INTERVIEW: Neal Barnard talks CarbonWorks, health & his new book

Neal Bernard

Neal Barnard is a man of many talents and many passions. Impressively, he’s found a way to blend his work, encouraging people to eat and live well with that of his work as an artist through his band CarbonWorks. Ahead of his key participation in an event in London on Tuesday 10th, October, XS Noize caught up with Neal to discuss his many career paths, the new CarbonWorks album and his future plans.

You’re a very productive and respected man in many fields: a renowned physician, animal rights advocate, best-selling author and musician. How do you find the time to juggle so many different passions and follow so many career paths? 

Luckily, these are labours of love, so it never feels like work. At the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, we’re not doing surgery and putting people on medications, at least not for the most part. Our work is to empower people with healthful diets and lifestyles and minimize their need for medications, surgery, etc., to the extent we can, and we do research studies to help us nail down the best dietary interventions. My books are a vehicle for sharing that knowledge. So, it’s creativity with a purpose.

Music is something else. At its best, it is irrational, emotional, and unexpected. If it’s too logical or predictable, it’s dead. Needless to say, anything worth doing takes time. But our musicians are wonderful, so the creative process is really fun.

How would you say, if at all, the many careers you have influenced each other? Would you maybe not have pursued one or more of them had you not started your journey focused on something else? 

When I was working really hard as a medical student and intern, sleep deprivation probably made my song lyrics a bit freer and perhaps angrier, as you’ll hear on the Pop Maru album. BTW, you can hear parts of that album at, at the Archives tab. Also, my lyrics were influenced by my psychiatric training—you might hear Freud speaking of oedipal conflicts or psychopathology in there somewhere.

Tell me about your band, CarbonWorks. How long have you been going? 

The first CarbonWorks album came out in 2016. But I had already been working with many of the same musicians in my band, Verdun, and before that, Pop Maru.

Where did the name come from?

We are made of carbon, and these are our works.

You play guitar and keys, and you sing – is there one you prefer above the others, or do you appreciate the fact you can showcase your passion for music in three ways rather than just one, as so many do?

My focus is on the composition. Musical ideas come first, and then the instruments are the colours that flesh it out, and the lyrics are last. I’m often trying to imagine how the vocals work with the instruments. Luckily, Dolche, Martha, Lara—and all the other musicians—are brilliant.

Regarding performance, the guitar is closest to my heart. On “Athena,” my hope was to interweave the guitar with Lara’s voice, Allegra’s violin, and Bobby’s sax, and, to my ear, it turned out beautifully. “Training That Works” takes the guitar in an edgier direction. Bob Gray asked me to handle the solo, and it was really fun to cut loose on the Strat at the end. I hope people like it.

I only sing when it would be unfair to ask someone else to take the lyrics in hand. For example, my song “Marie Osmole,” the lyrics are too quirky. On “Nemesis,” it’s basically all anger all the time – and for good reason, as you’ll see in the video.

CarbonWorks is a key part of your upcoming event in London on October 10th, “The Health for Every Body Revolution”, at which you’ll be joined by a panel of experts, including Dr Gemma Newman and Dr Alan Desmond. How exactly have you found a way to blend health and wellbeing with music, and what can attendees of the event expect to see and hear?

That event starts with a focus on nutrition and health. Then, we will turn down the lights and use music to touch the heart. Many music videos have themes about compassion for animals, and when people have enough heart to leave animals off the plate, they get an extra payoff for their health. It all fits together.

Is there any particular theme or idea behind CarbonWorks’ new album, ‘Vanishing Act’? Could you pick a favourite track? 

The music aims to create an arc, starting pensively, bending through more upbeat and even danceable music, reaching some darker patches, and finally ending up in a very serene place. My lyrical themes always seem to gravitate toward compassion and conflict.

“Athena,” the first song, is in French because it is so expressive and in Latin. Next is an antinationalist song called “International Anthem,” which overlays the national anthems of the US, UK, France, Italy, and Germany and aims to dissolve borders and the destructive competitiveness that has led to so much harm.

“Marie Osmole” and “Training that Works” are really just fun. The album ends with “Lullaby”, sung first in French, then in English, and I have to say, Dolche’s and Martha’s vocals are heart-melting, and the video, featuring animals yawning and going to sleep, is so cute. It was intended as a calming influence in a world that is anything but.

The album features an impressive line-up of musicians – Martha Roebuck, Allegra Havens and Jeffrey Phelps, to name just three. Can you share what they brought to the creative and recording process?

First, they are great musicians. But they are also good friends, and we collaborate. Martha will let me know when lyrics or melody lines don’t work and helps carve out the harmonies. Jeff came up with the beautiful pizzicato notes at the end of “Lullaby,” and Allegra is the one musician who I believe is on every song on both CarbonWorks albums.

I discovered Dolche by accident. I was looking for a particular vocal quality in a challenging register at the time. One day, listening to a French-language radio station, there she was—the perfect voice. She grew up in a tiny Italian village near the French border. So I contacted her and eventually convinced her to come to the U.S. and record. I found Lara because I was looking for a German vocalist for the “International Anthem,” later, I learned that she was at home in French, so she did the vocals on “Athena,” which turned out so beautifully.

Vinyl and CD copies of the album will be on sale at the event, with proceeds benefiting PRCM – the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. Given the artistic and medical struggles of the last few years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, would you like to see more artists supporting good causes like this and donating a portion of their sales to such?

Being a musician is tough these days, and my hat is off to the many musicians who are struggling to make ends meet. But many musicians are able to lend support to social causes—Paul McCartney, Morrissey, the B52s, and many others have supported animal protection, Bono has a huge social conscience, and music has been intrinsic to the struggle for human rights. If musicians can provide financial support, that’s great, but sometimes their greatest power is lending their voices and shattering resistance.

Finally, with so many career paths to keep track of, where do you go from here? What does the end of the year and early 2024 hold for you in any and all aspects of your work?

“Vanishing Act” is still a very new album, and although the response has been hugely positive, many people still have not heard it. On the medical front, we are arm-wrestling with the U.S. Government to promote healthier diets so that we can do better to prevent disease. You’ll see more about that side of things at I have a new book coming out in the spring called The Power Foods Diet, which is all about helping people get away from weight-loss drugs and use healthful foods instead. I guess we’re always cooking up something.


Xsnoize Author
Rebecca Haslam 93 Articles
Rebecca writes about pretty much any and all music but is a big pop-rock-indie fan. She loves the likes of Panic!. Fall Out Boy and Green Day, but is pretty old school too with Roxette and ABBA on many of her playlists. When not writing, she enjoys travelling far and wide, attending theatre and music shows, reading and spending time with friends.

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