Tim Barry Interview

19 10 2009


As I recently gushed about, I had the chance to talk with Tim Barry (ex-Avail) for about a half hour two weeks ago and I finally have gotten around to transcribing the whole thing so you lovely readers can have a go at it.  The story that went to print can be read here, but of course, the interview is much longer and we cover a lot more ground.  Full interview after the jump.

With you doing the Revival Tour last year, what does coming back and doing it again mean for you?

Well I’ve kind of over-quoted this, but I mean it when I say that after however many years of traveling and touring – last year I guess I hit about 18 years of being on the road – and the Revival Tour was the most fun I’ve ever had on a tour.  I think it’s the best tour I’ve ever been on in all that time.  And I think what really made it happen was the camaraderie; old friends coming together and playing, the fact that we collaborated, and made it a show instead of just ‘Oh there’s Tim playing, there’s Chuck playing, there’s Ben playing,’ you know after that many days on the road it really just came together and it felt really good not only for us on stage but I think a lot of people who came to the shows had a great time.  So yea, I’m excited to do it again.  I’m excited it’s switched up, you know, the concept is there will be like core members on the road and special guests will rotate in and out, and I’m excited to be one of the special guests for however – 8, 9, 10 – shows I’m doing.

What do you think the tour is doing for the genre of folk music?  When people like you or Chuck go on the tour, kids who maybe would only listen to punk are maybe looking into this and seeing some other artists.  Do you think it’s doing a bit to expand some horizons?

I suppose so.  Just speaking for myself, I’ve never really seen much of a disconnect between rock music and punk music and folk and bluegrass and country.  It all seems to be one in the same to me.  Some people are caught off guard by it and dislike it, and of course it’s become a phenomenal trend because it’s easy to just pick up a guitar and write a song.  And so the genre has actually become kind of boring in a lot of ways, mainly through overkill.  If you recall when Green Day got popular, next thing you know everybody was playing pop-punk, and it seems like that’s kind of happening with folk.  So, I’m sure that shortly there will be an enormous ‘old dudes with acoustic guitar’ bashing going on.  Which is completely legitimate as far as I’m concerned because I’m kind of guilty of bashing it – the trend – myself, even though I’m knee deep in it.  But, I don’t think that some people who are interested in punk and hardcore and rock, I think some of those people just accept it as just a normal progression, and there are other of course who reject it profoundly.

But I mean, pretty much when John Cash was getting ready to pass away, it seems like most punk rockers started listening to that kind of music; to begin with anyway.  There were some of us who listened to it for a long time.  I don’t know.  It’s a hard question, it’s hard for me because I’m an insider from on the stage, and I don’t pay attention to music that much, or trends in it.  I don’t know if that really answered anything.

No, it did.  And I guess then going off of that, from an insider’s perspective, is it more so that some of these people who end up in these punk bands – I’m thinking like Greg Graffin, he put out a couple of folk-y records – do you think that people have always been into folk kind of stuff or do you think that it’s more like you said that when Johnny Cash was in his last days, it got kind of an upswell?

Well that’s when I noticed it branching out, when Johnny Cash was getting ready to pass and then after he passed it seemed like that’s when the majority of people that I know that had no interest in that sort of music really latched onto it and were kind of like ‘hey, wait, this is actually really good.’  But I can’t give a valid opinion because I’ve listening and playing this music since I was a kid.  I mean even if you go back to like the early Avail days we were always throwing weird spirituals or traditionals in between songs.  So it’s very difficult for me to form an opinion, just because that’s how I grew up.  But I guess I put my first record out pretty late in the game, I don’t know, I just honestly pay so little attention to music.  I play it because it’s just a normal part of my life, and sort of like a therapy for me but I’ve never been one to collect albums or really read anything that has to do with music.  I don’t know, it’s kind of like if you dance ballet professionally and all you did was focus on ballet.  In my off time I spend a lot more time reading politics and enjoy freight train culture so sometimes these questions are difficult for me.

No that’s pretty much what I was looking for.  I’m just interested because it’s like you said it’s become kind of a trend to do that, and I always wonder whether it’s a natural thing r if people are just putting on a show.

Yea I don’t know because you say that, is it a natural thing or putting on a show.  There’s definitely two different kinds of people who play music.  There’s those who just play it and they mean what they say and they say what they mean, and it’s pretty obvious that they feel what they’re doing.  And then there are those who you watch and you know they’re full of shit.  And I can vouch for close friends of mine who really just passionate about playing music, and it’s really kind of intriguing to get into the head of the people who you watch play music in any format who are full of crap.  Whether it’s a person with an acoustic guitar or a punk band or a pop band – I find it humorous.

Some people enjoy music that makes you not think.  It’s the same as people to like to watch movies based on high school, and some people like to watch documentaries.  And really no one can really say anything because it’s just music; some people like what you do and some don’t.  And if you’re trying to fulfill your ego by trying t make everyone in the world love you, then you’re going to fail profoundly.  And if you have an ego based on a minimal amount of accomplishments via music then you’re a profoundly boring person as far as I’m concerned.  And people who don’t live outside of music often don’t make very good music.  And that’s in any format, that’s old dudes with acoustics or a young person with an electric.  It’s just what it is.

The trend is really overkill at this point, and I assume it’s overkill because it’s easy.  It’s because anyone can buy a $100 acoustic guitar, write a couple of songs, post it on the computer, not have to deal with getting a band together, throw your first and last name on there, and there you are.  You’re established.  And I don’t think that’s the worst thing in the world, but its become oversaturated.  There’s also something to be said about the trend because punk rockers love to talk shit.  I’ll occasionally bump into reviews here and there of – I’ll use Josh Small as an example here – who is a Richmonder who has shared the stage with me often, and has been making his own music since he was a child.  And he’s bumpkin man, he always wears flannel and tight jeans and cowboy boots – he’s just one of those people.  And, you know, I’ll see a review of one of his records and it’ll say ‘yet another punk rocker putting on a flannel shirt.’ And I think the trend illegitimizes people like him who have never even listened to punk rock, but because he plays an acoustic guitar and sings bass, they think he’s a former punker.  But it is what it is.  People should always play or do what they want.  But it is easy man.

No, you’re right.  There are definitely people who you can tell put heart into their music and those who don’t.  And I feel this – and going back to the Revival Tour —  that Chuck and Ben Nichols, and even some of the people who are on it this year, like I’m just getting into Frank Turner…

Oh I love Frank.

Yea man.  Like you can tell the Revival Tour is all you guys who are like-minded and have this real passion for music, and you’re just going out and having fun.

Yea it is.  We are all lucky that we all have a history together too, so it’s not like walking in blind to meet new people and suddenly be on stage with them.  And we all kind of have the same vision too.  You know the Revival Tour is 100% Chuck Ragan and Jill Ragan’s baby.  Like they created this thing, they’re in charge of it, but I think they did a wonderful job of handpicking the right people.  And not just the core players, but everyone throughout the entire tour last time around.  And we’ll just see how it goes this time.  I mean, shit we spent four days here at my shed in Virginia rehearsing before the last one, but this time we all end up in Louisville, Kentucky this Tuesday [ed. Note – the interview was conducted 10/8, the tour started 10/13], and we get into the club at 10 a.m. and it’s crunch time man.  We’re jumping into this head first, really, and starting the show about 7.  So it’s gonna be fun as shit really, it’s gonna be improvised, we’re gonna be winging it.  In fact I sort of had a panic attack this morning like ‘shit I haven’t sat down with anyone else’s songs.  I don’t even know what they want me to learn.’  And I’m an awful guitar player, so [laughs] it’ll be rough you know what I’m saying?

No, that’s great.  And I’m stoked because I missed it last year, and I kept hearing so many great things about it.  And you know what really solidified me getting excited about it was I talked to Brian from the Bouncing Souls a while back and I was asking what are some of the acts right now that really excited you, and he said ‘You know what you can not miss is the Revival Tour.’  And when you have other people in the industry talking that highly about you, you know you have something special.

Yea Brian’s been around the damn block, so that’s nice to hear him say that.  Shit it’s their 20-year anniversary so that’s awesome.

Well now I want to shift it over to you.  You just finished up your new record is that right?

Yep, yep.  Finally done.  I wrote it in about three weeks, but it took me fucking months to finish.

And there’s no release date for that yet?

No.  You can tentatively say early 2010; my guess is it will be late January.  It’s called “28th & Stonewall.”  But yea actually this coming week I’ll be releasing a split 7” with Frank Turner that will have one of the songs on it, and then January the album comes out, and I hit the road in late February and apparently I’m never coming home.[Laughs]

So just a huge amount of touring then, for the record?

Yea.  I tend to stay stateside, but I decided to go international this time.  And I can’t announce any of the countries at this time, but it will start with about a month and a half run in the States, then I’ll go overseas to different places and then I’ll probably do another run in the States.  So I’ll be touring from late February to mid-Summer probably, unless my body gives out on me because I am getting kind of old.

Now what about this, do you still get the same rush and the same joy from touring now as you did maybe 18 years ago with Avail or not?

There’s been a rebirth, man.  To say it as bluntly as possible, without disrespecting Avail, it’s kind of easy, man.  I grew up – like in my teens and early 20s — with really aggressive music, and going to shows and being frightened, and singers sometimes would be really politically on stage and it was very thought-provoking.  And after a number of years with Avail, it just became easy.  Not mundane, and not routine, but easy.  I’d get on stage and there’d be 50 to 500 people there and the first chord would hit, and the place would explode, and I wouldn’t even need to sing.  And it did feel great at the end of every show, but at some point there was no challenge anymore.

And when I did my first show with an acoustic guitar in 2003 in front of about 60 people at an anarchist’s space in Asheville, North Carolina, and I was so fucking scared man; I was shaking like you wouldn’t believe.  I felt stripped.  It was just me and a guitar, and, I mean, I had no idea what I was doing.  I was awful, I mean terrible, and suddenly I felt alive, and challenged again.  And it didn’t become an obsession, but I was bad, and I suddenly was like ‘I want to do this [well], how am I going to do this?  I’m going to have to play all the time and learn how to do this.’  So I went over to Europe and toured, and started getting a handle on how to play the guitar, and public speaking, and not having all the guys in Avail backing me up.  And it became so fulfilling that touring almost seemed like a natural obligation.

And to answer your question: I have never been happier playing music than I have in the last 4 or 5 years.  It’s so exciting to me that it’s just like my nerves are focused on Tuesday and I’m going to shake when I get on stage in Kentucky.  And I’m going to be nervous before every show on this tour, and it makes me feel alive.  It makes me feel like I’m doing something for myself that’s right instead of some mundane, routine 9 to 5 existence that ends with a six pack of beer and watching sitcoms.  Long story short I am more excited about music and touring than I ever have been.  And I’m fucking lucky as hell, man.  I’m so lucky.  I’m so lucky because I have a job that I can leave any time, and is here for me when I get back, and I live in a situation that my rent is extremely low, and I don’t need a ton of money to get by so I can continue to do these things that excite me.  I’ve just had a lucky fucking life, there’s nothing else I can say about it.

Wow man.  That’s just great to hear because you hear of so many people in the industry just getting tired of it, but it really just seems like you’re doing this because you want to.

It’s just what I do, yea. And that’s like you say, “the industry,” and shit like that, that’s why I opted out of it.  I get offers, sometimes offers that are ridiculous, where I can actually like, you know, have some money.  And that’s just boring, man.  I grew up with independent music; I’ll continue to do that.  I’m not fascinated with the culture.  And because I’ve been touring for so long, I know everyone from nobodies to rock stars, and they’re all the same.  You know we share our tour stories, and I love everyone, but I’m far more interested in alternative cultures beyond music, and really completely uninterested in the music business.  I’m interested in the players because a lot of them are great people, but music is… it’s just music.  So if somebody posts something about this band on the computer then all it is is just shit talk and everybody comments, and it’s like ‘Really?’  That’s not an impressive thing to focus on.  Maybe learn a thing or two about your local politician, know them as intimately as you know these musicians.  I mean, yea man, it’s music.  It’s just music.

I had some train rider friends in town recently, and we’re listening to some of the new songs, and I told one of the train riders that I’d been real down all day, really depressed, and he said ‘Why?’ and I said ‘I think it’s because I’m working on these new songs I’m super in my head.’  And he’s like ‘Wow.  So songs when you’re working on them, you work on them so hard they can actually depress you?’  And I’m like ‘Yea,’ and he says ‘You’re so lucky you have that release.’  And I was like, ‘Actually, you’re fucking right.’  You know what I mean?  I’m lucky to have that.  You know I might not be the best, and I don’t want to be the best, but I am lucky that I can spend hours at a time just going through my head and trying to figure out why a song is coming out the way it is, and getting depressed about it later, or fucking high as a kite and happy as a motherfucker.  It’s just a release, and I’m thankful that anybody has that sort of release whether it’s playing a guitar and singing or having a full band, or painting or writing or whatever it is that gets people through the day.

You know what man this is great.  You’re heart is in this and you can tell.  I talk to some people who just put out press releases and half ass it.  This is honest to God why I listen to punk rock.  It’s refreshing to hear to be completely honest with you.

Yea it’s just, I’m not trying to create an image, this is just what I am.  It’s the same thing that if you go to the doctors, there’s two different kinds of doctors: there’s the ones that want to make a shit ton of money and there’s the ones that actually want to help people.  Or musicians who want to make a shit ton of money and get girls and coke or whatever and get popular and that’s so fucking obvious.  You know what, if I was that person, I’d tell you.  I know people who are that ridiculously ego-driven, but get off stage and pretend to be humble, and that makes me feel like vomiting.  Whether it’s music or anything, I think people should just be straight up.


Yea like… Did Vanessa send out my new bio? It’s just like a list of 17 things?

[Laughs] No she did not.

Ok cool.  That’s a big issue I’ve been having.  I really don’t like doing interviews, and Vanessa is just like ‘Tim, please do these,’ and I just hate talking about myself a lot.  And the guy who writes my bios is actually a professional investigative journalist, oddly enough, and is one of my oldest friends, and he’s like tired of watching everyone plagiarize his bios, and I’m tired of answering the same old fucking questions – by the way you didn’t ask the same old fucking questions and I appreciate that [had to keep that in for myself – ed.].  So instead of doing a bio, which he calls “Wikipedia-esque” he did a list and it’s pretty fucking awesome.  It’s just like “17 Things You Should Know About Tim.”  And none of them have anything to do with music.  But I was just curious because I thought it was a witty bio, and maybe down the line the traditional boring bios will go out the door.

That’s great man.  After we get off the phone I’m going to e-mail her and get a copy of it.

No man you don’t want to do that because then you’ll want to do the whole interview over again.  I guess she hasn’t released it yet.

Fair enough.  I guess then for just my final little wrap up.  You’re about Richmond and bands come out from there who are getting bigger, like Strike Anywhere or Smoke or Fire.  It’s like a Gainesville, why do you think Richmond is a place that creates such artistry?

I’ll give you two answers to that question.  First, people say ‘Oh you always sing about Richmond.’  And I kind of have to say, I often do sing about Richmond.  I was listening, it was kind of embarrassing, the first two songs I mention Richmond in.  I say that it’s not absurd. People are like ‘Why do you always sing about Richmond?’ And I actually don’t always sing about Richmond.  And people always mention New York City in their rap songs or hardcore songs or California in punk songs or rap songs, and I think people are just struck because Richmond’s not really a place on a fucking map.  If I sang about New York or LA they’d just think it was normal because that’s where artists clamor to.

With that said, to really answer the question, the reason that a lot of bands – and I can only speak for Richmond – popped out of Richmond right around the same time and continued through the 90s is this city is cheap.  Let me rephrase that: this city used to be cheap.  And a lot of artists from the suburbs and Northern Virginia and Roanoke and Southern Virginia and Eastern Virginia all moved to Richmond because we could live in houses extremely cheap, work part-time jobs and do art full-time.  And that goes for writers, painters, musicians, everything.  In fact, in the early days of Avail – I’ll give you an example of a group house we lived in for 8 or 9 years – we paid $500 a month for an entire house which we all lived in, we practiced in, that had seven people living in it.  And that gave us the time to focus on music and work part-time.  It’s not difficult to go on tour for a month when you know your rent and bills are going to be $100.  So we were afforded those opportunities because of the living situation in the city of Richmond.

However, it’s changed drastically.  And a lot of people moved into the city with that notion in their head and the city has failed them because rent has increased dramatically and homeownership has been unaffordable and unattainable for most people.  So where you used to be able to buy a house for 60 or 70 thousand dollars, now it’s $350,000.  So I really think that has a lot to do with why so much was coming out of Richmond, and why there’s not as much as there used to be.  I’ve always been one to believe that what you do, if you’re good at it, it doesn’t matter where you live.  I’ve always felt bad for people who make these enormous moves to LA, San Francisco, Boston and New York City to make it in art or whatever format, because it’s going to lead to failure when you’re going to have to pay $1000 dollars a month to live in something the size of a refrigerator box and work 60 hours a week.

Alright well I think that’s all for me.

Right on Kyle.  Man it’s so fucking beautiful here, I hope it’s like that up the street.

Oh it’s a gorgeous day.

Perfect man, try and enjoy some of it.

I will and have a great one.

You too man, you too.




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