By Amanda DK
Music and setting have always been very closely linked. For example, it’s common knowledge that Bon Iver wrote For Emma, Forever Ago in a cabin in Wisconsin. That isolated, icy sound translated into the music and now, who can listen to those songs and not be transported to a snowy forest?
The combination of location and timing plays a role in the affect music has on us as well. I will never forget seeing Local Natives for free at Spaceland (now the Satellite) during their residency. I had barely heard of them and was totally blown away. Considering the venues they went on to play the following year (including Walt Disney Concert Hall) it’s an incredible memory to have seen them on the tiny, sparkling Silverlake stage.
I was in the right place at the right time.
It was a serendipitous combination of location and timing that led me to The Barr Brothers as well – not only my personal discovery of the band, but it’s very formation. And the music itself even evokes a specific sense of place.
Brothers Brad and Andrew Barr had been playing music together ever since their youth in Providence, RI. They were touring the country as a rock trio called The Slip when they landed in Montreal, QC. The night they played, however, a fire broke out in the venue (from their website):
“They grabbed a few guitars/drums and rushed out onto the rainy street with the rest of the concert-goers. As the club’s mezzanine was swallowed by flames, Andrew offered his coat to one of the waitresses from the bar. One year later, Brad and Andrew Barr were living in Montreal. That waitress is now one of their managers”
They were in right place at the right time (though the venue may not agree).
The brothers’ first apartment in Montreal happened to be next door to that of Sarah Page, a classical harpist who cites Harpo Marx, Bach and Debussy as influences. Through very thin walls, her music caught the ear of her musical neighbors. They soon became friends and shortly after, Page was writing, recording and performing around town with Andrew and Brad.
She was in the right place at the right time.
Fast forward a few years to a couple months ago 2011. A friend invited me to M for Montreal, a showcase of up and coming Canadian talent at the Hotel Café in Hollywood. I didn’t know any of the bands playing, but went to support my friend and tagged along with coworkers. As with Local Natives, I was unexpectedly and completely stunned by The Barr Brothers.
Not only was I in the right place in the right time to be so delighted by the experience, but the music took me far away from where I sat – at an “industry showcase,” in a small dark café, in Los Angeles, in California. The brothers, Page and multi-instrumentalist Andrew Vial, who rounds out the band, spin rich, earthy Americana melodies that will transport the listener to simpler times. They have caught the attention of sites like Dysonsound, The Boston Globe, New Music Collaborative, and Spinner. Paste Magazine featured a stream of their debut album a week in advance of it’s release in September, advising readers that “The Barr Brothers is a name you’ll want to remember, something that won’t be too difficult after listening to their self-titled debut album.”
Now in the wake of Christmas and Hanukkah (forgive the likely incorrect spelling), is when we begin to enjoy our new toasters and socks, and be grateful. We are grateful that our feet and bread are now warm and cozy, as well as for all the positive things that may have happened in 2011…before looking ahead to the New Year, only days away.
This holiday season, The Barr Brothers were kind enough to give Tadpole Audio a pretty awesome gift: a mix of songs that they are thankful for. It is our honor not only to share those songs with you, but what frontman Brad Barr had to say about the selections, and what 2012 holds for a band on the verge.
This writer is confident they will soon find themselves in the right place at the right time.
Songs We Are Thankful For
The Low Anthem “Cage The Songbird”
Radiohead “Knives Out”
LISTEN ON SPOTIFY
TA: So other than these songs, what are some of the things you’re thankful for this year specifically?
Brad Barr: The usual suspects, which should never be taken for granted: health, family, friends, sea-otters.
TA: Is going home to your families something you look forward to this time of year? Have you ever been prevented from going home when you’ve really needed it?
BB: Absolutely. Never been prevented, knock on wood.
TA: For the instrumental tracks you included, are there certain elements of each that you’re thankful for? A particular use or an instrument? Or is the energy or mood that makes the songs? Or something else?
BB: They’re all part of it, all the elements. Can you think of a great guitar solo where the energy of track sucks? I doubt it. I would like to hear your thoughts.
TA: As musicians, I’m sure you spend a lot of your time on the road meeting a lot of strangers in strange cities. Are there any locales that have been particularly welcoming to you, or that you felt most at home in?
BB: We are fortunate to have met good people in every city we go.
TA: What is one thing (or person, or skill) in your life that you simply could not live without?
BB: Thing: Tomatoes. Person: Scientists. Skill: Chewing
TA: Some of the bands/artists featured on the mix played a role in recording your album (Jocie Adams from The Low Anthem and Miles Perkin from Lhasa de Sela) was that on purpose?
BB: That was on purpose. We owe them a lot…..of money.
TA: How did you connect with them and the other guest musicians who helped with your album?
BB: Musicians gravitate towards each other, I suppose. Playing shows, festivals, sessions, just hanging out. We like these people very much, and they are all wonderful players
TA: You grew up in Providence, RI, and went to school in Boston, but the band formed in Montreal. Which area would you say has influenced your sound the most?
TA: Okay, I have to ask that thing where you thread a string around your guitar string and dangle it to create sound…is that something you learned or made up?
BB: I saw a Romanian violinist use this technique and found it to be equally fun and effective on the guitar
TA: What are some of the ways that having a classically trained harpist as a member has affected the sound of the band?
BB: We have to consider how intricate and involved an instrument the harp is. Unlike guitar or piano, you can’t just throw out chord changes. The patterns she comes up with are well thought out, and the voicings have to blend with the other instruments in a way that evokes the best characteristics of the harp. And that’s just one thing.
TA: There are a lot of instruments on stage at any given time, and most of you play multiple – which is/are your favorite? Does it depend on song?
BB: Lately I’ve been really enjoying my acoustic 12-string, but we haven’t worked that into the repertoire yet. We take it song by song, with all of us sticking mainly with the instruments with which we’ve spent the most time playing. Its nice to shake it up though, get out of your comfort zone for a bit, try a new instrument. There’s something to be said for what a skilled musician can discover on an instrument they’re never played before.
TA: Once you all came together as a band, was there one experience (or show, or meeting) that you feel changed the course of your journey as artists? Something you’re extremely grateful for?
BB: Grateful for the three days we spent together in Joshua Tree National Park. It was a stop-off while we were on tour. Bonding in the desert with the cacti and the vultures and edible things.
TA: Which song on the album was the most gratifying for you? Whether one you’re particularly proud of, one that was particularly difficult to record or write, etc.
BB: On this record, we’re equally proud of all of them. And at the same time, I can see flaws in all of them, and see room for me to improve as a writer. There are some lyrics I really enjoy, perhaps more than others at a given moment. But I won’t say what they are.
TA: What did it feel like when you finished the album?
BB: Felt like…..High Fives!
TA: And what does 2012 hold for The Barr Brothers?
BB: A new album, more touring, more experimenting, more learning, more countries, and improved eco-friendly etiquette.
Check out their video of “Beggar in the Morning” (one of Tadpole Audio’s favorite songs of 2011) filmed at KEXP.
The Barr Brothers “Beggar in the Morning”
My other favorite, “Give The Devil Back His Heart,” is the kind of song that rattles your insides until your guts split open…and then cradles all the pieces of you in a warm nest. Of course, that’s just my opinion. Take a listen: