A few days before the release of 40 Miler, we were able to get on the phone with Tim Barry to discuss his new record, raising chickens and his spontaneous stint on this year's Revival Tour. Thanks to the readers who helped submit some of the questions:
I was wondering if you had any specific goals in mind when you started recording 40 Miler?
No, not really. Iím weird when I write records and when I record records. I think some bands and writers really have a whole concept together and mine really come into place in retrospect. I donít really have a pattern or a cycle to the way that I write. Maybe in the way the record came together, maybe it was experience, but I really wanted to capture more of a live sound. I think there was success in that but no, itís weird. Iím probably one of the only people thatís been around this long that still wings it. And then I sort of figure out what it all meant when itís done. I think with recording and writing a record, itís sort of like keeping journal entries. As soon as I approve the mastering, the final product of the record, itís sort of like I just write ĎThe End,í close the cover and move onto the next project. And I donít often revisit the songs that I recorded, like how most people donít pick up their old journals and read them from beginning to end.
So itís not until youíre getting ready for your tours that you revisit those songs?
Yeah, Iím actually in the middle of getting ready to hit the road and Iím practicing my ass off because thereís the realization that I have a lot of songs these days and I want to be brushed up on all of them because I sort of abhor making set-lists and making things repetitive so I want to be able to do all the songs whenever I want. But itís funny, the other thing I do when I finish a record, and this kind of falls into the context of preparing for tour, is I go for a detox. I literally, when I finish a record and approve the mastering, I donít listen to it again until the record is released. So on Tuesday Iíll listen to the record with a clean ear, but it makes rehearsing for the songs live semi-difficult when theyíre not super fresh in my mind.
How would you say 40 Miler varies from your previous records?
I donít think itís too much of a variation. Thatís up to the listener because again, without having an ultimate intent for the sound, I donít know how different it is. I think some people have noted that it seems a little more uplifting, maybe I have a tendency to focus on sad subjects sometimes or I have in the past. And maybe this time around, it's more about taking a sad subject and trying to give it a little bit of a positive twist. Iím not real sure about that. But I remember when I did my first record, Rivanna Junction, my dad called me up and said ĎThereís a lot of pain on this record son, are you OK?í And I said yes, because I got it all out. And this record, he said that it was far more uplifting and sounded like everything was great. I said ĎWell, thereís a lot of really bad things going on, but Iím just trying to keep to the more positive aspects with a new outlook on it.í
I noticed ďMaking Fun of Tim BarryĒ made the cut on this record with a new title.
Yes, to ďFine Foods Market.Ē That was a tentative title. This song I had started playing, actually I was up in Canada awhile back, right before I wrote that one. I visited Canada in January on tour with Chuck Ragan and thatís when I started playing the song. We were at the Grist Mill and the folks had this whole radio production set up and they recorded it. They wanted to put the song on YouTube, so they wanted to know the title and I had just started playing it. I said ĎIím just making fun of myselfí so that title stuck. It should have been properly titled ďFine Foods Market,Ē but if you look closely to the text in the record layout the old title is mentioned. Some people are offended by that song thinking that Iím singling out certain groups of people, but what should be very strongly noted is that Iím literally tearing myself up in that song and I think itís great to be at an age when you can publicly rip yourself up and your hypocrisies and still laugh about it. Instead of taking life too seriously and I wonder if those people who are quick to jump at that song and attack me for attacking other people, I wonder if they know much about my music because Iím pretty straightforward and I see no reason to attack people.
One of the songs that stood out to me was ďBankers DilemmaĒ and I was wondering if you could elaborate on that track a little?
Iím so glad you said that. Let me just say first that I donít like long records. When I was putting this one together I had a lot of songs and I had a lot of difficulty deciding which ones to keep and which ones not to. ďBankers DilemmaĒ was one of the ones I thought might not work. But some of the folks I was hanging out with thought I should put it on the record so itís nice to hear that feedback, hopefully it was in a positive way. It was very weird timing, since I wrote that song and completed it before the Occupy movement took off. And as Iím rehearsing this song for the recording sessions, I thought ĎThis really sounds like a funny liberation song for the Occupy movementí although that wasnít the intent. My thoughts are very simple on economics, whether you look at it macro or micro, I look micro because I never had much money. The things that Iím learning in my life are that most of the people that Iím surrounded by that that arenít truly happy are truly indebted. They made financial decisions that put a tremendous financial burden on their shoulders that may not leave their shoulders for a very long time. Itís a frustrating and overwhelming feeling. Iíve always been thankful that I grew up never buying anything with money that I didnít actually have. Iíve never had a credit card, Iíve never been in debt. I would rather go without than get myself into debt. So I kind of made a joke song about leaving, about slacking off. Who the fuck are these people that I owe money to? I donít know them personally. What they did was lend me money and stole the interest back. I know it was a deal, but it was a poor deal and they ripped us off. You know what, Iím going to get them back and then Iím going to disappear. Thatís the idea of the song, itís supposed to be a joke song. I was told ĎItís such an anthem to our generation, but I donít think itís a good anthem.í I thought thatís a great way of summing it up.
Moving on to the title, I know it has to do with riding freight trains. I was just wondering how you got into that in the first place?
I got interested in riding freight trains in the early 90s. I think a lot of people for unknown reasons have this allure to trains, maybe because they believe that they represent opportunities of freedom. First of all, I started wondering if people still rode freight trains because I grew up listening to a lot of folk music and if you listen to Woodie Guthrie or any of his contemporaries they mention riding freight trains or riding the rails. These songs were always stuck in my head and resonated when I saw trains go by. Of course in the early 90s you couldnít just Google search or go on YouTube so I just started right freight trains on my own. I literally took Woodie Guthrieís ideas and put them into practice. In doing so I made a lot of mistakes, but I learned a whole lot and without the use of technology, which is kind of a neat way to have learned a trade or learned an adventure technique. So thatís how I got into it, but fast-forward nearly 20 years and Iíve never been fully committed to it, in the same sense that Iíve never been fully committed to music. Iíve always been a part timer. I really love riding trains, I really love music, I really love gardening, I really love raising my own food. I spend a tremendous amount of time outside, I really enjoy nature. But Iíve never mastered anything. Iím not the type of guy who can walk down a path and tell you what every wildflower is, but I can tell you a couple. Iím not the guy who is the most talented guitar player and singer, but I can play a couple chords and hit a couple notes. And Iím not a fantastic freight train rider whoís lived on the rails like some people believe. Iím a poser in every sense of the word and the term 40 miler is a derogatory term that a real hobo, a tramp, a person who lives on the road and on the rails would call me. Itís like going to a punk show and youíre the old punk and some young mall punks show up and you go ĎOh, thereís a poser.í Itís me joking about myself, calling myself out, saying ĎYouíre nothing but a 40 miler when it comes to writing music. Youíre a 40 miler when it comes to riding trains.í I really do find it engaging to publicly put my hypocrisy on the table. Itís very liberating and itís also breaking an image because I think some people have an image that I live on freight trains, that Iím a full-timer and Iím not. Iím talking to you from an iPhone, you know? Which is really weird, I just got one.
Speaking of gardening, I was reading that you were featured in a documentary about that subject. Is it available or is it still in the works?
Yes, Cindy Connerís, yes. It has been released, but itís mostly in the networks of people who are really involved. Like if you compare it to punk rock or underground music, thereís the basement show scene and stuff like that. But it should be fairly easy to search. Cindy Conner is a good friend of mine, sheís a farmer in Hannover county. Sheís spent a lot of time guiding myself and other very close friends who are interested in urban gardening. She taught us so much, little tricks we wouldnít know anything about. But yes, there is a documentary, I think itís called Ya Gotta Have a Plan and itís not a feature on me, just a bunch of urban gardeners. I am an avid gardener, I have chickens and a lot more space to grow living in a city than most people. Ultimately my goal is not to buy food from the grocery store and remember that food comes from the ground. Itís kind of my hippy side, but I find it to be one of the most contenting parts of my life. Just to put in my headphones, listen to our national public radio station and get my hands dirty.
Are chickens allowed in Richmond?
Well, I donít also follow the rules so that presents an issue. But neither do my neighbours because they have chickens too. And the city is changing. We live in a very conservative place, Virginia being the former capital of the confederacy. Following the take on reproductive rights issues as of late, itís pretty astounding how disgusting some aspects of the politics are around here. But thereís always liberal waves within city centres today and in my district the city councilwoman is challenging the current councilmanís seat. Itís literally going on a legalized chickens platform so itís pretty cool. Itís just changing the regulations. We all keep our chickens illegally now, but I challenge someone to take them from me.
Speaking of Richmond, someone was wondering what you think about the music scene there today?
Thatís a great question. Unfortunately I feel like Iím gone so much that Iím not an active participant. The music scene has been in constant rotation since Iíve been involved in it, which has been a very long time. Itís constantly changing and I think thatís the most notable thing. Once a venue is established and everyone gets comfortable there, it gets shut down. Once a new one opens and great house shows start, that gets shut down too. What I think is horrible about the venues getting shut down is that its proof that the city doesnít give a fuck about many aspects of its artistic community. But on the flipside, it makes us tighter and keeps us together. When you have to struggle to reschedule the shows you set up for your friends coming through town or the bigger Frank Turner show or whatever show youíre excited to see, I think it really fucking brings us together when we have to pull shit off at the last minute and keep the real music going. You kind of have to be involved and in the know to know where the house shows are or where theyíre getting moved to. Itís kind of a neat feeling, but as far as players and what not, thereís so many people I canít even keep up. Thereís so much talent in this city itís really difficult to keep up.
I know you jumped on the Revival Tour last week. Was that planned, spontaneous or both?
It was spontaneous. I think the end result was a clusterfuck of spontaneity. I was invited, Chuck Ragan called me up about a week before the Virginia Beach show and asked me if I wanted to jump on the bus to do Virginia Beach and Baltimore. What I got from that was they were getting folks to jump on just to make the shows fun and add an extra twist to it. So I got on the tour, my van broke down that morning so I had to bum a ride so I could get there and I still donít have a van. By the time I got to Baltimore, Philly was scheduled the next day and I was asked to stay on. I suppose I could have continued on after that, but I had to turn around. The end result was a lot of spontaneity, the show was incredible. You can list on your own all the people who were there and if people follow this style of music, they will see that it was an epic experience. What I found really cool about the Philadelphia show was the sort of all-star cast. Yet in typical Revival tour fashion there was no hierarchy, there was no management pushing set times and switching shit up. It was done collectively, every single person played 20 minutes, you know? No matter how many records people had sold, it was just very cool and very beautiful. The collaborations that were put together at the last minute were moving and it nearly made me speechless. What a terrific night to witness and be a part of. I was sort of shell shocked the next morning, I took an Amtrak train home and I was like ĎWhat the fuck just happened? I wasnít even supposed to be on tour and Iíve gone for five days. That was amazing.í I love that part of life and if nothing else comes out of my music, that would be the only thing that I wish people would understand about me. Spontaneity, actually going for it and not just talking about what youíre going to do, is one of the most fulfilling things. Iím an advocate for living, it would be a real bummer to lie down that one last time and feel like you didnít accomplish anything.
I know youíll be going on tour ďfor realĒ soon. What else is planned for the rest of 2012?
Well, first things first, Iíve got to find a van. Thereís a lot more shows ahead of me than I think I can grapple, but Iíll be touring internationally and in the States up until September. And then reasons involving family stuff, Iíll be back in September and looking at starting to write another record. So itís going to be a long summer, but Iím looking forward to the controlled chaos of that.
Lastly, someone was wondering if youíd ever consider playing any Avail songs live?
No. Some people donít get it, but Avail is broken up. I canít speak for every person who used to be in the band, but reunion tours and reunion shows get a little fucking old and we donít have any interest in doing that or living in the past, itís really neat to leave things be. With that said, Avail is done. To make sure itís totally clear why I donít do Avail songs on stage or never have. Well I did fairly early when I started doing shows on my own, back in 2004/2005. I would do some Avail songs because I didnít have enough to fill up a full set. But to be totally clear, Avail wrote collectively, we worked as a collective. That goes for writing songs, how we functioned as a touring unit, how we lived together through the entire duration. That said, for someone to pay $5 or $12 or $10 to see me play and I get compensated at the end of the show and the songs that attract people are Avail songs we wrote as a band, I think that would be offensive to the band as a whole. So the songs that I play on stage I wrote myself. Iím sure I could call up every member of Avail and say ĎDo you mind if I play Lombardy St?í And theyíd say no. But I still wouldnít feel comfortable with it so itís really that simple. Thatís why I donít play Avail songs. And I have so many of my own songs I couldnít even imagine trying to fit Avail songs into the set at this point.
Yeah, youíve been doing this for 8 years now.
Itís crazy to think about that. I donít follow my own music and itís really funny when Iím talking to someone like you because it puts it into perspective. Like holy shit, Iíve been playing this hippy kumbaya folk music for a long time. It feels like itís been two years, but itís been far longer than that.
tim is the fucking man. also great reasoning behind not playing any avail songs, still be awesome if he ever did, but his solo shit is fucking awesome and i cant wait for 40 miler or when he comes to Chicago in may!