Tim Barry talks re-release of “Laurel Street Demos” and life as a DIY artist

Tim Barry is a man that, at this point, probably needs no introduction. Whether it be through his days as frontman of seminal Richmond, Virgina, punk band Avail or his more recent career as an acoustic singer/songwriter, Barry has established a well-earned reputation as a hard-working do-it-yourselfer who bleeds authenticity.

On the heels of Chunksaah Records re-releasing Barry’s solo “debut,” the Laurel Street Demos, Barry took some time out of his busy schedule (as you’ll read, we got sidetracked by babies, mechanics and…chickens) to discuss the origins of his solo career, his upcoming UK and US tours, and what it means to be active as a 100% DIY artist in 2013. Click here to check it out, and click here to see where you can catch Tim on tour.

Our interview got off to a bit of a rolling start in discussing the fallout of the Boston Marathon bombings as I live in the area and know people that were very tremendously impacted and Tim has family in New England and a neighbor who ran the race. We’ll pick things up here…

Dying Scene (Jay): So anyway, I’ll definitely be in attendance when you’re up here in Cambridge this summer…

Tim Barry: Yeah, I always love coming there and I can’t believe it got combined with The Draft too. Seriously. That makes it even better. I don’t know if you’re aware of that, but I had a date booked, and then I got a call from the dudes in The Draft and we were like “fuck it, let’s combine.” It’s awesome, and we get to do it again in Detroit too…

That was actually one of the things I wanted to ask about; how that part came about. Because the bill that you’ve put together anyway is pretty awesome. Obviously Cory Branan is amazing. How did The Draft even get involved?

Well, you know, in the circles of music that we live in and the network of music that we live in, it’s not much different than anything else that anybody does. There’s these logistics involved in booking shows and, on occasion, our peers cross paths with one another. And this time I happen to be lucky enough to be one of the peers that’s crossing paths with terrific friends in The Draft, and we were able to combine the shows. It’s a weird, tricky world of reserving venues, with all these ridiculously technical terms and, in this situation, had we not been friends, I would have just had my normal show. But because we’re all good friends, we’re just like “let’s combine it and do it and keep the same ticket price so it’s affordable for everybody.”

Anyway, so that worked out for there and Detroit, so I’m excited. And also, there’s not a monotony to touring, but it’s really exciting when you are used to doing , like for me, I’ll get used to headlining and playing this whole tour solo, I’ll be doing it just acoustic guitar and vocals with no backup musicians or anything. Oh man…these chickens are killing me. Hold on a second… (daughter starts crying). Yeah, I’m pissed too. I thought this would work. I’m a full-time dad now, and I thought this would work where I could set up outside and speak with you, but I have the baby in the high chair and the things are jumping on the chair. Let me go inside.

Anyway, with all of that said, there’s not a monotony, but there’s a routine that comes with touring and that’s why I try to change my setlist every night, that kind of stuff. So it’s a major relief when you go from headlining every night and playing an hour-and-a-half to actually being able to play before the headliner and we’ll actually have a couple beers and watch a great band play, so I’m excited about the prospects of those two shows. Just switching shit up.

Is the show going to be…obviously you and Cory Branan and the guys from The Draft obviously have ties to Chuck Ragan camaraderie. Can we look for something Revival Tour-ish out of this lineup or are guys doing your own dedicated sets?

Oooh, that’s a good question. And that’s a question I try not to bring up and put on the table in doing shows and tours like this, and just letting the spontaneity dictate what goes on. Sometimes when you get into a routine or if you get into a mixed up show like the one at The Middle East in Cambridge, crazy shit can happen, or everyone will stick with what they’ve got going on in their set. That’s the cool part, man. It changes nightly and you just never know. God knows what’ll happen. And back on the last West Coast tour with Avail, I can’t remember what year that was, The Draft did support for us. And when you do a tour with a band, you get so familiar with their music instead of just listening to the CD, you actually start feeling it and understanding it more. So God knows what’ll happen. I’m just excited about that show and how it all fell into place. But as far as collaboration goes, that’s spontaneity. We’ll see.

Yeah, and I guess you can’t plan spontaneity (*both laugh*). This interview was mostly prompted by both the upcoming tour and the re-release of the Laurel Street Demos. What got them to re-release Laurel Street now?

That’s just all me. I still self-manage and handle everything on my own. I was sort of fatigued with the idea that my earliest recordings have gone out of print and weren’t available, some of which were being sold on the internet for a lot of money and they’re not worth that much money. Music is to be shared, not a commodity. And also, the Laurel Street Demo was really the first thing I did unintentionally with acoustic music. I had also done, in 2008 I believe, or 2007, I had done a live recording at an elementary school here in Richmond, Virginia, where I was playing for second graders. And that had fallen out of print too. So I just called everybody at Chunksaah Records, who help me put out my records, and simply asked.

There was no timing to a release, there was no deadline, it was just sort of a back burner thing that we could get it back in print when money was available to do all the manufacturing and all that stuff. It was completed and it came out sort of perfect timing because I was already anticipating doing a fair amount of touring this summer. So then the release came out and I was sort of cross-eyed yesterday in my shed playing the guitar and being like “Geez, I gotta figure out which songs from this to play!” It’s not like I feel like I have to push the product when I’m on tour, but if you’re going to put something out you’d better relearn some of the songs! It turned out to sound fairly coordinated with the release and the tour dates, but it was actually accidental. And what I’m really doing is focusing on writing a new record. It’s nice to have a reissue in the mix when I’m out playing, though. Just like the rest of my life, it’s not super coordinated, but it is what it is.

Obviously Laurel Street, you’ve said before, was what started the ‘accident’ of touring and recording. Is it weird to look back at some of the older tracks from Laurel Street and think “my God, that wasn’t intended for people to actually hear?”

Yeah! There’s a lot of incarnations of the Laurel Street recordings. Some people who’ve followed my music or have been close to it for a long time will remember that the original Laurel Street was burned onto CD-Rs and it probably had two of the songs off of the actual release. And there was some tragically bad music coming out of me. What I did was, I had a website and I just said that if anybody would like a CD-R of these recordings I did this week, send me two bucks just to cover postage and I’ll send it out to you. And I started sending a shit-ton of them out. And then I was back in the studio and I did the same thing. There were probably like four different versions of the original Laurel Street, and what the final product became was the songs that I thought kind of worked together. A

nd, again, you noted that I called it the accident that started the whole thing, the music was not intended to go past my housemates, my neighbors and my family. So I was surprised by some of their reactions. I thought, well, maybe I should keep doing this. Not consciously, like “I should make this the thing that I do,” but growing up I’d played some acoustic guitar, not well, but I used it as a tool to write songs. So yeah, the Laurel Street Demos, that’s how they came out, and that’s what started what I do now. I haven’t listened to them since I was considering whether Chunksaah would reissue it, and of course, there’s some out of tune-ness and not great moments and flubbed vocals, but demos are demos. People forget that they aren’t supposed to be a studio album. Their supposed to be haphazard and based on study, like “does this work, does this not?”

And that’s what’s cool about demos or live recordings. I mean, it can be considered not a great recording or record, but I think it’s fun. It kinda shows what I was trying to do. And you know how music is, some people are like “that’s the best thing he’s done and everything’s crap after that.” And other people will argue that point. And I listened to it, and I was like, you know, some of these lyrics are really good and some of them aren’t so good and this is fun and I’m just going to play this stuff live anyway. So I’m excited to get it back out. Especially the live recording that was not planned. I had gone to an elementary school to play for 22 second graders just for fun because I like to do that stuff. And I didn’t realize that Dave Watkins who had come along had set up a good field recorder and did a good audio recording of it. I was stoked and thought “let’s put this out” and if there’s any profits we’ll give it back to the school. And that’s what we did, so we’ll get back to that routine too.

That’s great. I was curious as to how that came about. Because as the dad of a five-year-old, I love sitting down with her and listening to music and playing around on the guitar and whatever…

Yeah, it’s fun. As abrasive as my music is lyrically and in chord progressions and stuff like that, I always get offers to do all kinds of cool stuff like that, like play listening rooms at churches or play elementary schools. So I’ll just take the songs that I have and rewrite the lyrics. Almost like Woody Guthrie used to, like, show up at a protest and play a union song based on the melody of another song, then go to another event and do a song about, like, the coal miners’ strike based on the same song. And that’s what I did at the elementary school. And I do that stuff here and there, mostly in the back yard when we’re drinking and having a good time, though (*both laugh*)

It came about just through the network of people that I know. I certainly have a handful of friends that are teachers or educators in some way, and I get asked every tour, at least three or four teachers will reach out when they see the tour dates and be like “can you come to the school and perform a show?” and unfortunately I can never do that. But it keeps me on my toes, too…

Oh absolutely, trying to A)keep a room full of second graders entertained and B)like you said, sing them something that they can actually sing along too that’s not going to piss off the school board…

You know what I did in that situation too in that performance at the elementary school is I had the teacher put the lyrics up on a projector, like the hook lines like “hey lolly lolly” or teach it to them before we’d sing the song. They all know “This Land Is Your Land.” But I’ll tell you what…it’s scarier to play for 22 second graders, knowing how honest children are, about everything from what you’re wearing to what you look like. It’s a lot easier to play to a room full of drunks at a bar, as scary as that is, but at ten in the morning at an elementary school where kids feel at home and feel like they can say anything is a pretty frightening position to be in too. (*both laugh*) What a great time, though. What a great time.

Going back to Laurel Street starting this whole “accident,” what do you think you would have done if you didn’t do the solo songwriter sort of thing after Avail…what do you think you would have done otherwise? Would you have still been out playing anyway or maybe just been comfortable being home and becoming a dad or whatever?

I’m fairly confident I would be doing exactly what I’m doing now. I guess I’ve just always written songs. I would have been writing all the songs that I’ve written. I would have written and played, whether I had done it publicly or not, all of these songs. I don’t know how many songs I have now, but I would have written all of those songs. There’s just no doubt, it’s such a normal part of my life. Writing music is as normal as walking to me. So whether there was public interest or not, I would have recorded “Church of Level Track” and I would have recorded “40 Miler” and I would have recorded some of my newer songs. But I probably would also be working three jobs, living a normal life, you know. I also had been writing acoustic songs since I was a child and if I could ever dig through the old 4-track tapes that I have somewhere, there’s a million acoustic songs going back to the early 90s. so I think I would have just always been doing that. I don’t know, at this point I just feel lucky to be able to play music publicly, as nerve-wracking as it is. So I don’t know, that’s a good question. I do know that music would be a part of my life and all those songs would be.

Do you think, and I don’t know if this was a goal, but I asked Dave Hause a similar question a few months back because he was in The Loved Ones for so long that people know him as “Dave Hause from the Loved Ones.” So I was asking if it was a goal to not be “Dave Hause from the Loved Ones” anymore and to just be Dave Hause. And at what point do you lose that tag on the end of your name. Do you think you’re officially just “Tim Barry” at this point and not “Tim Barry from Avail?”

I don’t know because I don’t think about it and I don’t know how people see me. I guess it depends on where you met me first. I gotta be honest, Ive always, even going back to Avail, we consciously wouldn’t do support tours because we believed in hard work. In other words, we’re not going to get popular by going on tour with a huge band, we want to do this on our own. And it wasn’t until 1998 that we cracked and we did our first support tour with The Suicide Machines.

With that said, as soon as I started doing shows on my own, I abhorred the “Tim Barry (from Avail)” thing because I didn’t want people coming out based solely on “oh, that’s the guy from Avail.” And I also didn’t want them to misunderstand what I was doing and that I was not playing Avail songs. Avail wrote songs collectively. I would be a bad friend to take songs that we wrote as a group and present them as my own so I consciously decided not to do that. Recently I just saw a tour date announced a couple days ago that clearly says “Tim Barry from Avail” and I just wanted that to go away for those reasons. But I don’t know. These days most people I meet at the shows often say “I’m sorry, I’ve never heard of your old band.” I get that so often, that people are apologetic, “I’m sorry, I’ve never heard of your old band and I didn’t even know you were in a band until somebody told me.” I find that flattering.

That was sort of my follow-up question is where do you think your audience comes from now, if it’s Avail or it’s strictly from the folkier, songwriter crew.

I’m definitely not touring on my old accomplishments.

Right.

I think it’s safe to say that without coming across as cocky in any way. I have a new circle of fans these days. I’m going straight to England before I start touring in the US, and I guarantee that I probably know how many people that are going to come to the shows were even aware of Avail when we used to play. Probably like Simon, Rich, Carrie, folks at Joiners, and like nobody else. Because they saw me play with Frank Turner on my last tour over there.

So, you know…I think things just change and people roll on. No regrets with the Avail stuff, it’s just that things are so different that I don’t even think about it. Avail doesn’t even cross my mind, it’s weird. But Avail was the greatest learning experience of my life. I learned how to do everything without anyone’s help. It’s pretty miraculous to say, because we went all over the world a million times on our own with one roadie and no management and no tour support and our trailer was stuffed with alternators and starters. It was unbelievable. We were pretty much on our own.

If I have one regret it’s that not that I never heard of Avail it’s that I only saw you guys once. The only time I saw you guys was at the end, or towards the end, at a Hometown Throwdown show with the Bosstones and the Dropkick Murphys and Flogging Molly.

Oh yeah (laughs).

For whatever reason, I never saw you guys before that.

That wasn’t the greatest of our performances (laughs). There was a small minority of people tearing up the dance floor there (laughs). Misrepresenting us, to an extent.

Well yeah, that bill was sorta like ‘one of these things is not like the other.’

Haha..right.

I know it’s thirteen or fourteen years in hindsight at this point, but when you tell people today what that lineup was, to a person, the response is “holy shit!”

Haha…nobody seemed to care that day!

You were sort of one of the first people, at least that I followed, that went from the frontman in the punk/hardcore band to doing the solo acoustic thing. It’s obviously different now, there’s a lot more people who do it. But, was there ever any trepidation into going that route at first? To being one of those first guys that was on that radar, or at least on my radar…

Let’s correctly say that Mike Judge was the actually first one to do that (*both laugh – then get interrupted by a phone call from Tim’s mechanic)

Anyway, to answer the question, no, I just…again, going back to growing up, I just have always played acoustic music and where I live and how we interact, there’s not a musical house without a few acoustic guitars. So all I did was took what we do normally and put it in public. No trepidation, but pure nerves. That’s a scary thing to grow up with a group of people, being Avail, and playing music together, and then suddenly being on stage by yourself without your best friends, that’s really weird. But I think I got addicted to the fear of music again. With Avail, you know, it’s a four count in and the whole crowd explodes and all starts singing along and then suddenly there I am playing my own songs in front of ten people that don’t really want to pay attention to me.

It was tremendously scary and it really was exciting and I kinda got addicted to the rush. The first show I played was in 2004 in Asheville, North Carolina, at an anarchist collective that needed some money and asked Avail to play and Avail was unavailable, but I just said “well, I’ll just come down and play some songs.” And that was the first time, and I just kept on trucking and it never ended. Wow, I can’t believe that was that long ago, almost ten years ago. Wow, I’m almost at the ten year anniversary of my first bad show and I’m still playing bad shows. (*both laugh*)

Haha…but you play them all over the world now.

Haha…yeah, totally

(Then conversation turns to our Tim’s 8-month-old daughter and my 5-year-old daughter and the stages they go through)

Every moment that I get with her, I feel truly blessed. It is the best thing. It’s really daunting to consider the amount of time I’m going to spend out of town coming up, but I’m so lucky that my wife is a teacher. So I tour now, obviously, when school’s out. Again, I never retained management, I still am in 100% control over everything I do, so you’ll notice that I never leave for more than ten days at a time. I’m so lucky, so lucky to have that autonomy.

I knew you obviously had a DIY reputation, but I don’t think that I had realized that you were still had no management, no nothing, just all you.

Yeah, if you buy something from my e-store, I write the address on there. I don’t even have merchandising companies. The only things I have are a booking agent who I’ve had for twenty years, and my good friend who helps me with publicity for free, and Chunksaah Records. I couldn’t be any luckier. When I was growing up, there was no longevity in music. Retirement was at 22. So it’s pretty amazing.

Did you think when you started with Avail, however the hell long ago that was, that in 2013 you’d still be a touring musician?

No. No. I mean I talk to my old bandmates about that all the time. We clearly, every year that Avail was together, we were like “can you believe that it’s 1998 and we’re still touring?” and then in 2005 we’re like “wow, we’re still doing this!” And at that point we were all working multiple jobs and touring, there’s never been enough money to really get by with music. But people are still coming to our shows, we’ve never taken this stuff for granted. And when I say we, I mean the people that I’m associated with in Richmond, Virginia. We’ll definitely always feel lucky because we all worked hard and all our friends worked hard, so anytime you get to do this stuff we’re all very excited. Not unlike the people in Boston.

That is certainly not lost on us. And I don’t know if you feel like Boston’s been a better market for you, but I think that there are certainly a lot of people in this area who can appreciate that sort of work ethic and doing it yourself and the feeling lucky for what you have because you worked to get it, you know?

Yeah, the people of Boston understand that, because there’s places like South Boston and places like New Hampshire and hard-working places like Cranston, Rhode Island and Providence, Rhode Island. We’re all kin…New England, as Johnny Cash would say, is just the same as sunny Tennessee. We’re a lot of the same people.

(Interview comes to a close as the guy comes to replace the windshield on Tim’s lemon of a tour van. Thanks again, Tim.)


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