By Chris Mattern
Anybody familiar with hardcore punk icon turned contemporary folk musician Tim Barry knows that he has a lot to say. I was lucky enough to have a short phone conversation and line up this interview days before he set off for a year of hard touring in support of his new album 28th And Stonewall. I proudly bring to this Jersey Beat readers a short interview. Life, freight trains, the economy, digital downloads, and exactly hows that acoustic guitar landed in this hardcore screamers lap, all covered in 18 short questions. Enjoy.
Q: I've noticed that you're a pretty active guy as far as touring and playing live goes. How many shows did you do in 2009?
Tim Barry: 2009 was pretty laid back compared to what I'm about to embark on. Last year I only did about 75 shows. This year I will be touring far more extensively and doing more international shows as well. Aside from a ton of US dates I'll be touring Canada, Australia and Europe, and god knows where else. That's All I have planned right now.
Q: Richmond Virginia is a town with a ton of hardcore coming out of it, and is known predominantly for it's hardcore scene as far as it's underground rock reputation goes. How does Tim Barry fit in there? Do you do many local shows when off the road?
TB:Oddly, I only play Richmond maybe twice a year. Because I spend so much time on the road and often feel overwhelmed by crowds, I like to keep my home life separate. Being in Richmond is a time for me to catch up on time alone or to focus on loved ones with out the chaos of shows and bars. It's almost like two completely different lives.
Q: Some time has past since the Laurel Street Demo's and Rivana Junction. I'm sure at the beginning you experienced some sort of back lash from the punk and hardcore communities, since your new direction is quite different from what AVAIL fans would expect. Do you deal with that often? Do you feel like your older fans have accepted your new direction?
TB:It doesn't concern me at all. Anyone who does any art, whether it be music, painting, writing and so on, always has to remember this; Some people will like what you do, and others will not. One cannot let their ego get in the way of their creativity. I'm thankful to have some people who enjoy what I do. And when people don't like it, it's okay with me. In fact some of my closest friends aren't really into my music, but they are still great friends. No harm, no foul.
Q: I've been listening to 28th and Stonewall for the last few days. You have managed to maintain the grit and shuffle that was a big part of your first two albums, but at the same time, you've been able to hone and fine tune your craft. Did you take a different approach as far as writing and recording this record than you did with Rivana Junction and Manchester?
TB:-No change at all in my approach. I simply wrote a bunch of songs, recorded them and put them out there. I am constantly writing. It never ends.
Q: It's seems like the band has grown and added a few more permanent fixtures. Who do you have playing with you at this point and should we expect a nice big band at your live shows this time around?
TB: I actually technically don't have a band. All the players on 28th & Stonewall are Richmond locals who I invited into the studio to throw down with me. My up coming tours will be "folk singer" style. Meaning me and a guitar. I picked this format because I find it to be the most intimidating. The notion of getting on stage alone always scares the hell out of me. I need to feel challenged and alive playing music. However, I have begun the slow process of recruiting musicians for an upcoming full band tour. No dates or time frames have been established.
Q: How did you find yourself on Suburban Home records?
TB: It just happened. Virgil who owns the label contacted me, and I said “what the hell.” This will be my 4th album with them.
Q: When you started performing solo, and recorded the songs on the Laurel St. Demo's, the aggressive folk with punk attitude was pretty original and unique. Over the last few years it has grown to become one of the biggest trends in the underground. How has this current emergence of the genre effected you?
TB: I've always listened to folk music. I was brought up on folk music, as well as classical. Coming off of loud and rowdy punk tours, the last thing I wanted to hear was that stuff when I got home. I've written songs on acoustic guitar for many, many years. But regardless of all of that, I never really follow trends in music. When Rivana Junction came out I couldn't believe how many other old punks were playing the same style of music. I'm glad I didn't realize that I was just adding to the trend or I think I wouldn't have started playing music publicly that I really enjoy. I've never been happier playing music than I am at this point.
Q: Why do you think guys that were traditionally aggressive punk musicians, such as yourself, Kevin Seconds, and Chuck Ragan have found themselves at home behind an acoustic guitar?
TB: Because it goes to the root of the music we all played growing up. Simple chords with a lyrical message, just void of the young macho angst.
Q:Tell us about the song on 28th and Stonewall “Prosser's Gabriel” - it seems to have an interesting story behind it. True Story?
TB: Gabriel was a slave in the central Virginia area who led a failed slave insurrection in 1800. He and other enslaved blacks are currently buried beneath a parking lot and portions of interstate in Richmond, VA without stones or any historical markers. The song was made to bring attention to that issue.
Q: I think what a lot of people like about Tim Barry's music is the honesty in the lyrics, You have the ability to tell great stories, in a manner that mostly everyone that encounters your music, and has an appreciation for the style enjoys it. Songs like “South Hill” on Manchester,“Dog Bumped” on Rivana Junction and “Downtown VCU” on your most recent effort play like books on tape at first listen. I personally hang on to every word, paying full attention to the story. Where do you draw your influences from when writing in that lyrical style?
TB: My mother writes, and I think I got my writing style from her in some ways. Also, my favorite singers tell stories and I borrow from them. Folks like Steve Earle, Woody Guthrie, John Prine and Townes Van Zandt.
Q: One thing I like about your music is that there is very little filler on your albums. You simply write great song after great song. How do you go about putting together your set list and what tunes have you noticed the crowd has come to expect?
TB: For 28th & Stonewall I had over 30 songs written. For me, an album becomes and album when the right songs are in the right order. Not too long and not too short. Now the issue becomes the live show. It's hard to play everything I want to play in 45 minutes. I try to think of at least three songs from each album I want to present before I go on stage, but usually I drift off with out any set list. Some nights
I forget to play crowd favorites, some nights I play them all. I really base the show on my mood at the time
Q: What are your immediate plans as far as touring in support of 28th and Stone Wall?
TB:Touring like a mother fucker. And that's it. Look at my website and you'll see what I'm talking about. It's insane.
Q: Having been involved in independent music for an good amount of time, what is your take on the digital era? How has the internet and file sharing effected the independent musician? Do you feel it's harder to sell your albums these days? Do you think technology has in a way forced musicians back onto the stages to actually work for their paycheck?
TB: Music is to be shared, as art is to be seen. I don't make music to hide away. It's supposed to be out there. It's time for musicians to realize that you will never make tons of money off of album sales; it's a thing of the past. The only way to get any money in your pocket is to play shows, and even that is becoming incredibly difficult in an over saturated "market" during a financial crisis. Play music if you love it. But make sure you got a job back home when it don't pay off.
Q: How do you feel the economy has effected the independent musician?
TB: I believe that many venues are using the economic crises to not pay us. So we will go back to the start, playing houses for donations and working around the establishment. A venue on this upcoming US tour told me they could only offer me 90% of a $2 dollar ticket, then I would have to pay out support bands. My drive the next day would be over 400 miles with gas well over $2:50 a gallon. Do the math. The music racket is really only for people who love what they do. The days of money, women and drugs is a sick joke from the 70's. It's behind us. And I love it.
Q: The Video for "Memento Mori" and many of your songs tell stories and depict images of hopping freight trains. Tell us a little about your enamorment with this culture.
TB: Years ago, while listening to folks like Woody Guthrie, Jimmie Rodgers and others, I was turned on to the idea of riding freight trains. This was the days before the internet so I spent a lot of time in libraries trying to find books to see if people actually still rode freight trains. I learned all that I could by talking to workers and eventually rode my first freight train with a buddy of mine, Ronnie Graham, in 1993. I've been riding ever since. However, it should be noted that it is illegal to ride freight trains and incredibly dangerous in many ways. It's a great way to lose a limb, get killed or robbed. So stay off the trains oogles.
Q:Have you noticed a pattern in which kinds of towns you do best in as far as drawing a crowd goes?
TB: It all depends on the night, the venue, the ticket price and how many times around I've come. High door prices bring out smaller crowds in big empty venues. I would always rather play for less money in a small place and have an experience.
Q:Whats next for Tim Barry?
TB: Tour. Record another album and tour until I can't any more. Then I'll write books. The road is beginning to take a toll on my old ass. But I'll continue as long as I can.
Q: Avail reunion? Truth or rumor mill?
TB: AVAIL is done. All things come to an end.
For more info and tour dates, check out myspace.com/timbarryrva