March 20th, 2008 | Interviews

Dan Monick

Barr “The Song is the Single”


Brendan Fowler moved BARR from New York to L.A. and added the extra ‘R’ for his friend Mick Barr. He has returned to solo BARR after playing with the BARR band and has another new project called Disaster.

Why were you sick in a Travelodge?
It was my first tour of the U.K., and my immune system was not equipped for the U.K. viral system, and as the song says, I’d just gotten through this insane break-up thing, and I crashed. The guy from Upset The Rhythm—who I’m fortunate to get to work with—just he and I were in a car on tour, and we had to cancel a bunch of shows and camped up in a Travelodge in Leeds which is in the depressing part of England. Classic England—the stereotype of gray and dreary and cold and wet—and I was super fucking sick and so he’d try to leave the room to give me space. He’d walk around in the rain and watch movies and buy records he already had, and I’d be in the room sobbing sick. That was the first time I ever got really super-super depressed. He came back after being out all day—soaked to the bone—and I was sort of asleep, and I woke up and went into the bathroom and was running the shower and flushing the toilet to make noise so he wouldn’t hear me sobbing. I was so sad.
That’s heartbreaking.
That’s real.
Why did you once cry at band practice?
That was with the live band the first time—I’m probably a sensitive person, but if something hits me really hard, I will totally start crying. If stuff is really funny or really perfect or actually perfectly nails the mark—that to me is the ultimate response. That thing with the band—Summary to me is the only record I made that I feel proud of in its entirety. I conceived of it for a band and to have the band actually playing—it sounded perfect! Also I wanted that record to be really—maybe to really break you. To get raw—like if you give into it, you could break apart if you wanted to.
What’s a record that does that for you?
A Microphones song called ‘Gray Ghosts,’ and some Smog record—probably any Smog record. He’s my hero.
Who was your first musical hero?
I think the Cure? My best friend was kind of a sister character—she had older sisters who were older alternative kids—so I got into a lot of ‘80s alternative music. I saw the Cure when I was eleven—my first concert!—and I saw Morrissey when I was 12. We’d lived in Berkeley and my mother and I moved to rural Maryland—total culture shock at age eight or nine. We were from Berkeley so I already had a sense like ‘Reagan is fucked!’
Were you allowed to play with G.I. Joes?
No, totally—blowing up Reagan with my G.I. Joes! But in Maryland, Def Leppard and all was so popular then—really the anthem of the big-hair people I wasn’t psyched to be around—and the Cure was really useful. I got into misunderstood misfit music extra young. I think I was fortunate.
One writer said you were equal parts hardcore and hip-hop—do you agree?
No, not at all. Technically it may be? It’s pretty stripped-down. And I do this gesture live. It’s become called ‘the hardcore pose.’ It’s like a Rollins shot. I think the calmer the music gets—and it’s going in that direction—the funnier the hardcore pose is. I’ll hold it for almost the whole show. And from in terms of the idea of getting people to communicate and participate in dialogue, I appreciate that in hardcore a lot. From hip-hop—I’m kind of tone-deaf, but I’m working hard to learn how to sing. I couldn’t learn to sing well so I started rhythmically talking—people equate it to hip-hop. I love rap and I love commercial rap—I’m sure it does influence me in some way.
In a lot of photos you like like Henry Rollins plus Jonathan Richman.
That’s cute! The photo doesn’t lie!
Between D. Boon, Mitch Hedberg and Jonathan Richman, who would you designate as spirit guide?
Fuck man—you’re good! I feel like in the end, Mitch’s pain consumed him. My dad died of a heroin OD, too. So probably not Mitch for that reason. D. Boon—that was just really tragedy. Jonathan is still kicking it. Richman was a little more a solo dude—like maybe he can’t work with people that well?
In 2006 you said one-man bands were the wave of the future—what changed?
A couple things! I’m pretty reactionary!
Do you shout at the TV a lot?
No, but I definitely do stuff on what I see other people doing—like in reverse. If I see a lot of people wearing a certain thing, I’ll stop wearing it. Part of it was like, ‘Wow, everyone has a one-man band.’ It was really rad and I’m super-psyched for empowerment, but then I was like ‘OK, I wanna have a band now.’ I felt like I took it as far as I could as a solo person on stage, and I was also really interested in how it would sound, and it came out amazing! We did the U.S. and Europe tour for three months, and did the last show in London in May, and then I didn’t play a BARR show. I tried in Portland in September—tried to do an experiment, and it got fucked up because a computer virus at the studio. And then these shows in March—it took that long to get ready and to figure out how to play again. I had to figure out a new way to do it. The new music is really empty and spacious. Sonically there’s a lot of room.
It’s not dubby because dub is super not staccato. This is like OOP… BOOP… BOOP.
You’ve described what you do as public speaking about the human condition—how long have you had that idea?
It came pretty early—the first version of BARR when I was in New York, without the extra R. The first BARR was really hostile. Attacking and grabbing people and wrestling the audience—really physical. I moved to L.A. in February 2002 and I was still in that mode and I played a show at Claremont College and I went out and was like, ‘I’m gonna kill these kids!’ And I got there and everyone was so sweet. It’s funny—BARR was really built as a response to that situation. I took a few months off and added a second ‘R’ as a tribute to my friend Mick Barr. It’s directly named after him—his idea, actually! He gave me a rugby with his family crest. And then Tracy and the Plastics—Wynee is a really good friend and I was really inspired and engaged on how it was really overt political dialogue that wasn’t corny. Gender politics and queer and political and personal politics in way that was new and exciting and compelling. It didn’t trick people into being engaged. It wasn’t like ‘Hey, come to this rally!’ She was super-funny and super-charming and the music was incredible—it was so compelling. Almost before you realized you were enmeshed in it. In California, I wasn’t consumed by being anxious and stressed. There was space to make something. I just thought about it like… what do I have? I can’t really sing, I can’t really play—I went to school for drums and I was kind of already speaking, so… I wanted to make something really direct, really communicatory.
Why is ‘Context Ender’ your favorite song?
It’s the first song I made that I felt really proud of that I think is actually beautiful as a song—totally removed from the vocals! The first song I made that I would want to hear.
You can’t listen to your own stuff?
Summary is without a doubt the first record I ever made that’s listenable. When I first started BARR, I didn’t wanna release records. I thought I would wanna watch this, but I would not listen to this at all. And when anybody—and I’m not saying there was a rush on BARR records—but when anyone told me they listened to it, at first I didn’t believe them. And then I was like… wow, man. ‘Context Ender’ is a lot about where you listen to music and listen to songs and how you hear things. It’s a song about Pitchfork. I kind of figured they’d trash the record because they actively don’t like me. They’re immature—this much we know. I’m not taking away from their cultural thing—but you can! But that song—so where do people listen to BARR? The context really really matters. Like listening to minimal techno if you’re on weird speakers—you’re not hearing the sound-sculpting in the bass and you might not be psyched. Or if my record comes on in a crowded car when you’re trying to have a conversation—that’s a nightmare! But I don’t know where—I think England? People are more chatty and neurotic and flipped out. People like it a lot more there. I really appreciate when people write letters—this record was really mean to give people things to relate to. I wanted to write the ultimate break-up song.
What’s the penultimate break-up song?
I don’t wanna answer—I don’t wanna take it away from anyone! But I wanted to approach it differently. The song I made wasn’t like you’re jamming on a melody making you cry. The one I made isn’t even in time, and there’s just one bass hit. I wanted it to sound like it’s in your mind—like how you feel when you’re on the floor crying in a really messy break-up. The way a movie could but gnarlier—but intense because it’s on headphones and it’s in your head. After a couple minutes the bass comes in, like when you get the weird chills when you break up with somebody—like your life is endng or starting over. I wanted it to be functional to people.
Like medicine?
Yeah! I listened once since I made it to check it out—but it’s so painful that I don’t wanna try and relive that song. I feel like ‘Context Ender’—that song is really empowering in a dynamic way that is kind of real. Not like ‘Yeah, man, pumpin’ your fist!’ Not empowering in a ‘We Will Rock You’ by Queen kind of way, but empowering… it’s kind of acknowledging life is super-fucking complicated. It’s a portrait of watching somebody navigate these complicated dynamics and coming through the other side. It’s sort of a positive breakdown—the end is breakdowned out.
What’s the best interview question you ever asked?
I don’t know the answer to that question. I’m sorry. Unfortunately I just stripped you of that potential where the interview ends just perfect.