Give Me Some Skin

Andrew Barr

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The Barr Brothers by Andre Guerette

If one had to settle on a single word descriptor of percussionist Andrew Barr the best might be “sublime.” There is great power to the drum center of The Slip, Surprise Me Mr. Davis and most recently his collaboration with brother Brad Barr in the aptly titled The Barr Brothers, but also something more fluid, elusive and altogether intoxicating, a roll and glide that’s far more alluring than simple crash ‘n’ bang. Judicious use of force, a sensibility that stretches outward to Africa, and an obvious sense of play missing from most high end players further set Andrew Barr apart from the pack. Watch his face as he navigates through music as diverse as the folksy bounce of SMMD or the cosmic headcharge of The Slip onstage or the knotted, fascinating, melodic spaces he explores with the Marco Benevento Trio. What’s revealed through his expressions (and really his entire body language) is a musician on a quest for fresh sounds grounded in inarguably rich foundations.

Andrew’s prowess is on full display on the long awaited self-titled debut from The Barr Brothers, which arrives September 27th on Secret City Records. Like its drummer, the album is a complex and well, subtle work, touching on thorny ontology, God and The Devil running through clouds and morning fog. It’s also beautiful, quietly moving and a further extension of the Barr Brothers’ seemingly endless vision. Time spent with this grower – a kindred spirit to Barr buds The Low Anthem though with a winning, unexpected Congotronics streak – is time well spent. One feels pulled through a few veils that surround the waking world, drawn into the silken truths that hide just outside of normal sight. And it’s full of lovely songs, too.

Here’s what Andrew had to say in the Impound’s drummer survey.

Favorite part of a standard trap drum kit – bass drum, floor tom, snare drum, tom-toms or cymbals?
If I had to bring just one drum up into a tree to play for two hours with a bunch of other musicians, it would be the floor tom. Actually, I got to do that last week. I played one side with a soft mallet and one side with a brush, sort of like the Brazilian Zabumba drum. It left my legs free to hold on for dear life. The Brazilian drummers are great at driving a whole band with one little percussive sound, like a triangle or tambourine. I love the limitation of making music on any one of those trap kit instruments individually, you really learn so much about their abilities. It’s amazing how much low end frequency there is in a cymbal if you put your ear in the right place, or how many tones you can get out of a snare drum if you tune the lugs differently. On the other hand, there is no feeling like having them all vibrating together in front of you. When the whole drum set starts sounding together, it really creates its own momentum , vibrations and overtones feeding from instrument to instrument, you become a surfer on the vibrational waves of time. Ha, I just got back from a week in California, sorry.
Tastiest drummer ever? Tastiest drummer today?
Well, I won’t list the pretty obvious choices of Bernard Purdie, Steve Gadd or Jim Keltner. And I’ll stay away from a long debate on who was tastier between Max Roach and Philly Jo Jones. I guess I’ll have to name the most obvious, the funky drummer Clyde Stubblefield. Every day after school from the ages of 13 to 16 I played along with Clyde’s work with James Brown. He is a magician, his beats are so tasty, they sound so simple, but there is so much going on there. Of course, John Bonham is up there too, the way he lets some of his boomy crashes linger, that’s taste exemplified.
A drum solo I never get tired of listening to is…
Any solo by Mamady Keita from his 1995 record Mögöbalu. I’ve studied and learned more drumming off of this record than any other.
Preferred brand of drums? Why?
I actually jump around a lot on this. I’ve worked for a while with a New Hampshire company called Willoughcraft. I really think that they create some of the nicest sounding modern drums. They sound really open and tonal, but there is some randomness in the overtones; like the older drums, they have some dirt in them. Willoughcraft works off of the old Gretsch sound. For different situations I bring out different drums. I have this funky set of 1973 Pacific Blue Rogers Memrilok; these drums have this natural deadness that is great for louder music, especially going to tape. Right now, I am mostly using a set of mid 1950’s WFL. These drums are amazing. The sound passes through this old wood and gets softened just enough to melt me. I’m in love with them a bit right now. They were found in the attic of a nursing home in New Jersey, right across the water from Manhattan, so I like to imagine the life they might have had.
John Bonham, Art Blakey or Charlie Watts – which one gives you the biggest drum boner? What makes them SO sweet?
Elvin Jones.

In terms of what makes those other guys guys so sweet though…

To me, Bonham understood that for power to have an effect, it needs space.

Art Blakey understood how to play at such a high intensity without getting in anybody’s way, but rather pushing the rest of the musicians to be creative and fearless.

Charlie Watts, he keeps it loose, and improvisational, even when playing with the world’s biggest rock band. That either takes lots of whisky or a relaxed guy, maybe a bit of both.

One lesser known drummer folks should check out is…
Bob Gullotti. I left Berklee School of Music when I was 19 to study music with Bob Gullotti. Bob tells stories on the drums. He is a technical genius, but his playing comes off as anything but technical. He is the Jack Kerouac of drumming, stream of consciousness, it seems he never repeats himself, he goes in and out of time, uses every part of the drum set to make the most complex and at the same time, primal sounds. Bob Gullotti, for sure, check him out. He has a group called The Fringe, who you can hear on record, but really seeing them live is best. The Fringe is George Garzone (sax), John Lockwood (bass) and Bob Gullotti.
What aspect of being a drummer always makes you happy?
I love being able to speak on an instrument that is really so abstract – that deals with these very basic urges and sounds that seem so primal, but at the same time are totally current and necessary and understood and loved.

One thought on “Gimme Some Skin: Andrew Barr

  1. Thanks for the interview, Dennis. One of my favorite musical moments ever was in 2001 at the Bowery Ballroom when Andrew was soloing on the floor tom. His playing reminds me of the earth, or at least something naturally existing and beautiful.

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