The Barbaras interview! LP on the horizon!
The Barbaras! New In the Red LP on the way.
photo by Don "Bullyrook" Perry
By Rich Tupica
Since The Barbaras used a laptop to record a brilliant debut 7-inch on Goner Records in 2008, the Memphis natives have been laying low.
The brilliant "Summertime Road" single sounded like it was recorded under water in a tin garbage can, yet is surprisingly easy on the ears. The tunes were poppy and trashed-out, a perfect combination.
The band's previous endeavor, The Boston Chinks, released two singles in 2007, then quickly moved on and formed The Barbaras. Since then, the members have kept busy, but not so much with their own band.
Two of the band members have been backing Jay Reatard on his never ending tour across the world, putting The Barbaras on a forced hiatus.
Though there is a light at the end of the Reatarded tunnel, the band has an upcoming (Reatard produced) full length on In the Red. While there is no release date yet, Jay did confirm he has been recording the debut LP. He said he had been simultaneously recording "Watch Me Fall" (his new Matador LP) and the upcoming Barbaras record.
I was hoping the band would stay true to its Brian Wilson-high-on-Whippets-sound. However, according to Reatard, the sound has been somewhat altered for the new record.
"It’s a lot different," Reatard said. "Their singles are kind of just like a wall. With the production I tried to put everything in its own space."
"It’s a lot more dry, it’s more … not punk sounding, but more of a Beach Boys and Urinals thing rather than just a Beach Boys-garage-reverb-blown out thing," he added.
For more news on what the band is up to and how they got started, read the interview below.
When did you first start playing music and what inspired you to start?
Billie - When I was about 8 or 9 years old I started playing drums, I was inspired by the White Zombie song “More Human than Human” - I was in the fourth grade. I didn't start singing until this band started a year or so ago. I was always reluctant to sing because I thought people would think I sounded stupid, but then one day I realized that music itself is pretty stupid and fear of being terrible doesn't seem to stop anyone else. I have Home Blitz to thank for alleviating some of my performance anxiety.
Bennett - I wanted to play guitar like my dad.
Will - I think subconsciously I wanted to be on that VH1 show "Behind the Music," or on TRL, but it's hard to say when I actually started playing. I didn't even own any practical instruments the first few times me and Billy tried to form bands in high school, but eventually I benefited from other people's instruments getting left at my parents house and lots of days with nothing to do but play around with them.
Al - I started playing bass in middle school to join my friend's nu-metal band. That didn't last too long, but I kept playing for some reason. I picked up guitar by just watching friends I was in bands with and slowly learning along the way.
What was the first band you played in? What type of music was it?
Bennett - Mutant Space Bats of Doom, it was pop.
Billie - The first band I was in was a high school pop-punk band that sounded like a middle school pop-punk band. I’m not going to give the name because I think people would be tempted to look it up and that would be way too embarrassing for me to handle.
Will - Me and Billie tried a few things together that didn't get off the ground. Alex and Stephen had a high school "party band" where Stephen sang, Al played bass and this guy called Donacock played guitar. Me and Billie met them just in time for Billie to play drums for them at a talent show. I joined after that, along with everyone else we knew who played music, which wasn't many people at the time.
But we had enough to have at least four guitars and two keyboards, in most incarnations, all playing the same three chords. We only played once a summer for a few years because we tried to compensate for our lack of musical ability by throwing hundreds of dollars into props and things for our stage show, all just to play for like 10 kids in a garage somewhere.
Al - Mutz was my first band I played shows with. It was basically how Will described it. We won the "most entertaining" award at my high school talent show. I think the shows with that band were the inspiration for the Barbaras' over the top live setup.
What type of kid were you in high school and what kind of music did you dig back in your formative years?
Billie - I was an extremely body conscious, depressed loser who listened to the Misfits and Minor Threat and cried all of the time. I was mostly driven to play music as an outlet for my painful social anxiety. I went from being the "I hope nobody sees me" type, to the, "Oh, that guy’s naked and covered in body glitter" type just recently.
Will - I was pretty self conscious because I was in a wheelchair in high school. Stephen was like the "weird, funny" kid at his school that a lot of people liked. But we all went to different schools except me and Billie. I don't think any of us felt like we fit anywhere until we met each other two or three years into it. After that we had a really great social group that was completely disconnected from school, and also probably the outside world in general. As for music, I was obsessed with My Bloody Valentine and Top 40.
Bennett - No girlfriends. Some nerd friends and some black friends. I liked The Strokes and XTC and I always bought bootleg Three Six Mafia CDs from kids at school. I liked hip music because my dad was a hipster. I was super confused. Now I'm way hipper than him!
Alex - I went to an all boys prep school and didn't have many friends until I met the other Barbaras. I was really into bad hardcore and indie rock.
How did The Barbaras first meet each other?
Billie - I knew Will from seventh and eighth grade because he would wait for the bus and I would wait for my mom to pick me up and he always had on a Beastie Boys T-shirt and I’d be like, "cool shirt" and he'd be like, "thanks." I think that was the majority of our relationship until high school. I think we first spoke over AIM when we were like 15 and he was a total dick so we got along pretty well.
Will - I solicited Alex's bass playing through an online dating site and he introduced us to Stephen, who he knew since second grade when they used to make short films together which they later realized were vaguely homoerotic. Me and Billie fell in love with them at first sight. When I first started college I met a guy named Chris who was a guitar wizard, so I introduced him to Billie and they started writing songs together. Stephen recorded their first demos and taught himself how to play guitar to join the band, forming the Boston Chinks. We met Bennett shortly after that, through our new friend Cole, when they recruited Billie and Alex for their Psych/Folk band Kazalok. We simultaneously formed a million short-lived bands with different combinations of the people mentioned above, plus a few other characters, until The Barbaras stuck.
Al - Stephen and I went to elementary school together. I met Will and Billie through a pre-MySpace social networking website. Bennett and I played in Kazalok together. We have all been in love ever since.
What is a typical Saturday night for The Barbaras?
Billie - Either getting wasted for almost no reason whatsoever or playing music. Sometimes the two combined and we get mental diarrhea, which can result in something beautiful or something really embarrassing.
Bennett - There’s nothing typical about our Saturdays.
Any of you guys going to college?
Will - Alex just finished a degree in Urban Studies at Rhodes. The rest of us dropped out of the University of Memphis after a year or two.
I've heard about you guys getting freak-nasty on stage, what is one of the more memorable shows you guys have had?
Will - Anyone can get nasty on stage, and our shows frequently come to that, but we prefer to emphasize the "freak" part. My favorite Barbaras show was one with Digital Leather that we didn't know we'd be playing until a few hours beforehand, so each of our costumes were as complex as we could make them in the time available but had no overlying theme.
The best was Stephen's "Cannibalistic Tinker-Pan" costume, complete with fake blood and a sword made of cardboard and tin foil, which he used to battle the audience for the duration of the show instead of playing music. The sound guy kept putting insane delay and chipmunk effects on the vocals between songs, and halfway through the set two guys wearing black suits came in carrying a coffin over their heads. Stephen spent the rest of the show either trying to put audience members into the coffin, or getting stuffed into the coffin by the audience. There were only 10 or 15 people in the audience. It was awesome.
Who writes the songs for The Barbaras?
Bennett - We all write songs and then we stay up all night recording together. The song goes through changes and is usually 100 times better after we record it.
Will - A lot of songs start with vocal hooks, and then chords from someone else, but recording is definitely our biggest writing tool because that's where we lock ourselves away and go crazy messing with the arrangements, making millions of overdubs and tweaking everything about it. Bennett is a background vocal mad scientist.
Al - Someone will usually have a very basic song idea and we all throw in our ideas during the recording sessions. We have had some failures, but when it works out it is really exciting.
How do you make time to practice and write when you are always touring with Jay Reatard?
Billie - It's really hard to make time for it. I’m about to be home from Tard-touring for about a month solid, so we hope to write and record a few more singles while I’m in town and slather the mid-south and beyond in glittery cum as well.
Bennett - You just got to be hyper-active.
How have the recent tours with Jay been? You guys are playing some bigger shows these days.
Billie - The tours have been fine, I'm really tired of being compared to Garth from Wayne's World. Also I’ve noticed that if you look a bit freakier than your average person, people think they have the right to come up and molest you. I've been trying to educate people on this tour - just because I look funny doesn't mean that I'm not going to kill you. A girl in Soho, London yesterday grabbed me by the hair and yanked and asked in an obnoxious chirp, "Is that a bloody wig?" - so I grabbed her by her own mop, and asked, "Do you usually yank the hair of total strangers, you stupid fucking bitch?" I’m just trying to spread the gospel of don't fuck with freaksiology.
What are you doing when you're not playing music?
Billie - I’m on tour more than half the year, so my hobbies are pretty lazy ones when I’m home. Eating, buying records, sleeping, bongin' - you know.
Bennett - I clean for money, collect trash to wear, take drugs and read.
Is The Barbaras upcoming LP on In the Red going to sound similar to the Goner single and the demos?
Bennett - No, it sounds like Jay Reatard.
Will - It's not quite as lo-fi, and ‘the studio’ has been our main instrument before so it's weird to have someone else in charge of it, but we record all the songs ourselves first so we can make sure nothing gets lost when we re-record it with Jay. He knows what he's doing so I'm excited.
The Barbaras are:
Al - Guitar and vocals
Bennett - Guitar, bass & vocals
Billie - Lead vocals & drums
Stephen - Bass
Will - Keyboard & guitar
In the Red Records:
"Joe Meek, Jan and Dean, R. Stevie Moore, Sid and Marty Krofft shows, Phil Spector and other weirdos. Beach Boys inferiority complex. Mental retardation. Whatever we're getting each other into any given week." - Will
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