too much on stage. I’ve really got into restraint in playing music, I like things to have their own space and for quiet sections to be really quiet, maybe that’s kind of slacker, I have no idea?”

Do you have any tips for staying cool whilst everyone else goes insane?

“I don’t think I’m the best person to be giving tips, I’m more quiet and shy than I think I am ‘cool’. I’ve been very lucky in the past year being able to release music and shoot videos, so I’ve had nothing to go insane about. What I would say though is that I’ve tried maintain perspective by listening to people and bursting my own little bubble that I find myself living in occasionally.”

Following a similar line, did lockdown afford you an opportunity to be creative or was it, like for many others, kind of stifling?

“Before lockdown I would go through phases of creativity, which I think is quite common for songwriters. I write all my songs on my acoustic guitar in my living room and tweak them for months until I have most of it in my head and then go into recording mode. I probably have written more songs than I would have, but recorded less, which is cool. I really missed inspiration from watching live music and getting together with my band mates, which is a huge part of the Premium Leisure process that I rely on, I’ve just had to be more patient on the recording side of things.”

Despite all the collaboration that went into making and releasing these songs, would you consider yourself a DIY musician?

“Up until this EP I have self-produced and mixed all the Premium Leisure releases so I guess there is a DIY aspect. I definitely wouldn’t have been able to anything without all the people I’ve had around me. I’ve been working with group of musicians on various projects over the past 7 or 8 years, and we’ve often set up all our gear together in a room and recorded, so I owe a lot of what I do now to them. I haven’t had many sessions in pro studios in the past but learn a lot from collaborating, especially recently shooting a video with Young Knives and working with producer Oli Barton-Wood, who’s been the perfect fit for co-producing and mixing the EP. I’ve also got a lot of great help from close friends and the Plum Cuts team on the other side of things, so I definitely can’t say I do everything myself!”

Outside of musical influences, are there any things or people you can point to as having a major impact on your creative process?

“A lot of my lyrics have come out of personal experiences, mainly long conversations at the pub or characters I’ve met on the road. More recently (and more boringly) the news and politics have been fuelling my songwriting, I don’t think I’ve ever been so taken back and confused by World events in my whole life and I’m finding it interesting writing about these topics in a positive and productive way.”

Find a limited run of dub-plate Easy FM vinyl here via South London label Plum Cuts.