Time becomes a precious commodity once you have a family, something that Brad and Andrew Barr have discovered over their last couple of records with the Barr Brothers.
Brad Barr discovered the importance of learning to juggle a busy schedule when his son arrived around the time of the band’s 2014 sophomore album, Sleeping Operator. Andrew became a father during the creation of Queens of the Breakers, released this autumn. The challenge now is carving out time for the Barr Brothers, a trio that also includes harpist and vocalist Sarah Pagé.
Luckily, figuring out how to maximize one’s productivity in a condensed window of opportunity is something that the band’s members have come to excel at.
“Things got really hectic for a while,” Andrew says, reached on his cellphone at a St. Louis tour stop. “We definitely toured really hard on Sleeping Operator when Brad had just had a kid. Right when we finished that tour, my wife got pregnant and I started nesting. It was a busy couple of years, and that made it hard to find the time to make a record. I wouldn’t say we were less motivated than in the past, but we certainly had some more important things going on that we were taking care of. Little things, like being able to sit up and play the piano at 2 in the morning in the house, become something you can’t do.”
When it came time to get serious about a follow-up for Sleeping Operator, the Barrs finally decided that the most productive path was to escape, with the blessing of their wives. That led to them holing up in a rural Quebec cabin with Pagé, the three eventually emerging with the skeleton of the songs that would become Queens of the Breakers.
“We kept trying to find time—we have a little studio in Montreal—where we’d be like ‘How about this Tuesday from 2 to 4?’ Then all of a sudden it’s 2 o’clock and everyone’s busy. After months of that, we finally said ‘This is crazy’ and got permission from the wives and went to this cabin that was a half-an-hour snowmobile ride from any store. We really sequestered ourselves away, and it worked. Brad and I had lived together most of our 20s—we lived in a house in Boston where we could play music until 4 in the morning and not get a complaint. There’s something about that kind of freedom. This experience was even more incredible because we were in this giant chalet in the middle of the woods.”
That led to a record that makes it clear the Barr Brothers play by no one’s rules other than their own. Continuing down the same path as Sleeping Operator, Queens of the Breakers doesn’t follow one sonic blueprint. So after starting out in the land of modern Americana with “Look Before It Changes”, the Barr Brothers proceed to lace “Kompromat” with acid-freakout guitar, and break out the Chicago-blues harmonica for “Maybe Someday”. Binding all the songs together is a production job that places a premium on texture, the record as lush as it is often meditative.
For that Andrew credits, ironically enough, having nothing but time to work on the songs.
“We’re kids who grew up on [Miles Davis’s] Bitches Brew but also never really lost our Kinks and Neil Young records,” Andrew says. “We later got into modern classical, and always thought there was a way for all these things to kind of exist together. The only guiding thing with this band is there’s no limit to the kind of music we can write. Some of the songs on this record started out as literally 45-minute jams. We actually debated for a while, going ‘Should we put out these songs as 20-minute experimental improvisations?’ because we really fell in love with a lot of them. It was hard to cut them up, because they felt incomplete once we started slicing them up. We ultimately decided to make a slightly more traditional record, but I’m really happy with the way they all turned out.”
The Barr Brothers play the Imperial on Sunday (December 17).