“We’re all babies”
Bar italia do not play by internet’s rules. Emerging as the hot new band from London under Dean Blunt’s iconic World Music, bar italia’s deliberately unkempt productions and drowsy, entangled vocals have quickly amassed a niche, “if you know, you know” fan base. Funnily, no one knew anything about them – with only a crying stickman as their album cover, bar italia maintained an elusive, but felt presence. And funnily, as these cycles tend to go, it was their headstrong disinterest in the theatrics of being mainstream that brought them into it.
Now, things are slightly different. “We’ve been chatting recently,” Jezmi Tarik Fehmi objects when I ask about the enigmatic attitude reflected not only in their cryptic grunge ballads and low-res visuals, but also an absence of any interaction with their crowd on stage. “Yeah, by our standards! We probably said like 7 words last show,” Sam Fenton is quick to intervene sarcastically, while Nina Cristante observes and chuckles at them in the corner. Throughout our chat before their sold-out show at Bitterzoet, the ironic self-awareness, warm awkwardness, and obscure humour with which they treat one another – and anyone who is willing to look beyond the picture – quickly reveals that there’s a lot more to the trio’s seemingly affectless ‘cool’.
However revolutionary their approach may seem in the 21st century online dystopia, bar italia is more than a cultural phenomenon for the post-internet intellectualisations. They’re a band returning to the oldschool order of musicianship, whereby a loyal audience is gained through far-reaching whispers across the scene and an uncompromising vision, rather than selling one’s soul to the TikTok algorithm. Breaking away from the imposed identity of ‘mystery’, bar italia share their creative process, dry jokes and becoming Gen Z’s Rolling Stones.
Hey, great to meet you! How are you feeling today?
J: Good to be back on the road.
S: We missed the last few days because our shit van broke down. We’re excited to play again. It’s reassuring to know that when you miss a gig, you actually really miss it.
J: There’s definitely a sense of mourning over missing a gig. It’s horrible.
It’s such a classic rockstar movie moment of a van breaking down, ha-ha.
J: It was so disappointingly vanilla.
N: The new van is really nice though.
Jumping right to it, I need to get the most cliché topic out of the way…
N [interrupts and rolls her eyes]: Yeah, we are mysterious.
Sorry to lead with this, just a journalist’s duty. What has it been like to have this tag associated with you?
S: We tried to break the silence because there comes a time when… [he stops and chuckles at the pretentious grandiosity with which the sentence came out]. We got really annoyed by this whole mystery thing. We didn’t know it was going to become such a big narrative.
J: We were never trying to be mysterious. We were just ourselves, and we’re all kind of shy. Being perceived as mysterious is just kind of dull. We have a lot of friends, I promise. We just keep ourselves to ourselves.
Have you noticed a shift in your audience since this ‘mystery’ veil has been taken off?
S: There’s definitely been a shift in the audience. The average age went up quite a lot.
J: Which is interesting, because it’s always nice to see so many young people at our shows. It makes you feel like you’re relevant to the culture that exists currently. But some people of older generations that we’ve met were great. It’s funny to feel like you’ve assimilated in the typical English BBC-Radio-6-dad persona, but there are actually so many cool people we’ve met from it.
S: It’s also an honour to play for older people who have seen so many iconic bands in their lifetime.
J: It’s reassuring to know that someone with all those experiences also likes our music, as opposed to just a 17-year-old who’s maybe seen Bladee once [Jezmi assures no shade to Bladee].
Talk me through the creation of your latest project The Twits. It sounds more sophisticated – messier, but in a more confident way – than your earlier works. How have you grown from when you first started making music together to now?
S: Two centimetres [the joke didn’t exactly land, which made it funnier].
N: We recorded The Twits in Mallorca over two months in the studio we put together ourselves. It was off-season, so we were in a very isolated environment. There was a certain vibe to it.
J: We probably got better at writing and arranging now, we also have access to better equipment.
N: Touring also helps so much. Even the process of writing songs is informed so much by how our live shows go. Confidence obviously grows as you start to play in front of other people as opposed to just producing in your room.
And what’s the creative process between you three like?
N: It’s a bit of layering system, sometimes one of us will start doing the vocals and it will inform the instruments and vice versa.
S: We have a lot of fun when we make music. It’s an important environment for us to feel loose and fun together. That’s a big part of our approach and character that goes into it.
This humour is definitely felt in your music. I love the titles especially – Real house wibes (desperate house vibes) might be my favourite. How do you come up with these?
N: We have title days where we come up with loads and veto loads.
S: Some of them are just so stupid that they have to stay.
J: We have more disagreements in titles than in the whole process of making music.
N: It’s too silly.
It’s silly, but also ironic. There is certain tension between humour and darkness.
J: It comes very naturally to us.
S: We’re all definitely people who find dark things kind of funny and funny things kind of dark.
Coming back to the gimmicks associated with bar italia, do you see your music as angsty?
J: A lot of people have described it as angsty, and I can’t blame them. I don’t see myself as angsty, but I get why our music sounds like that. I suppose the sonic connotations of angst are related to grunge, which is also associated with our sound.
S: Unfortunately, I am aware that our music can be angsty in its tension and distortion, but I wish it wasn’t. I think there are times when our music is way more developed that just angst, because angst is just a very child-like state.
J: There’s resolution is our music. There’s definitely some angst as well – we’re all babies. But there are also more mature elements.
N: It just feels a bit reductive. A lot of the songs do have an opening to pockets of different emotions within one song.
Lyrically your work is also so much more mature and layered than it may seem at first glance. How do you approach writing together?
N: We all write our own lyrics.
J: I write Nina’s for her. Nina writes Sam’s. Sam writes mine.
N: Don’t listen to him.
What’s the future for bar italia looking like?
S: It’s going to be huge.
J: Yeah, it is going to be huge. People are saying mad things about us.
S: People are saying we’re the next Rolling Stones.
Do you agree?
S: For sure.
N: The van breaking down confirmed that we are rockstars.
J: We needed it to be toned down so that we lash out even more this show.
N: Yeah, to make our music even more angsty.
My 16-year-old self cannot wait. Final question – do you have a pre-show ritual?
N: It’s a secret.
J: It’s a circle joke.
S: It’s very private. But yes, we do.
Of course, ending on a mysterious note 😉