Features Interviews A Harmonious Adventure With The Barr Brothers

A Harmonious Adventure With The Barr Brothers

Barr Brothers
Barr Brothers
Interview by: Natalia Buia

The Barr Brothers aren't just brothers. They're more like a close-knit family with an amalgamated vision of what modern folk should sound like. The recent buzz around the four-piece ensemble can be accredited to both amazing talent and sheer happenstance.

Brothers Andrew and Brad Barr have a couple of musical projects under their belts; from the electro-folk Surprise Me Mr. Davis to the straight up rock group The Slip. The brothers traded Boston for a cozier nest in Montreal, a move that lead singer Brad describes as a "haphazard decision". Finding a new apartment in Montreal led them to finding a new member of their band. Harpist Sara Page was living across the hall from the guys and it wasn't long until they became musical confidants. Friend Andres Vial would later round out the newly formed band.

"When you're given an opportunity, it's nice to see what its potential is," Brad says about the big leap.

He was on the phone while the band geared up for a show at the Mercury Lounge in New York City. The band would soon go on to serenade Lee's Palace with last year’s Polaris Prize winners Karkwa.

What makes The Barr Brothers' self-titled album a knockout is the use of unconventional instruments to display an array of textures and universal truths. The four members took music-making to the next level when recording with quirky instruments including a classical harp through a fuzz pedal, a fretless peanut bowl banjo, and a bamboo angklung, just to name a few. The result of the so-called mad scientist experiment is a carefully crafted, modern folk record set to steal hearts on September 27 (visit Sticky Magazine on September 26th to read our review of the album).

"We didn't know we were making a record when we made it," Brad says. "It was a long process of recording a bunch of songs. It's kind of respective of our whole transition from Montreal."

Brad, of course, is referring to the band's move from Boston (where The Slip was formed) to the quaint city in Quebec that introduced them to a collection of talented musicians and future collaborators. Elizabeth Powell of Land and Talk also makes a respectable contribution on their record.

"We had all the time in the world to build these songs. The 'recording' light didn't resemble anything scary and we weren't watching the dollars. We also recorded enough in the past to know we wanted to create a sound that felt like it had been unearthed, dug up," Brad says of the band's organic yet unique sound.

The 10-track album, which features the spirited "Beggar in the Morning" and a hearty rendition of Blind Willie Johnson's "Lord I Just Can't Keep From Crying" was recorded in a boiler room on the edge of Mount Royal. Brad says the rather peculiar space belonged to a group of friends that used the space for editing TV music.

"It was like a dungeon. It seemed like a place where a serial killer might have been hiding out," Brad says. "A spooky place ripe with potential. We cleared it out, cleaned it up and made it our little space."

When listening to the album and all its smooth arrangements, it's hard to imagine it was recorded in a place that was once so uncomfortably eerie. They decided "Beggar in the Morning" would be the opening track to guide listeners on a harmonious adventure.

"I like the way that it doesn't hit you with a lot of force right away," Brad says of the opening track. "We usually start a lot of shows with that song. It's the easiest way for me to say hello to people."

The Barr Brothers will once again say hello to Toronto on October 12 at The Drake Hotel when the foursome celebrates the release of their brilliant work of artistry.