Interview – The Barr Brothers

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Brad Barr at Corona Theatre

On the last evening of a three-night engagement at the Corona Theatre in Montreal, I had the pleasure of speaking to Brad Barr.

The frontman and older brother to drummer Andrew of The Barr Brothers appeared in great spirits.  Happy to be back home in Montreal after a yearlong tour which covered North America and Europe. It was almost showtime and the spectators were already cramming into the old theatre but Brad was very relaxed and open to all of my questions.

So, how did you come up with the idea of playing an entire album in one show?

The idea was presented to us by our manager, Meghan (who is also my brother Andrew’s wife). We’d been kicking around the idea of doing multiple nights locally in a small to mid size room and she suggested the album-a-night idea. I was sceptical at first, wary of the nostalgia element and preferring to look forward. But I’m really glad we did it. For the first time in the history of this band, everyone knows every song!

Which album did you prefer playing the most?

It would be hard to name a favorite. The first one was probably the most interesting to me, mainly because of the added element of a string section  (The Warhol Dervish ensemble of cello, viola, and violin), which was not present on the original recording. Sleeping Operator was probably the most challenging, mainly because of its dramatic peaks and valleys and sheer length.

It’s my favorite of all three.  I understand why it would be the most demanding one to perform.

Are you working on any new music?

I’m always gathering things, collecting scraps, revisiting unfinished ideas, recording voice memos or demos. Our schedule is about to wind down, so I’m hoping in the next few months to start plunging into the work. Right now, it’s just trying to imagine a fun process that inspires us.

Oh yeah, congratulations on your Juno nomination.  Are you going to the event?

Their third album “Queens of the Breakers” which was released in October of 2017, is nominated in the Adult Alternative Album of the Year this year.  They were also nominated in 2013 for the same category.

I am. In the words of Dr. Emmett Brown: “I figured……”what the hell.

The Barr Brothers at Corona Theatre

Are you as popular in the USA as you are in Canada?

I don’t really know. It’s starting to feel more consistent everywhere, which is good. I think its more like city-to-city than country-to-country. We’re more popular in Chicago than in Calgary, but more popular in Halifax than in Minneapolis.

I remember the first time I heard “Half Crazy” was on CHOM and I became an instant fan. Which country surprised you the most throughout all of your tour?

I’m always surprised when we leave North America and find an audience in front of us. But I’d have to say Ireland surprised me. At our first show ever in Dublin, there was a full house and people knew the words to a lot of the songs. That was surprising.

There have been some changes in your lineup.  Many people were saddened when Sarah Page decided to part ways to pursue other projects.

It’s true that trying to keep a band together in your 40’s is not without its challenges. People have families and lives and other obligations that we didn’t have in our 20’s. We’ve been very lucky to find like-minded musicians to play within our vicinity. It was doubtful as to whether we’d be able to, or even want to, try and find a harpist to take over for Sarah after she left. But Eveline Gregoire-Rousseau had been playing around Montreal in various settings for years and, being somewhat familiar with her work, she was the first person we called. We met Brett Lanier (pedal steel) at a festival in the Gaspé Peninsula called The Shigawake Music Festival (also the brainchild of our manager Meghan Clinton, who started it 10 years ago). We were very luck to meet him, as Joe Grass, who had been playing pedal steel with us, was obligated to Pat Watson.

How many rock bands do you know with a harp player? You can’t imagine how badass a harp player can be until you witness Eveline Gregoire-Rousseau plucking with lightning speed along with Brad on a 12 string electric guitar.

What kind of music do you listen in your down time?

Usually, I feel like listening to talk radio……NPR, CBC, This American Life, Snap Judgement or comedy on Sirius. For music: The Stones, Wes Montgomery, Led Zeppelin, The Ramones, Stan Getz with Jimmy Rainey, Bach, Bill Frisell, Michael Jackson, John Coltrane, Bob Dylan….there’s a Mississippi Fred McDowell record where he sings and plays with The Hunter’s Chapel Singers that I love. And Gavin Bryars’ The Sinking of the Titanic gets a lot of play in our house.

Have you discovered any new music that you like?

I like what Weaves are doing. Saw them at Hillside and was floored. I like T.I. and Bedouin.

Interview and photos – Annette Aghazarian

March 10 2019

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