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Tim Barry at Underground Arts
21+ | Doors: 8PM | Show: 9PM
∆∆∆ TIM BARRY ∆∆∆
Right now, Tim Barry is detoxing. Not from drugs or alcohol, but from his own music. “When the record’s finally done, and the master is approved, I erase every file that’s been sent to me and I throw out all the CDs with all of the rough mixes. I get rid of everything,” says Barry. And that’s exactly where he’s at, in the middle of cleanse from his own work. But on September 8, he’ll sit down with his new record, High On 95 (Chunksaah Records), one last time. And like everyone else listening to it that day, it’ll be for the first time. “I generally never listen to the record again except one time on the day it comes out,” says Barry. “That’s when I actually hear the record from the perspective of the people who are into it.” And what those people will hear—along with the artist himself—is a record that explores the human condition in classic Tim Barry fashion.
“Slow Down” opens the record and sees Barry tearing at his guitar strings while weaving a tale about alienation, shame, and getting the hell out of Brooklyn. His sister Caitlin Hunt’s lonesome violin joins him on his journey, as Barry’s burly voice lumbers forth, admitting faults (“I’ve always been thirsty / I’ve always been a wreck”) but never becoming defeated. It’s a song that sets up the themes that will be touched on time and again throughout High On 95: Fear, loneliness, pain, and isolation. But for all these anxieties, Barry never wallows. Instead, he finds hope in the journey.
“If I’m talking about real life shit, just getting things off of my chest, if they don’t have an element of hope, then there’s no use in writing it,” says Barry. And for every moment that aches with a feeling that borders on defeat, it’s flanked by Barry’s perseverance and unbreakable work ethic. While there’s a song like “Running Never Tamed Me,” which Barry says caused his two daughters to break down crying the first time they heard it, there’s a song like “Riverbank,” which carries a foot-stomping swagger that invites you into the anthemic ruckus. Against a steady backbeat, vamped piano, and Neil Young-esque, single-note solos, Barry becomes the ringleader of a triumphant chorus, guiding his collaborators to the song’s apex.
“I become the conductor,” says Barry, explaining that his process of leading his assembled studio band involves a whole lot of humming what he hears in his head and some wild, impassioned gesticulating. “All of the parts that are added to the recorded songs are my humming between lyrics,” says Barry, noting that everyone else in his camp is a “talented, pro musician” and that he trusts them to fill in the gaps—not that he needs much help.
Like all of his albums, High On 95 was recorded by Lance Koehler at Minimum Wage Studios in Richmond Virginia. And that’s because, by now, Koehler knows exactly how to record Barry’s performances. “it’s just one take,” says Barry, “Lance knows the more I do it, the worse it’s gonna get. You lose something when you play it more and more. So get it right.” And that’s exactly what Barry did. High On 95 carries the raw, emotional catharsis that’s become synonymous with a Tim Barry album. Every syllable exits his mouth with a fire propelling them, the kind of passion that can’t be forced or faked. Not that there was ever a reason to expect anything less.
∆∆∆ Off With Their Heads (acoustic) ∆∆∆
The phrase “punk” gets thrown around a lot these days but for over a decade Off With Their Heads has eschewed trends and embodied that ethic with every ounce of their being. Having put out numerous releases and toured the country dozens of times the band are about to release Home, their best-sounding album to date which takes the group’s sound to the next level without sacrificing the palpable passion that’s made them underground favorites.
Off With Their Heads is the project of Minneapolis native Ryan Young and on Home he’s joined by drummer Justin Francis and bassist Robbie Swartwood, the latter of whom has been playing with the group for nearly five years. “It’s hard to bring people into a full-time touring punk band because you have to be a musician not someone who is doing this for a hobby,” Young admits. “An actual musician is the type of person who does this because it’s what they do. Money is always nice but you have to expect nothing and still play like you care.”
For their second release on Epitaph the band teamed up with one of Young’s heroes, Descendents’ drummer Bill Stevenson who produced the album at the Blasting Room in Fort Collins, Colorado—and the result is an album that captures the raw passion of Off With Their Heads’ live shows without obscuring any of the instrumentation with a slick, studio sheen. “It was really important that this record didn’t sound too polished so once we agreed on a general sound of the record it was great,” Young explains. “It’s definitely the best-sounding record that we’ve done.”
Home is also the strongest collection of Off With Their Heads’ songs to date and certainly the most diverse. From the instantly catchy sing-alongs of “Shirts” to straight-ahead, Ramones-influenced ragers like “Seek Advise Elsewhere” and stripped-down ballads like “Don’t’ Make Me Go,” Home shows how much the band have grown sonically since their last release, a development that is no doubt due to the fact that the band have spent so much time on the road touring with everyone from Municipal Waste to Kind Of Like Spitting in everything from massive theaters to basements.
If there’s a lyrical theme on Home, it’s personal experiences whether that ranges from struggles with identity (“I don’t feel like me, whatever that’s supposed to be” from “Shirts”) to tales from the road. However as you might expect it all comes back to the fact that for a full-time touring punk rocker the word “home” has a very unique connotation. “I think I used to take for granted the simple notion of having an apartment in Minneapolis,” Young explains. “The album is about the bad feelings associated with being at home, why people leave home, and how important it is to have a good one.”
Over the course of these twelve songs Young expresses that sentiment in different ways and the content on the disc explores everything from being oppressed because of one’s sexuality (“Focus on Your Own Family”) in addition to more personal writing that exposes Young’s own misgivings about the Catholic church and the impact it’s had on his family life (“Altar Boy”). Then there’s a song like “Don’t Make Me Go” which guest vocalist Tony Kovacs from Shot Baker summarized telling the band, “OWTH has a story and this explains a lot.” Listening to the impassioned track, it’s evident why this is true.
Having toured with everyone from Bad Religion to the Dropkick Murphys, Young has learned that in order for him to maintain his ethics he tells his bandmates that “playing a show in front of 6,000 people is no different than playing a house show” and you can tell by the group’s countless live performances that this isn’t just lip service. “I’m proud that I have pretty much maintained my core beliefs over the years,” he explains. “Opening for my heroes is cool but that’s their crowd and I have always been about carving my own part through all of this.”
Despite the fact that Off With Their Heads have performed everywhere from Jacksonville to Japan over the past decade, it’s clear that even if OWTH never left Minneapolis they would be doing the exact same thing just as passionately. “Everything involved with this band has become larger and more successful than I could have hoped for,” Young admits, citing signing to Epitaph as one of these milestones. “The only goals I have for myself and OWTH is to continue to make music that I care about, try to push myself physically and musically and continue to be able to do what I love for a living.”
∆∆∆ Josh Small ∆∆∆
Josh Small is a singer/songwriter from Richmond, VA. He has toured with bands such as Strike Anywhere, Stop It and Pink Razors, and is a vital member of labelmate Tim Barry’s backing band. He has released two albums, both on Suburban Home Records.