Tim Barry Q&A
Tim's a great person to talk to and I hope you have half as much fun reading this as I did conducting the interview.
Tim Barry: My new record, Manchester, came out late last year, but in the last month or two I've written another record. I start recording May 15. I'm a control freak and I hate to make commitments to force creativity, so when I say that I've written a new record and begin recording it on May 15, that leaves me with complete autonomy to make any decision like spending a year recording. Also, I don't try to bang out a recording in three days or spend a month. I go to the studio two days a week consistently until I feel like it's done.
Where's all this creativity coming from?
My life cycle has always been: record, wait for a release, then tour for a year and a half. It usually takes me a few years to write, but I don't know what happened this time. All these songs just showed up. I had some backburner songs that filled in the gaps, songs that didn't make it on the previous records. Being home for the winter was good. I'm a firm believer in seasonal changes and unlike a lot of you folks in California, I really embrace the hibernation period of the winter. The summer is for raising hell and the winter is for documenting it. In the winter, I spend as little time possible working and as much time possible writing songs and reading. I consider reading part of my full-time job.
What do you like to read?
I'll read anything. Right now I'm focusing on economics. If I think I'm following short in certain departments...like say my van keeps breaking down and I can't figure out what's wrong, I'll jump feet-first into studying auto mechanics. Or right now, with this whole economic collapse, I've been focusing on grabbing a better understanding that. I also read a lot about Shiite and Shuni conflicts. Also, I'm a newspaper junkie. The day I stop getting the New Yorker every week I'm going to fucking cry. I can't stand computers. I can't sit down and read them the same way other people can. A person like me, I spend half a year in a van. I'm not going to sit in a van with a computer on. But that's just me. I'm old. I'm 38. I learned two things in high school: how to type and how to fistfight. And the typing wasn't on a computer. It was a typewriter. But my point is, there's no rhyme or reason to my songwriting formula. I have no technique. Songs just show up and when they show up, I roll with them. If a song doesn't show up for a few months, I don't fret it. I just keep going. I recall someone saying, "if you don't put anything in, nothing comes out." That's an important thing to analyze with any kind of creativity. I'm a firm believer in living and if songs don't show up, I think I'm probably not doing the right thing.
I've heard you mention how you like to put yourself in abnormal situations.
Yeah. A lot of people have this idea of who they want to be surrounded by. Sometimes it's nice to deviate. Maybe I oppose the war in Iraq, but I'll hang out with a pro-American vet and get drunk just to figure it out, holding no malice toward them at all. You learn so much about yourself in that everybody's exactly the same. With that said, it's not hard to find songs. Also, I live in a fucking shed with no running water or heat. It's normal to me, but people think it's odd. I sleep in my shed, but I live in the city with a beautiful river running through it. Some nights I might not want to sleep here, even if it's 30 degrees. I'll go down to the river, make a fire and sleep down there. As soon as I feel trapped by normalcy, I try to deviate from it. I don't watch tv except the news. I'm not trying to be cool or smart or portray an image: it's just how my brain works.
Yeah, tv isn't experiencing anything.
It's produced for you. I'd rather produce my own life than have somebody else dictate. I don't know if that reflects in my music, but in a roundabout way, that's where everything comes from. When I change a perspective, a song shows up. I was really lucky to be on the Revival Tour. If you can't get inspired by hanging out with a bunch of like-minded people...shit. I wrote a few joke songs on that tour about whoever was on the bus. Manchester was pretty damn intense and this next one will not be as introverted and depressing. But who knows? I've written 20 songs and I could write another 20.
Does your label care that you're this prolific? Wouldn't they prefer you take time to sell each record?
My relationship with all record labels is based on mutual respect and friendship. I want nothing to do with anything I deem business-like. I don't sign multi-record contracts, so each time I put out a record, there's an understanding that the next record may not come out on that label. I do whatever I want, basically. And Suburban Home Records has been absolutely wonderful and I see no reason to leave. With that said, I have no ties or commitments to anyone. The thing that's hard for people to understand is, I don't think about music that much. I don't collect records or listen to many bands other than my friends' bands. I understand the business inside and out at this point. Because it's a pain in the ass, I choose to avoid giving it that much thought. As soon as I commit, then the creative process becomes difficult. If a big label invited me to join them and I signed a three-record deal, I'd automatically feel so contained by the contract that I'd feel forced to write. Doing one at a time leaves me open to write whenever it hits. That's why so many bands and their first record is great, the second is pretty good and then all they write about is being on tour. Then they put out a live record to get out of their contract. When Avail was working on our last record, we didn't have enough songs. People were suggesting re-recording old songs acoustic style and I thought that was admitting defeat. That's embarrassing and I don't want to be involved with that.
Since you mentioned Avail, what's your status?
We haven't officially broken up, but we're not playing shows and we're not recording a record. Gwomper's playing with Smoke or Fire, Ed the drummer's playing with a bunch of locals and Beau just had his first son. Ed also just had his second kid. When you got those kinds of responsibilities, there's no touring. It doesn't lend time to writing. With that said, I'm so excited about doing this on my own and the responsibility of doing it on my own. I can play shows by myself or I can invite my sister or my friends. It's so fucking fun. After 15 years with Avail, the challenge is gone. The energy is still there and the intensity on stage is there, but somehow the challenge disappears when everyone coming to the show already knows your songs and is screaming along. It never got mundane or boring, but it got easy. Now I feel alive again. Now I don't know what I'm doing. Now I need to know how to do this. It is boring for an old dude to stand there with an acoustic guitar and it became an obsession. I still get annoyed that all the flyers say "Tim Barry from Avail" because I'm starting over.
Is it strange when people yell Avail songs at you?
It's very rare. In the beginning I played a couple Avail songs here and there. Unfortunately, some people got the wrong impression. I played three shows in one night in New York City. Somebody had a camera at the CBGB's show and I had already exhausted all my own songs at the Knitting Factory. Everyone from that show went to CBGB's, so I played a couple Avail songs to mix it up. And those ended up on the Internet. Every time I play San Diego, there's a guy who asks me to play one of those Avail songs. I haven't played one since then, basically. And I don't want to. There is no way that I could justify playing songs we wrote collectively and making money without including them. It's not how I roll. I'm glad I don't keep up on independent music or pop culture because at that time, I had no idea there were a thousand other old punk dudes playing acoustic. Had I known that, I would have never jumped in.
What's the lineup for these shows?
I'm bringing Austin Lucas and Josh Small. The tour will be much in the spirit of the Revival Tour. We're all playing our own sets and we'll collaborate during each other's sets, meaning no changeovers. Josh will play about 75 percent of my set with me, but some nights he doesn't plat at all. Because we're only rehearsing for a couple of days, we're not really going to know what's going on until the last show is done. We're playing 48 fucking shows. Why on Earth would we make it regimented?