Kris Barras has rapidly risen as a force to be watched since retiring from MMA. Mark Bestford chatted to him about his switch from fighting to music and the influences that made him the musician that he is today.
You’re a former MMA fighter?
What made you switch to music?
“Well, there was no real switch as such. I started playing guitar when I was five years old and started doing martial arts around the same kind of age. Both have been a huge part of my life, on and off. But yeah, I mean, I kind of did the whole thing at college where I was trying to become a rock star. And I didn’t really get anywhere, and I started training again and kind of taking it a bit more seriously and had a few amateur fights and I won, things started going well. And it was getting more and more opportunities with the fighting than I was with the music. So I just kind of rolled with it and it just took over my life, and I spent a lot of time in Las Vegas, a lot of time in Thailand. And, yeah, that just kind of took over really, and I did it for 10 years, then once I started to get to my late 20s I kind of felt like I’d achieved everything that I was going to achieve in the fighting game, and decided to retire from competition, but I’m still coaching and stuff. I run a gym, and training fighters and stuff. But I kind of needed an outlet and so I started writing songs again, put a little band together. And just the whole aim was just to be able to do like, a couple of little festivals, you know, I never dreamed I’d be here doing fucking Download on the second stage. That was never part of the plan, and it kind of just got rolling really. And you know, I then had to step away from the gym and music became my full time job.”
Is there anything from the MMA era that you miss now?
“I miss the camaraderie, I miss the guys, you know, there’s a real special bond that you develop when you’re training with people twice a day and punching each other in the face and giving each other broken noses. And there’s definitely like a special bond that gets formed. I definitely miss that. And just going to different fight shows. And you see all the different teams and fighters and coaches that you know, and it’s a little bit like coming here really you only see like different bands that you just crossed paths with, and you know, but you don’t always get to catch up with. It’s a little bit like that. So I kind of get that. But yeah, like I said, the camaraderie when you’re training for a fight, it’s something that I miss.”
So between the music and the fighting, was the music really the main goal? And the fighting was really secondary?
“Definitely. Well, I mean, when I was a kid, I didn’t dream of becoming an MMA fighter, I dreamed of becoming a rock star. Still not there, but I get to travel the world and do some gigs. But yeah, you know, it’s just the way it happens, I just kind of rolled with what I was doing well, with, you know, just kind of the way it went. Music, I just kind of felt like when I was younger, like 18, 19, I toured the States a couple of times, and we never got to the next level. And every door that I was kind of going to was shut in my face. But with the fighting stuff I was getting opportunities and it was just the way it went you know, I enjoyed it. I loved it. I don’t regret it. And you know what, I think everything turned out the way it was supposed to turn out. I’m not a believer in fate or anything like that. But, you know, my experiences from that life have made me a better person. They’ve made me a better musician and a better songwriter, than, you know, I have a better understanding of life. And I think, you know, that kind of gave me that start really with the songwriting and also, because I did do some cool stuff when I was younger, as I said, toured the States and stuff. And then it was taken away, and I really missed it. Even when I was fighting, and I love my fighting. You know, there’s always part of me that fuck, wished I was, you know, touring in a band. So it meant that when I got that opportunity this time around I didn’t take anything for granted, you know.”
With the fighting background does that help with keeping the energy up on stage?
“Yeah, I mean, I’m not as fit as I used to be, I could probably be a bit fitter. But yeah, I mean, there’s lots of things from it. I think the discipline, the ability to be able to critique yourself, not let ego get in the way you know, I think that’s detrimental to fighters and musicians. If you smell your own bullshit and you know, believe your own hype, then you can get yourself in trouble. And as I think I’m always my harshest critic, I’m always trying to improve and trying to look at where I can get better and be the best of my abilities.”
I suppose with the fighting there’s always someone bigger than you ready to knock you down.
“That’s it, yeah.”
Death Valley Paradise has been out for a little while now. How well has that been received?
“Really? Well? Yeah. It’s been great. I mean, it’s a lot heavier than stuff we’ve done before. We just tried to level up on every aspect, you know, it’s first album with Billy Hammett on drums and Gabby Mackenzie on bass. And those guys just fit in so well. And like when we all get together in rooms, you know, or on stage, it’s just a great energy there. And, you know, really felt like it came across on the record. You know, work with producer Dan Weller who’s worked with Bury Tomorrow, Monster Truck, Enter Shikari, and he really helped take things to the next level too. So yeah, it’s a lot heavier than stuff we’ve done before. It’s been greatly received, I’ve not really seen much negative stuff at all. So I’ve been really happy.”
What’s it been like touring it?
“It’s been great, you know, I grew up playing in metal bands, you know, so for me, like playing heavier stuff, I kind of feel like going back home. You know, I grew up listening to the blues, and I love that kind of stuff. But you know, when you’re there, playing heavier stuff, there’s more energy on stage. And, yeah, a bit more energy from the crowd. I love it.”
With the tour, how important are the smaller local venues for a band like yours?
“Yeah, I mean, we’ve gone all the way through haven’t we, we started off to playing smaller venues to 100 people all the way up to, you know, playing the Royal Albert Hall and Wembley Arena and stuff like that. And, for me, I just, I enjoy just playing music, I just want to play my own music, to people that want to hear it. That’s when I’m happy. So whether it’s in a small room or an arena, I’m happy playing.
You’ve mentioned growing up listening to the blues and metal, what have been the biggest influences growing up?
“Lots of stuff really, like so I started at such an early age, I was playing guitar when I was five and did my first gig when I was nine. So you know, I was really involved in music and listened to a lot of stuff. And all of it was guitar based music, as that’s what I was into. So you know, I started off with guys like Gary Moore and he was kind of my introduction to the blues really. Wild Frontier album was kind of like my favourite album when I was a 6, 7, 8, I used to listen to it all the time. But then through his collaborations with BB King and people like that, Albert Collins, I discovered more blues stuff, and that’s when I started enjoying that too. And then once I got into like secondary school age and really got into a more like shreddy, people, Satriani, Malmsteen, Vai, those kinds of people, and then started just going into like, heavy stuff back into Metallica and stuff like that, and Slipknot. And I was in my teens, when that whole era kind of really took off, you know, got to see like, Slipknot on commercial TV, and, you know, on TFI Friday. It was mad, was a great era where, you know, these kind of like nu metal bands were you know, getting a lot of spotlight. Limp Bizkit and Linkin Park and all this kind of stuff. It was a great era for music, I felt, and yeah, that was a big part of life.”
There seems to be a big swing back towards the early 90s rock bands as well. I think it fits in quite well, like Wayward Sons played earlier. What’s it like being a part of what’s now a burgeoning music scene?
“Yeah, it’s cool. It’s great that there’s, there’s interest in it. You know, on our last tour, we noticed that we were getting a lot of younger people coming along to the shows now, so it was great to see. It’s nice to see, you know, kind of the Rock and Roll flame carrying on through. Yeah, it’s good. It’s good. There’s a resurgence going on.”
Your guitar is not a brand I recognize, what made you choose that guitar?
“Well Seth Baccus is a master craftsman, amazing guitar builder. He’s based out in the West Country. I’ve known him for many years, used to work at a very famous guitar shop called Manson Guitars. We filled all the guitars from Muse and John Paul Jones. So I’ve known him for years from going in the shop and then he started building his own guitars and got recommended to me by friends who’d say I should try his guitars out. I tried out a bunch, he built me one and then built me another one. He’s doing another one at the moment too. Just amazing guitars, right? Absolute quality. You know it’s built by one man. Like amazing craftsmanship. Exactly to all the specs I want. Yeah I love it.”