Tim Barry sat down with Nomads on the Road for an exclusive interview. Meet folk’s angriest punk in the Tim Barry interview.
Poet, punk, folk singer, country boy, activist, anarchist or simply a singer-songwriter, there are many ways to describe Tim Barry. Just don’t let him catch you calling him a musician.
Tim Barry’s love of song-writing is evident as soon as I walk backstage at the Camden Underworld. Tim, guitar in hand, is writing a new song. Maybe this is because he sees himself as a singer-songwriter.
“Josh Small and Andrew Alli – they’re musicians,” says Tim as he relaxes backstage before his show, smoking a rollie. “I’m not much of a musician; I just love to write songs.”
On Folk/Punk and his Peers
Tim Barry is the one-time lead singer of cult punk band Avail. While Avail is generally considered one of the premier hardcore punk bands of the last 20 years, Tim explains there is, in reality, no difference between punk and folk music.
“It’s the same three chords,” says Tim, as he cites the crossover that many of his peers have undertaken. Tim says his response to the folk/punk question will probably parallel that of Frank Turner, Chuck Ragen and Ben Nichols.
“A lot of my close friends who switched (from punk to folk) will probably say the same – they are going back to the roots of the music that they grew up with.”
Tim explains how he and Chuck had similar childhoods; they both grew up listening to country and folk music. “The church I was forced to go as a child, they had guitars and banjos. Oddly it was a Catholic Church, totally ostracised by the ‘real faith’, but that’s where I went to church. My parents were in the choir, it was all very natural,” he said.
Tim Barry is in London as part of a short European tour, a tour which took in small clubs and venues in Germany, Belgium as well as the UK.
While Tim grew up in suburban America he also spent a year living in London as a teenager, finding the capital the perfect place to rebel against his upbringing, with metal and punk music at the fore but he still acknowledges his debt to folk music.
“My rebellion was metal and punk, but if you listen, not even close to Avail, we always brought the brought the acoustic songs and traditional interludes. We were always Woodie Guthrie rip-offs,” explains Tim.
On Playing Solo
The crossover between punk and folk is a natural path for Tim to take. He may not be in a punk band anymore, but the rising anger at the way of the world led to Tim’s solo work.
“It’s not getting older but getting angrier and not wanting to give up,” says Tim who released his first solo effort in 2005, the excellent Laurel Street Demo 2005. “I never really intended to do anything with it, somehow I fell into doing it all the time.
“I’m not great talking about music, cos I’m not a musician. I just write songs, Andrew and Josh are the ones who make them sound good.”
But when Tim does talk about his music it’s clear the passion and anger are still burning strong.
“I don’t fly any one flag in any sense,” Tim explains. “I write about what I know, I write about what I see, what I feel. I write about the things my friends go through – I’m a current events junkie, I read the newspapers and follow local politics closely,” says Tim.
Tim’s song Prosser’s Gabriel is an example of the attention he pays to local politics and events in his hometown of Richmond, Virginia.
“There were a couple of people in Richmond, younger people, left-wing, who exposed the truth that Virginia Commonwealth University had paved over a slave burial ground, a burial ground which also for free blacks.
“When I realised that a university, which is essentially a for-profit business, thought it would be appropriate to disrespect the city I live in I couldn’t sleep.
“I don’t even recall writing the song. I know I was down at the river with my dog and I had this hook line, ‘Does anyone know the name, Gaberial Prosser?’ I tied it all together, remembering that Gaberial was hung and buried in that area under the parking lot at Virginia Commonwealth University.”
Tim says just as about direct action was about to be taken against the University in form of civil disobedience, Virginia Commonwealth wisely decided to sell the land back to the City of Richmond for $3.3 million.
“I was present when the city workers, ceremonially pulled up the parking lot, and now it’s a green space, it’s a grassy field and it will be decided down the road what becomes of it. Memorials, hopefully, more than that,” says Tim.
Tim names The Clash and obscure English metal band Vermin as his main musical influences but also iterates that he finds inspiration from all sorts of people from all walks of life. “I’m friends with all kinds of different people,” says Tim. “If you sat around a fire in my backyard, there’d be black people; white people, poor people, and rich people, there’d be teachers, construction workers, academics, intellectuals. And I’d learn a lot from absorbing their conversations, their talks and that stuff just pop into a song.”
Tim goes on to explain how he believes everything that happened in his life has been an accident. “Music, women, jobs, it’s all like one big fucking accident. And it’s really exciting to try not figure me out.”
On the future of music
“I think what is really going on, rather than try and pigeonhole, music is evolving. People are taking the music they grew up with and making it modern.
“Whether that is Mulpical Waste from Richmond, Virginia being influenced by DRI but making DRI sound 2011 or it’s Frank Turner taking the roots of the fucking best English music and blowing it up, or Ben Nichols taking the roots of rock and fucking roll and making it modern, or me taking the roots of storytelling and folk music and making it more confrontational.
“Making it gangster folk, I tell stories about prison, drugs, freight train riding – the things I know about. Bob Dylan wouldn’t sing that shit.”
No one can dispute the fact that Tim Barry is indeed one of modern folk’s best singer-songwriters and the anger he feels at the world is one which will keep on burning.