Brad Barr on covering Led Zeppelin and the Barr Brothers' future

By Lily Troia

The Barr Brothers have been busy since the Montreal foursome's last Minneapolis visit in November. The band toured Europe and the U.K. with fellow Secret City labelmate Patrick Watson, they staged a video in the Grand Canyon, recorded a song for NPR's Radio Lab and even made an appearance on Late Show With David Letterman.

The indie-folk ensemble, which explores blues textures and Malian rhythms with equal ease, touts a lineup that includes classically-trained harpist Sarah Page, multi-instrumentalist Andres Vial, as well as brothers Brad and Andrew Barr, known for their cult-status avant-rock trio the Slip. Gimme Noise caught up with Brad via phone as the band was driving their Sprinter van into Milwaukee, and his mood was anything but anxious.

Gimme Noise: In an interview last fall you said that after playing in the bands you've played in previously, you're suspicious of any talk of success. Since then the Barr Brothers have definitely had increased exposure. How do you define success at this point in your career?

Brad Barr: For me, success right now is a number of things. The main thing would be making a record that I'm really proud of -- the first record was made under conditions we can't recreate. We didn't even know at the time we were making a record, we got to...find a way and a process that allowed us to find inspiration. I'm looking at it all right now and it feels like this is the dream and this is what I've always what I wanted to do -- play with a bunch of inspired musicians who are excited to be out here and play in some beautiful rooms.

GN: The Barr Brothers call Montreal home, but you and Andrew started playing music in Providence and Boston. How has the support of the CBC [Canadian Broadcast Corporation] and the Canadian music scene in general afforded you new opportunities?

BB: The CBC, and especially Montreal, are really happy to promote and help bolster something that comes from their own place. I've been suspicious of anyone who wants to give lots of money to something, there's got to be a catch. But up here, the CBC has been great in getting us on the air, coast to coast. The grant system has been a really wonderful thing - sometimes I feel a little guilty, being an American, but I guess we fit the criteria. [Three out of four members of the band are Canadian citizens]

GN: You've been touring extensively since the record came out in September, and looking at your calendar you're keeping a fervent pace through the summer. With only one album out, how do you keep your set invigorated each night?

BB: I chalk it all up to the audiences and the modest growth that we've seen. And the songs, for me as a singer, I don't feel like I've ever perfected them or given the ultimate version -- I'm still finding new ways to sing them, and the improvisatory nature of my musical upbringing, I guess I can always find a little pathway into something new. It's like working with energy and it goes beyond the song itself. The energy of this new group of people and motion that they need. Cause otherwise it would be just "this old song."

GN: Are you plotting the next album in a more concerted way, or will you try to maintain the relaxed anti-agenda of your boiler-room studio sessions that resulted in this record?

BB: We've been chewing on it -- thinking about all the ways we could go about recording. Radio Lab - they asked us to contribute something. We were playing in France and had the use of this theater for three days - so we recorded it [Led Zeppelin's "Black Dog"] in a hall, as if there were an audience. We started thinking about recording an album that way. We've thought about recording in some other non-traditional spaces. Right now, my focus is writing the songs and getting the guys acquainted with the material. There's a few songs that we've already been playing live. Those are the ones I'm the most worried about since we've come up with a way of playing them live. The ones that haven't even been written yet, those will most likely lead us and show us what to do.

GN: Are you able write on the road? Do you write more as a vocalist now, or from a guitarist's perspective, like you do with the Slip?

BB: I love writing on the road, always bring an acoustic guitar in the back of the van. I have no real process either -- I'm kinda scattered, but the way I write is pretty integrated. I have a little idea and I can tell pretty quickly if it's going to have the emotional quality. Maybe with the Slip it was more of an instrumental idea, more of a struggle to find the lyrical content. Here, after I've sung so much and written more songs with lyrics, they tend to come a little more at the same time. If I can get a couple lines integrated into an instrumental idea, then I usually have something to work with.

The Barr Brothers. All ages, $12-$15, doors 9:30 p.m./music 10 p.m., Thursday, May 24 at Bryant Lake Bowl.

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