It's one of those rare beautiful things you discover that changes your way of thinking about what can be achieved through music. It profoundly grabs you and tells you something important. That's what the music of The Slip does for me. Great improvisers‚ great songwriters‚ great composers‚ musical innovators - they're the trio with a huge sound.
I caught up with a musical hero of mine‚ Brad Barr‚ while he was on the road heading from Athens‚ GA to Ashville‚ NC. I had one question prepared - the opener; in the spirit of The Slip's music‚ I threw out the set list and improvised. Here is part one of the interview with guitarist‚ composer‚ and vocalist Brad Barr. Hope you dig it.
Mike McKinley: First thing I'd really like to pick your brain about is your latest album Angels Come On Time. My feeling is that it's a good story from start to finish‚ the emotion and passion conveyed on the album‚ I can hear the likes of Bill Frisell‚ Bob Dylan‚ and even the Beatles‚ but it then again I feel it's completely fresh and original sounding‚ and ultimately can only be described as the sound of The Slip. So what was the process like making the album‚ and what are you thoughts on the finished product now that it's out?
Brad Barr: Our process was like this‚ we realized that in the studio we're sort of faced with a whole bunch of different challenges than when we take the stage live. So when we started recording the album‚ we realized that our last attempt in the studio we really didn't get what we wanted‚ but we weren't really sure what exactly we wanted. We've had a lot more time playing live than we have in the studio‚ so we decided that we really wanted to get some of my lyrics onto the album. Some of the ones that I really felt the best about. One of the best ways to do that was to really craft these songs and pay attention to a lot of the little details‚ trying to be brief whenever possible. Basically‚ what we do live doesn't necessarily have to be what we do in the studio. We have a lot of different sides to ourselves that we need to express. In the past‚ going into the studio and doing a live thing did not always translate so well for us. So we decided to really craft it and know what we'd want to do as far as overdubs go. Well... we thought we didn't feel the need to stretch out on every song‚ you know? Save that for the live albums - with the deal with Rykodisc we get to put out live albums on our own. So our thought process was to save the improvised stuff‚ or the really extended stuff for the live albums. So the process was to just craft these songs and get the vocals happening. Even after the recording and everything was finalized‚ then I really started paying attention to music that I thought were great studio efforts from modern stuff like Built to Spill and the Flaming Lips to Pink Floyd‚ or even Led Zeppelin in the studio. I started loving that stuff again after spending time on this record. Just the way they really‚ really make a huge sound on the album for being a small band.
I think by the end‚ I probably feel... well‚ I'm usually content listening to it. There's a lot of stuff on the next record that we want to try...
MM: Well‚ right‚ it seems you can't be 100% content‚ that keeps you going and trying to do something better and better...
BB: It's funny‚ I usually am 100% happy with it on some days listening to it with some people‚ and then I'll listen to it with other people on other days and I'm just not happy with it at all (laughs).
MM: I think it's great that a band like The Slip‚ which is such a great live band‚ will go into the studio with that approach‚ the approach that it's a different form of your art. The attempt to put out a concise idea‚ using the studio to the max‚ and delivering a statement.
BB: I find‚ as a matter of personal taste‚ I love jazz music‚ modern and old‚ and straightforward rock n' roll like AC/DC and stuff like that. But when it comes to a live show‚ I really like to see a lot of improvisation and risk taking. It bores me when I see a band go song to song to song. When it comes to the studio and enjoying a CD‚ I like to have the person really speaking to me‚ or playing something concise and not necessarily something that's so groove-oriented on a CD. I don't really need to put on a CD and have it always groove‚ it's nice every now and then. So it kind of came down to that‚ when we play live‚ we love to do our thing‚ we love to groove and stretch out. In the studio we can be the songwriters and producers we also aspire to be.
MM: I feel the same way when I go see a band‚ I want see them take risks and go with the moment. Then again‚ if they're talented enough to play so well‚ why not take that into the studio and focus on making a good concise album?
BB: Yeah‚ I feel it's natural for us to do that. We'll probably keep going on that. We're also interested in the whole idea of instrumental pop music‚ not like Kenny G or something‚ I guess that could be considered instrumental pop. We have some tracks on the album like "Sorry" or "Jumby" that are pretty pop-oriented tunes‚ or even "Nellie Jean." They're instrumental‚ but the melody is very sing-able‚ very lyrical‚ and the improvisation is kept tight and to the point. We were thinking making this album like "man‚ this is ready for the radio‚" but I guess people didn't really pick up on it like that.
MM: (laughs) We're not at that stage yet. Yeah‚ those tunes you mentioned‚ the melodies are very catchy‚ well constructed‚ and... really beautiful. Listening to it's a good feeling‚ and it's a good statement.
BB: These days I feel that the state of modern pop music‚ I mean obviously you got your Britney Spears and Enrique Iglesias and all that crap‚ but you also have Radiohead‚ U2‚ or Beck‚ you know? Pop music that in a lot ways I would rather listen to than modern jazz that's coming out. There's a lot of great modern jazz as well‚ but as far as finding these new sonic environments‚ or actually sound environments... is the only word I can use to describe it. Bill Frisell came up with a new sound environment‚ Radiohead came up with a new sound environment‚ and that's what really interests me. If you can incorporate really great playing‚ great improvisation‚ and great lyrics into that‚ that's what we strive for.
MM: I think that's one of things that really gets people about you guys - two things actually I'd like to talk about‚ the first thing is on the album Angels there's really great songwriting and great lyrics. That's the first thing that I gravitated towards on the album‚ the delivery of thought-provoking lyrics. The second thing‚ is you guys are jazz musicians‚ and there's exceptional jazz compositions on the album. Which is what makes it so interesting to me‚ you have a great pop song‚ I guess it would be called‚ like "Love and Tears"‚ then a great instrumental composition like "Get Me With Fuji." In a way it's like the new standard in jazz. Do you feel The Slip is playing a role in redefining what jazz music is‚ or in the evolution of jazz music?
BB: I don't know... I know we're playing a role in some way just because we made ourselves so present and so open out there‚ and we've gotten a lot of response from people. So I know the music is having an impact. I guess it translates in having an influence‚ if I could assume that. I think every modern musician‚ or modern generation musician that comes around‚ it's been an unconscious assimilation of all the things that really ring true to them. A musician is like a researcher‚ and the more you research anything‚ you begin to find connections between things. You end up drawing parallels between Delta Blues music and Ravi Shankar‚ maybe there's not such a concrete similarity‚ but there's something in your heart that's drawn to all these things. As a musician‚ for us‚ we feel this duty to recreate the way we hear these things and interpret these sounds. The hope is that it's inspiring to people and that maybe it helps them formulate some of their own ideas about whatever it is they do - you know‚ if it's music‚ art‚ or writing‚ or even activism‚ it gives them some kind of inspiration. That's the way I see our role‚ just as people out there to remind people that life is this process of discovery. Sometimes‚ quite often‚ failure‚ or at least the perception of failure‚ is something which helps push you to try to be better.
As far as jazz‚ or being a jazz musician‚ it's just another form of music we really love. We really see ourselves inside of it‚ and have fun playing it. It's something to constantly pursue and to study‚ and probably the thing we are most familiar with since we started playing together. It's no surprise that most people would refer to us as kind of a jazz band. The roots of the band‚ not our own roots‚ which is more probably rock-based‚ but our roots as a band is jazz music‚ which is what we all started playing together. We just want to see it evolve... I'm sure a lot people have a lot of ideas and opinions about jazz music and what it is‚ and they might think it's wrong of us to call ourselves jazz. It's just this spirit to see music evolve‚ and really try to give it this energy again‚ or re-energize what improvisational music can be. It's dance music... and obviously we're not the first ones doing this... we took a lot of cues from John Scofield‚ you know‚ just these heavy grooves and great playing‚ and Pat Methany‚ back in our early days of exploring jazz music. A lot of our taste have leaned towards really good rock music‚ like Built to Spill‚ and the Flaming Lips‚ stuff like that‚ we have such an appreciation for great songs and great playing.