BRAD BARR chats about his new solo album & the mystery of the number 216

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Photo credit: Caroline Desilets

Brad Barr is on his “second breakfast”. During our Zoom chat, he occasionally takes a break to enjoy his baked beans. “In maple syrup of course,” he says after I disclose that we Brits only have them in tomato sauce. We’ll leave that argument for another day though.

The Barr Brother is in good spirits. This week he released his second solo album, The Winter Mission, just thirteen short years after his first. He admits “putting out this record has been a really cool little lift in what was getting to be a pretty routine existence,” but this album is not simply a product of the lockdown. It actually began back in 2019.

“It was having been contacted by a theatre company. The All For One Theater in New York who had first approached me. Their director at first approached me to, you know write some music for his theatre company to be able to use, but he also really just wanted to inspire me. He knew (Brad’s first record) The Fall Apartment, and I think he was just like, okay, how am I going to get this guy to write another record? So he called me.”

The Barr Brothers play M Telus in Montreal
Photo – Kieron Yates

The Winter Mission reminds me of the soundtrack to some movie that doesn’t exist yet. The music is beautifully cinematic and slightly hypnotic. Inspired by artists like Caetano Veloso, Mississippi Fred McDowell, D’Gary, and John Frusciante, Barr set out to make music that was naked and unprocessed, but also occasionally loud—alive with a sense of wakeful intimacy. 

“I will agree with you,” Brad says. “It came out much more hypnotic and transient and repetitive than most music I tend to write. I don’t know why. It’s one of those things that I’m not aware of when it’s happening. It’s just kind of a mood thing, but what I will say is that Michael who had contacted me to write this music and sort of got me on track with it, you know, in the beginning of it, I was sending him an idea here, an idea there and saying like, is this kind of what you’re thinking, does this fit your idea of what you’d wanted. And he was like, this is not about anyone approving this. This is about you to free yourself and to feel really liberated and to go deep, you know, and into what it is you want to do right now. So I think I just allowed myself any little idea, if something sparked me, I really just kind of went into it and saw how far I could go with it. Just to see how far I could take some things. And I guess I, whereas maybe other times I’m writing a song, I’m kind kinda thinking, all right, I got to get to the part, what’s the next part going to be, how am I going to describe this? How am I gonna make this kind of interesting this time? I really just sat down and just kind of meditated on it really, almost went into like a trance with a lot of it and allowed myself to improvise within that. So I could really just kind of play around in that world.”

For more than 20 years, Brad Barr has been counting the number 216. It’s a mysterious number that seems to show up everywhere—from clocks and licence plates to Ouija boards and receipts—and now it’s also sewn the fabric of his new album, like the 216 stitches on a baseball.

“I’m not a numerologist, I don’t have any kind of new age, spiritual ideas. I’m not a mathematician. When I was about 15 some friends of mine and I were experimenting in psychedelics and we were in our friend’s basement. There’s a song on (the album) called Your Dad’s Awake. That was at 2:16 in the morning, we heard someone say your dad’s awake. What time is it? It’s 2:16. And then for like the next month, it kept coming up that number that time, this is when it first arrived for me. I don’t really know why we chose to remember that or why we all remembered it, but it kind of became this part of our mythology as teenagers gaining our independence and playing in bands together. 216 was at the center of this thing. It just entered our group mythology that night and stayed with us. But then we started to see it all over the place and it became this is a weird little phenomenon. Long story short, it just turns out that this number has all these properties and characteristics and ways that our cultures have employed it. The ways that it shows up in nature and mathematics. I know there’s some kind of a key inside that number. It just turns up too many times in too many mutually exclusive situations. But for me, it always symbolized the friendship I had with these guys. It just kind of keeps me engaged in that mystic quality of our lives and the universe, you know, reminds me that there’s something underneath it all that is more interesting, more maybe powerful than what I can see and do.”

And what about Brad’s main gig? It seems new music from The Barr Brothers is coming sooner than we may have thought.

“Well, Andrew and I have been working on a record, so we’ve got 20 or 30 demos. At the end of this month, we’re going to go into a studio and we had to sort of decide to not make the record in our studio because we’ve been doing that. And it just kind of, it never stops or starts when we do it in our studio. So The Barr Brothers are, that’s kind of the priority now. We’re hoping by the end of the Spring to have a record. I’m really, really happy with the songs we’ve been writing. I’ve been trying to get them in a place where they can really be delivered off the floor and not have to go obsess over them and tweak them and chop and move stuff. We’ve always gotten the bed tracks and then spent a year just messing with the thing. And I’d really like to make a record that’s just kind of simple and easy. I think we’ve spent the time beforehand instead of after. That’s the idea.”

Watch the full interview below:

The Winter Mission is out now on Secret City Records

Interview – Steve Gerrard

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