Artist Interview: The Barr Brothers

Here’s an interview that we did last year with The Barr Brothers, whose debut self titled album was one of our top picks from last year. You can find more information about The Barr Brothers here.

We wrote in our review that your music resembles the opposite of “For Emma, Forever Ago” and it’s seclusion, falsetto, and independence. “The Barr Brothers”, we said, feels like it’s message is “dependence on each other, deeper and heavier vocals, and a rock sound so catchy and balanced that it’s almost original in its simplicity.” What’s your reaction to that?
Andrew and I have always depended on each other musically. Its in our nature to think collectively. And that translates to any people we end up playing with. A band has to feel familial for us to really feel satisfied. But the songs were born out of a personal space. That’s what I usually bring to the collective, some kind of framework with lyrics and melody and possibility. Sometimes the songs are very clear in what they want from the ensemble, sometimes they’re open to being reinterpreted and reworked into something I hadn’t imagined. That’s where everyone else’s roles come in, in the shaping and arranging and ultimately the performing of the music. We all need each other to fulfill this thing.
When you all get together to make this music, what does that process usually look like? 
Its completely varied. Most often, I’ll work on a song for a while. Once I have a sense of it, I’ll bring it to the others, maybe one at a time, sometimes everyone at once. I prefer working with Sarah one-on-one for a while, since the harp parts are usually the most intricate, and require the most attention and thought. Once it starts to come into view, ideas get tossed around about possible arrangements, instruments, harmonies, rhythms…everything. We’re still figuring out our process, though, and what is going to work best for us. This record was recorded in a real patch-work kind of way, without any organization. It will be interesting to see how we handle writing and learning and recording the next batch of songs.
I can hear some Zeppelin, some Stones and some Ben Harper in your music. As far as influences, am I close? What would you say are your biggest influences?
I can only really speak for myself. Everyone in the band has spent a lot of time diving into lots of different musical spheres….Sarah has a deep love and understanding of classical music, and she loves The Who and The Velvet Underground. Andres grew up on Fugazi, but flung himself full on into Be-Bop for years. Andrew and I did listen to tons of Zeppelin and the Stones(not so much Ben Harper, though we recently opened for him and enjoyed parts of his show a lot), and we’ve tried to sink our teeth into as much music from as many different continents as we possibly can over the years. Trying to make a list would be futile, and it all blends together for me as good music being made from an honest place, which you can always hear.

You’ve set the bar pretty high for yourselves. Was that intentional? How do you overcome or think about avoiding the “sophomore slump”?

We’re particular, but we’re not perfectionists. We like the struggle. We like working with limitations. We like having the opportunity to transcend those limitations. That’s when great things happen.

We’re really happy with the batch of new songs we have. Its going to be a matter of deciding how and where to record. I think as long as we have some of the same feelings of flexibility and looseness as we did the first time around, we’re gonna be just fine.

There’s pretty obviously some elements of blues, rock, and folk in your music. How would you categorize it? Do you have a preference?
In our world, there’s not that much distinguishing between these styles. If there are any lines between these styles, they just get blurred. Bob Dylan was called a folk singer, but he sang the blues. Mississippi John Hurt was called a blues singer, but he sang folk. Rock and roll was born out of both of these and more, and before that, it was rhythms and voices and melodies, and people expressing themselves without any notion of styles. That’s where we want to be.

What’s next? What can we expect from you going forward?

We’re asking ourselves the same question 🙂

If you have anything you wanna add, a poem, a favorite song, something we should know about you, anything interesting for our readers, this is the place.

Whenever you make something from your imagination, feel some inspiration and run with it, however small it may seem to you, its important. Never forget it and never stop.

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