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Ever had a problem with something I’ve written? Blame Tim Barry. The Avail front man was the first person to grant me an interview and, more important, his creativity is equaled only by his offstage awesomeness.
It was 1997, and I was days away from graduating high school. Before donning a cap and gown, two things happened that were way more exciting than hearing my name over a muffled loudspeaker: Barry was on tour with Avail, and I tracked him down before a show at the Showcase Theatre in Corona—he agreed to the interview but told me to wait until after the gig. So I stood up front, got sweaty and sang along to every word.
Backstage, a circle of zit-faced reporters surrounded him. I felt out of place but still taped him, even though I didn’t have the nerve to ask more than one question. I didn’t have a publication in mind for the interview, nor did I consider printing the conversation. I just felt like I had to talk to him. I never blamed the countless other musicians who asked for my credentials, but I also never forgot that Barry was cool enough to let me roll tape without knowing or seemingly caring what I was going to do with it.
The show was on a Sunday, and I couldn’t tell you a damn thing about what happened at school the next day. But I do remember a call I got from a friend asking me to come to his house. Without him saying so directly, I understood that Avail had stayed the night at his place and my presence was being requested. “And bring your sneakers,” my friend said before hanging up.
An hour later, I was in a van with Barry and Avail bassist Gwomper. We were headed toward a park to shoot hoops. On the way, the pair was eating French fries, which prompted the singer to parody one of his own songs—“Clone,” off 1994’s Dixie—by replacing the word “rise” with “fries.”
Fast-forward a decade. Punk was a pleasant but distant memory when I discovered Barry had a solo record. Avail had always flirted with country influences, and I assumed the singer’s album would as well.
I was right. Sort of.
As with Avail, Barry’s three solo albums aren’t a perfect fit for any section of the record store, which might explain why they’re so damn good. Yes, his stuff is acoustic and has touches of folk, country and bluegrass, but there’s something indefinable about Barry’s work that still causes the hairs on my arms to stand up.
Going solo makes sense for an artist who prefers the simplest way from point A to point B in every aspect of life. Whether solo or with Avail, the now-38-year-old always signs one-record deals to avoid feelings of entrapment.
“My relationship with all labels is based on mutual respect and friendship,” Barry says now. “I want nothing to do with anything businesslike. Each time I release a record, there’s an understanding that the next record might not come out on that label. I do whatever I want, basically.”
Doing whatever Barry wants has opened a floodgate of songwriting, producing 2005’s Laurel St. Demo,2006’s Rivanna Junction and 2008’s Manchester. With so much material in a relatively short amount of time, Barry could just milk his catalog for all it’s worth—but he doesn’t. The singer has another batch of tunes he plans to record once he returns from his current 48-day trek around the country with fellow singer/songwriters Josh Small and Austin Lucas. He says his prolific nature stems from placing himself in abnormal situations.
“I’m a firm believer in living,” Barry says, “and if songs don’t show up, then I’m probably not doing the right thing. People have this idea of who they want to be surrounded by, and sometimes, it’s nice to deviate from that.
“With that said, it’s not hard to find songs,” he continues. “I sleep in a shed with no running water or heat, but I live in the city with a beautiful river running through it. Some nights I go down there to make a fire and sleep.”
Read the complete Q&A transcript at blogs.ocweekly.com/heardmentality.
Tim Barry with Josh Small and Austin Lucas at Alex’s Bar, 2913 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach, (562) 434-8292; www.alexsbar.com. Sat., 9 p.m. $10. 21+.