What would an ocean be without a monster lurking in the dark? It would be like sleep without dreams.
Interior; montreal 2008; cross-section of two adjoining apartments.
Brad Barr and Sarah Pag meet when Sarahs harp playing drifts through the thin walls separating their two apartments. He is inspired and attempts to learn her music through drywall. They meet and become friends. Sarah, an experimental harpist, had been playing with various orchestras and performing with the esteemed singer Lhasa de Sela. Brad, a recent transplant from the US, had played for years with his brother Andrew in the Providence/Boston based band The Slip. He had followed Andrew to Montreal after a fire in a Montreal club they were playing sparked a romance that took them over the border. The two brothers and Sarah began playing and recording together in their makeshift studio, ultimately producing their debut record, The Barr Brothers, a dusty journal of hushed Americana, West African grooves, and voyeuristic lyrics, rich with artifacts.
Exterior; the Grand Canyon, 2012; band is set up on the rim.
Rounded out by multi-instrumentalist Andrs Vial, the four band members have been touring relentlessly since their record was released on Secret City Records. The wiling quartet decides to set up on the rim of the Grand Canyon and asks the tourists to film the charade on iPods. Its been a long year with many miles and shows. Its hot, and the band is prone to such hallucinatory daydreams. Along their travels, amongst the many highs and lows, they performed on the David Letterman Show, opened for Emmylou Harris, lost as much gear as theyd purchased, been nominated for a Juno award, played festivals from Iceland to Portland, and learned how to make mojitos.
Interior; recording studio; 3am; 2013; a half-glass of whiskey sits on a Hammond organ.
The four members of the Barr Brothers sit behind their instruments in a large wooden room in Montreala recording studio built in the 70s(and decorated as such). They have enlisted the engineering skills of Ryan Freeland(B. Raitt, R. Lamontagne) to help them record and mix their second album, Sleeping Operator. They record everything live, including vocals. By the end of the year, after working in several different studios(including a session in Iceland with Valgier Sigurson(Bjork, Sigur Ros)), and many friends coming in to lend their voices, they will have recorded nearly 40 songs. They will have whittled the album down to 13. Sleeping Operator is a bold, dense release, an expansion on a continuum that they set out upon when they tip-toed into the unknown.
At 4am, the drummer types a letter to the head of the record company. It reads:
I imagine this record may seem a little confounding at this point, but were starting to have some clear and united visions of the thing its getting pretty exciting.
heres my current two cents on the work as a whole:
in the time since we started making this record with Ryan, there have been two weddings, two babies, many miles clocked on the international road. needless to say its been a liberating, joyous, but also intense time for us with a lot of major life changes.
this record, to me, reflects a complexity that is perhaps beyond what weve done before. not complicated musically, just complex. it has a wooly and warm weight to it a big soft ruby blanket a weight that is welcome and liberatingmaybe a lot like these changes that we go through as we grow up a bit, build communities and families, etc.
wed like the artwork to be Brigittes diamond. this image to me has a primal, yet from-another-planet feel to it, and has all of the rust and beauty that we seek in our music.
ok, those are my musings from the studio couch. rough mixes on their way!
call me if you want to talk.
One of the first Christmas presents that Brad and Andrew Barr received were two pairs of red boxing gloves. They set up a makeshift ring in their basement in Providence, RI and hung a bell from the water pipes. When the bell rang, it was the signifier that all rules of decent brotherly conduct were suspended for 3 minutes. It was the one time they could unleash the latent fury of being bound to each other without the threat of mom and dad coming to break it up. Anything goes. No noses were broken, no ears bitten, but by the end of each match, the impact and recoil, there was always some blood left on the floor. Within a year or so, the gloves were nothing more than nylon rags covered in ripped plastic. Brad and Andrew, in search of a new outlet, discovered rock n' roll. It was 1983. They taught themselves how to play, at first on cardboard boxes and home-strung imitation guitars, then on actual, zebra-striped electric guitars and drums. "Wipe Out" and "Johnny B. Goode" were among the first songs absorbed into the repertoire. With the same energy they used to attack each other with boxing gloves, they attacked the popular hits of the day and old blues songs they found in their father's record collection. A healthy diet of classic and esoteric rock paved the way to the discoveries that lay ahead. Skip ahead to 2004.
The brothers had spent most of the previous decade criss-crossing North America, playing music with their spirited, improv-based rock trio, The Slip. That Spring, the band was playing a small club in Montreal, QC when a fire broke out in the venue. 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. In his first apartment in the new city, Brad shared an adjoining wall with Sarah Page, a classically trained harpist from Montreal with a propensity for the experimental. As tender and visceral as she is virtuosic, her melodies would seep through the cracks of the wall and into the music Brad was writing. From this nebulous relationship, a friendship developed and the brothers, with Sarah, began recording and performing around Montreal. Soon, their friend and multi-instrumentalist Andres Vial was brought in to lend his wide array of expertise to the outfit, playing keyboards, bass, vibes, percussion, and singing. They called themselves The Barr Brothers. With Brad's songs setting the context for the agile imaginations of the other musicians, a unique sound was born, one reliant on interwoven string arrangements, wide open spaces, and a multitude of musical traditions. Recorded in their makeshift studio in an old boiler room at the foot of Mount Royal, the ten song album The Barr Brothers recently finished, was written over the course of the brother's time in a city full of strangers, lovers, old ghosts and new friends. Along with Sarah(Lhasa DeSela/Amon Tobin), the record also features Miles Perkin(Lhasa DeSela), Elizabeth Powell (Land of Talk), Nathan Moore, Jocie Adams (The Low Anthem), Elvis Perkins and Emma Baxter. It reads like a dusty journal of a traveler at the crossroads of good and evil. Hushed Americana lonesome and future-primitive delta blues clear the path for West African polyrhythms and classical motifs. Its all tied together by the commitment to the sources of the styles and their inherent connections to each other. Though the boxing gloves have been long since retired, and the music, for the most part, is more refined than clobbering, there's always room for some blood on the floor.