6 fresh guitar artists you need to hear in January

(Image credit: Piotr Lewandowski)

This month we spin Barns Courtney, Leprous, Ex-Easter Island Head, Real Terms, Big Brave and InHeaven...

Barns Courtney

Guitar-smashing chart threat

Some guitarists widdle, some riff and some just want to smash the thing to splinters. The latter best describes songwriter Barns Courtney. “The way I play is pretty unorthodox,” he tells us. “I go out there and I play as loud and as hard as I can. I beat the thing with my fists. If I lack technical proficiency, you know I’m going to make up for it with passion.”

“I love that Charles Bukowski poem So You Want To Be A Writer?, where he says: 'Unless it burns like a sun in your gut - don’t do it!'”

This approach seems to be connecting. Ahead of the release of his debut Attractions Of Youth next month, the songwriter has already amassed nearly 14 million plays of his single Fire. Barns is not counting his chickens, yet though: his first band, Dive Bella Dive, signed to Island only to see their debut album shelved, leaving the songwriter with little more than an acoustic guitar and a diet of canned sardines. “I remember going to Co-op and the woman at the counter said to me, ‘Ah what, you ’avin a fish party?’” he laughs. “I was like, ‘No, I’m just poor…’”

Rather than wallow, Barns channeled his energy into recording new material with ex-bandmate Sam Berns, using found sounds and a knackered piano in lieu of bass or drum gear and, lacking an amp, distorting an acoustic with multiple re-tapings. Demons exorcised, the bombastic desperation of those recordings attracted his current label Virgin. Looking back, what possessed him to keep going?

“I think, when it’s in you, you don’t have a choice,” confesses Barns. “I love that Charles Bukowski poem So You Want To Be A Writer?, where he says: 'Unless it burns like a sun in your gut - don’t do it!'” That’s how I felt: like it was burning a hole through my gut and I had to get back into it.”

  • For fans of: George Ezra, Mumford & Sons 
  • Gear: Martin 000, Fender Blues Junior III, Boss Blues Driver


Norway’s prog princes take the throne

With 16 years under their belt, Norway’s Leprous have not been an overnight success. But since frontman/keyboardist Einar Solberg and guitarist Tor Oddmund Suhrke started the band aged 16 and 15, they’ve slowly but surely morphed into a progressive force.

“The fact that Einar writes most of the music often leads to guitar riffs that no guitarist in his right mind would ever make,” reveals Tor. “And that is a feature that I think is very special for many of Leprous’ songs, and something that always forces me to evolve as a guitarist.” The group’s superb fifth album Malina is a new high-water mark, toning down the distortion, but finding new musical maturity in its dynamic, crystalline compositions. “There’s not always a shortcut to get where you want,” reflects Tor. “Being patient and hard working is the best you can do.”

  • For fans of: Haken, Steven Wilson 
  • Gear: Aristides 080s 8-string, 020 6-string, Blackstar Series One 200

Ex-Easter Island Head

Re-defining guitar music, one beat at a time

Liverpool’s Ex-Easter Island Head play their guitars with wilful disregard for all established norms, instead laying their instruments flat and using mallets, beaters and whatever else comes to hand to chiming, xylophonic effect.

“The removal of options forces you to use your resources adventurously,” explains Benjamin D. Duvall. “You come to get to know the minutiae,” continues co-beater Ben Fair. “Which diameter knitting needle works best to create a sound, which gauge Allen key will bring out the right overtones.”

In addition to the four-piece, the group also sometimes morphs into its near-orchestral ‘Large Electric Ensemble’ incarnation (which you can witness at September’s Liverpool Psych Fest). “It comes into its own with ensembles of mixed ability,” concludes Duvall.

  • For fans of: All things weird and wonderful 
  • Gear: Squier Custom Telecasters, mallets, bows, knitting needles, clock parts, bamboo canes...

Real Terms

Who: Liverpool math-poppers John Crawford and Chris Lynn
Sounds like: Intricate indie pop, heaving with melody and joy-inducing left turns
Gear: John - Squier Bass VI, Tele with moss(!!!) pickguard; Chris - Telecaster, Fender Hotrod Deluxe
For fans of: Everything, Everything, Q And Not U

Big Brave

Who: Montreal guitarists Robin Wattie and Mathieu Ball
Sounds like: Slow-burn, seismic dynamism forming an exhilarating counterfoil to Robin’s Bjork-like vocal
Gear: Robin - Fender Jaguar Special, Orange OR15, Ampeg SVT  Mathieu - Gibson SG, Orange Rocker 30
For fans of: Chelsea Wolfe, Sunn O)))


Who: South London guitarists Jake Lucas and James Taylor
Sounds like: Glossy grunge with a 90s Brit lilt and a grab bag of pop hooks
Gear: Jake - Fender Jazzmaster, Blues Deluxe. James - 80s Japanese Jaguar, Twin Reverb
For fans of: The Big Moon, VANT

Matt Parker

Matt is a freelance journalist who has spent the last decade interviewing musicians for the likes of Total Guitar, Guitarist, Guitar World, MusicRadar, NME.com, DJ Mag and Electronic Sound. In 2020, he launched CreativeMoney.co.uk, which aims to share the ideas that make creative lifestyles more sustainable. He plays guitar, but should not be allowed near your delay pedals.

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