The Slip & The Barr Brothers

The rapport between the musicians who form The Slip and The Barr Brothers is mirrored onstage and off. Even after just a few minutes with them it’s obvious they share much more than the music between them. Positive outlook, mutual respect, a sense of humor, genuine friendship and, it became clear, a love of Japan all seemed to inform their lives on the road here this past February.

For the Barr Brothers, this was their first trip to Japan; for The Slip, their second. For both bands the journey was well worth the miles. Their show at the Liquid Room in Ebisu, organized by Organic Groove, also featured kindred improv bands Special Others and Nabowa, as if the crowd didn’t already have enough to be excited about.

Before any confusion starts, The Slip is comprised of brothers Brad (guitar, vocals) and Andrew (drums) Barr and Marc Friedman (bass), while The Barr Brothers includes, in addition to the obvious brothers, Sarah Page (harp) and Andres Vial (bass, keyboards, friendly giant). Their identities as a band are quite distinct, and this comes out in our joint interview early on.

“The Barr Brothers was a very clear departure from The Slip,” Andrew explains. “We decided to focus on Brad’s lyrics and a more acoustic sound.”

Brad adds, “The Barr Brothers explores acoustic textures. Instrumentation is a big part of it. Instead of an electric format, we focus on other things for the ambience.”

Marc sits up suddenly from the couch where he is sprawled out, “Whoa! Has the interview started?”

The interview started as some casual conversation backstage that eventually segued into formal questions. It was a little like how the four bands played that night: the Barr Brothers sliding onto stage as Nabowa was still playing, taking the musical reigns from them and keeping it going. Later, the Slip took over from the Special Others’ acoustic set with a brief jam-transition—again, ala Grateful Dead, the music never stopped.

We ask them about the struggle of starting out as a band—it’s a question we pose to all bands we interview because it’s not all success and easy living for the first few years at least. There’s a period of great sacrifice and uncertainty that so often goes unrecorded.

Marc jokes, “A period? Is that over?” They all laugh and share stories.

Says Brad, “Back around 1996 or so, I was working at a bagel shop. Andrew, too. Marc was working at a drycleaners. (Marc jokes again, “I had to rob the dry cleaners.”) We realized you had to put yourself on the road constantly. It was a life commitment. Buy the van, live in the van, live the life of the musician. It’s always a struggle but it always feels good.”

Then there’s getting the record out there. The Slip self-released their debut album. In this day and age of the internet and i-Tunes, it has become a much more viable practice for all bands.

Sarah Page notes, “It’s great to have a label to work with if it’s run by someone you can personally relate to and who has your best interests in mind. The Barr Brothers, though, self-release. It feels like the right time for that. If you are just willing to work really hard, then there’s a place for you in the music world. You have to go about what you’re doing with the belief that it’s going to work.”

Sarah lived beside Brad after the brothers moved to Montreal in 2004. Brad could hear her harp melodies through the wall as he was writing his own music. Together with the brothers, they began performing around the city. Eventually Andres Vial joined them, rounding the group out with his talents on an array of instruments. Their recent album “2010” may sound on the surface like acoustic Americana in the same vein as, say, Ray LaMontagne, but there’s some surprising range when you listen closely: certainly blues, but also classical and even hints of gospel.

The Slip is post-rock, but with a decidedly heavy edge when they’re playing live. At least now. Their sound has morphed over the decade, like other bands that pursue their muse across genres and styles. How consciously did they chart the changes? “Our musical evolution was always organic. We never made any concept albums. The Slip was the growth of all of us.”

No band evolves from a creative vacuum, either. I ask them about what they took away from the Berklee school of music in Boston, where they briefly studied.

“The positives are clearly the other students. That’s whom you spend most of your time with. You get better through tips from others and playing a lot. The community is a big part of the experience. The negatives? Working out something for class that doesn’t inspire you. There’s only but so much time in a day to do what you want. We all dropped out in less than two years, but none of us regret it. You have to find your inspiration outside of the school’s demands.”

Some of their inspiration comes from playing with other artists. They have side projects such as Surprise Me Mr. Davis and collaborations with artists like Sonya Kitchell. When I ask them all whom they’d like to play with, they seem somewhat at a loss for examples and have to think for a while: Eric Krasno (Soulive), Zakir Hussain, Toumani Diabaté, Chieko Mori.

Sarah elaborates on her choice (the latter), “I have a love of traditional Japanese music; I’ve played with a flute and koto player. There’s something about classical Japanese music that I always find humbling and inspiring. Everything is placed so accurately. Nothing is wasted in the music. It’s very deliberate. It’s something I really admire.”

The appreciation of members of The Slip goes even deeper. They describe Japanese audiences as other overseas acts have described them, but seem even more conscious of the atmosphere, in that they are able to articulate the experience of playing in Japan.

“There’s an intense listening vibe that comes out at first, but at the drop of a hat, when something creative and intricate happens between us on stage, the crowd erupts. Most audiences pick up on the most obvious moments. The Japanese have an interesting way of recognizing new energy in the songs. It proves they are really listening. We are inspired to play our best.”


ザ・バール・ブラザースにとっては初の、ザ・スリップにとっては2回目となった今回のジャパンツアー、どちらのバンドにとっても大変有意義なツアーだったようだ。オーガニック・グルーヴの招聘により恵比寿リキッドルームで行われた彼らのライブには日本が誇るSpecial OthersとNabowaが参戦、かつてない豪華な共演となった。





確かに今回のインタビューは楽屋裏での雑談に始まり、スムーズにインタビューに移行していった感じだった。スムーズに移行していったといえば、リキッドルームでの4つのバンドのパフォーマンスもそうだった。Nabowaのステージにザ・バール・ブラザースが加わって音の主導権を引き継ぎながら音をつなげた。そしてSpecial Othersのアコースティックなセットをザ・スリップが短いジャムセッションで引き継ぎ、バンドは変わっても音が途切れることは無かった。









他のミュージシャンと共演することでもインスピレーションは得られるという。ザ・スリップとしての活動以外にも例えばSurprise Me Mr.Davisというバンドで活動しているメンバーもいるし、バンドとしてソーニャ・キッチェルとのコラボも行なっている。共演してみたいアーティストを聞いてみると皆しばらく考え込んでいたが、エリック・クラズノ(ソウライブ)、ザキール・フセイン、トゥマニ・ジャバテ、森千恵子の名前を挙げてくれた。




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