Interview: Canadian group The Barr Brothers on their new record, Queens of the Breakers

Montreal-based band The Barr Brothers released their third record, Queens of the Breakers, earlier this month. The record, which takes its name from The Breakers, a Vanderbilt mansion precariously placed on Newport, Rhode Island’s coastline, was recorded in Montreal and St. Zenon, Quebec; engineered by Ryan Freeland (Bonnie Raitt, Ray LaMontagne) and Marcus Paquin (Arcade Fire, The National).

Shortly after its release, we caught up with Brad Barr to find out a little bit more about the new record, their approach to songwriting and recording, and how that might have changed three albums in.

What was the inspiration behind the new record, Queens of the Breakers? Was there a particular theme or feeling you were trying to convey?

Honestly, the biggest inspiration behind this record was our own quest for inspiration. Where that search took us – geographically, emotionally, humorously, instrumentally, poetically, collectively, individually –  became our inspiration.

How do you generally approach the songwriting as a group?

This time around we spent a lot of time working on the sounds and ambiences that felt good to us. It was instinctual, expressive, fun and not really focused on songs at all.

After months of digesting that, I began writing songs that felt like they could live in that space. Some were ideas I’d been kicking around for a while that I never finished, some were brand new. There’s always a personal stage of the writing process where I’m kind of on my own. Once the basic elements of the song are there, we begin a dialogue the revolves around arrangement, song form, parts, textures, etc.

Queens of the Breakers is your third record, do you feel your approach to songwriting has changed over time, and in what way?

I don’t feel like my approach to songwriting has changed that much over the years. It’s evolved, it’s matured, but it’s still a process of looking for an opening when my mind is looking the other way. I’ve never settled on a method, it still feels like throwing darts. I’ve learned to look for a lyric earlier on, to have something to ground myself to maintain interest. I’ve become more scrutinous of the lyrics, and generally appreciate simpler song forms where the spell is not broken by too many changes.

Likewise, do you feel your approach to recording has changed over time?

I’d like to think so, that it’s gotten more savvy…

But we still find ourselves pouring through takes in our own studio months after the original sessions are finished, wondering how we can add/subtract to them, alter or rearrange them.

If I’ve learned anything, its that I’m almost always more satisfied with the songs that we spend the least amount of time slaving over.

Both Brad and Andrew have become fathers since the release of Sleeping Operator in 2014, do you feel this has impacted or influenced the music you create or the songs you write?

I’m sure it did. A lot of the changes that happen are on a primal level and its hard to pinpoint how they play out in songwriting. It certainly changed my writing schedule, as I could no longer play and sing in my living room at 3am with a baby. Our response was to deliberately remove ourselves, as a band, from home life for a week or so at a time.

From a few listens, Queens of the Breakers, seems like a wonderful melting pot of genres and influences, what types of music have had the greatest influence on your own work?

Too many to name, really. The only music I can’t really claim as an influence is disco… but even that creeps in from time to time.

You slip into some political/social commentary in your songwriting on this record, how do you view the relationship between politics and (popular) music?

Bringing music and politics together in a song has never been one of my strongest impulses, or strengths. I admire those musicians who do it with conviction and effect. “Kompromat”, to me, is about the culture of consumption and the strangulation it’s had over our sense of identity, creativity, and community. That’s certainly connected to politics, individual and global.

I do appreciate the opportunity we have as musicians to raise awareness and support for causes we feel are important, either through the music itself or the many forums available to us.

You’re about to depart on a pretty extensive tour of Canada, North America and Europe with dates through until February next year. What are your feelings towards touring? 

I love touring. There are ups and downs, but I’m not one to complain about life on the road. This is the first long tour I’ll be doing where my son is old enough to miss me (he’s 3). So that’s gonna be tough.

Are there any potential Australian tour dates in the works?

We’re waiting for the call 🙂

Queens of the Breakers is available now through Secret City Records! Check The Barr Brothers out online here.

Photo by Brigitte Henry.