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February 23rd, 2010

Kevin Barker: The Naturalismo Interview

Kevin Barker, the man behind Currituck Co. and prolific collaborator to boot, has just released You And Me on Gnomonsong. With the record’s release — and this week’s NYC debut of The Family JamsI thought I’d check in with Kevin to see what’s happening in his world.

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Naturalismo: Though You and Me is your first release to bear your name, you have produced a wide body of work under the Currituck Co. banner. What inspired the change?

Kevin Barker: I wanted to start with a clean slate, if that’s possible, which it isn’t. The thing about doing a solo project with a band name is that in some ways it can be a buffer between the artist and the music, like a way of distancing yourself from whatever bad things people might say about it, and a way of trying to sever any link between yourself as a persona and yourself as a musician. I started to feel like that was in some ways disingenuous for me, like it somehow spoke to a way in which I was being dishonest with myself in the music I was making. Like I was trying to be someone who I was not. So with this record I tried to make a record that is more honest and personal, hence using my name, my photograph on the cover, and my wife on the back cover.

N: Aside from your solo work, you’ve also been an accompanist for Vetiver, Vashti Bunyan, and more. How have your collaborations influenced your own songwriting over the years?

KB: I would not say that those experiences have influenced my songwriting, but they have certainly influenced my guitar playing. It’s funny, I feel like some writing about my record docks me points because they say the record sounds like Vetiver. Well duh, I play on the Vetiver records as does Otto Hauser, and Thom Monahan produced all those records. Excuse us if our sound is recognizable. All snarky bitchiness aside, I’m extremely proud of working with all the people I’ve worked with over the years and they definitely do inspire me to pursue my own path in songwriting. If not for them I probably wouldn’t have decided to record this record at all.

N: Your documentary film, The Family Jams, is currently being screened at various theatres and festivals across the country. Though the film speaks for itself, what are your fondest memories of this tour? What made this tour so special for you?

KB: It’s funny the way photographs and video in many ways structure the way we remember things. After spending countless hours with the footage it’s hard for me to remember a whole lot outside of what I filmed, especially since I was holding the camera so the footage is all more or less from my point of view. Among my favorite moments is when we were singing “Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac in a hotel room in LA. It’s currently in the cut and hopefully we will be able to keep it, pending clearance of the publishing rights for the song.

N: In the early to mid-2000’s, it seemed as if young, acoustic-minded musicians were releasing incredible albums every week. What generational factors fostered the apparent prevalence of musicians creating folk-influenced music at that time? Why did it resonate?

KB: Jeeez, I have no idea. I mean for me, I got into that stuff and started playing fingerstyle guitar a bit before that, when I was in college in the late 90s. At that point I didn’t know anyone else who was doing fingerstyle guitar. In Chicago, where I was, I saw David Grubbs and heard Gastr Del Sol records but that was about as much as I knew of contemporary fingerstyle guitarists at that time when I released my first couple Currituck Co 7″s and CD on Teenbeat. I was inspired by records I would dig out of the record library at WHPK, where I was a DJ. There I found Linda Perhacs, Tim Buckley, Fred Neil, Trader Horne, Bert Jansch…countless amazing things. I have no idea what precipitated the subsequent renaissance. Though I do have a theory that folk revivals happen ever 40 years. There was a big one in the 1920’s with the advent of electrical recording, then a big one in the 1960’s obviously, and so we were due for one in the 00’s.

N: As someone who fell in love with folk at an early age, can you describe what about the music originally drew you to it? Who were your earliest influences?

KB: I dunno, man. I guess like everyone my early influences were Fahey, Nick Drake, as well as records like Patty Waters Sings, Fred Neil S/T, Bridget St John’s first couple…Bert Jansch “Lucky Thurteen”…I was also pretty into Simon Joyner records when I was first starting to play folky music, and Amps For Christ.

N: In your collaborations, you’ve played a variety of instruments in many different musical contexts. Which instrument one are you most drawn to today? Do different instruments evoke different emotions or different sensations in you?

KB: I mostly play electric guitar these days, not sure why. I got tired of retuning all the time from open tunings, so this whole record of mine is in standard tuning. I don’t play banjo that often.

I’m definitely most comfortable on guitar, be it acoustic or electric. I wouldn’t say for me a particular instrument evokes a particular sensation – each instrument can be made to express a really wide variety of emotions. Someone with a mastery of banjo (not me) can express similar emotions on that instrument that someone with a mastery of guitar (also not me) can express on that instrument. In many ways it’s those people who are most worth listening to! (cf. Billy Faier’s banjo record on Takoma, Sandy Bull – these guys did stuff with the banjo that goes far beyond what people think of for the instrument in terms of expressiveness, in my opinion.)

N: What’s on the horizon for you? What are you working on next?

KB: Well, I’m working on screenplays right now, trying to get a film made. It’s an uphill climb in this independent film environment, but hopefully I’ll be able to get a project off the ground. I’m trying to focus a lot of energy on making a narrative feature film, though I’m also trying to get my record out there as much as possible and play outside of NYC if I get the opportunity. I’m going to do a few dates opening for Joanna Newsom on her upcoming tour, which is exciting. Other than that, just trying to work hard and hoping that it will pay off sometime.

[ Listen to some of Kevin’s new tracks here ]

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