Tim Barr is the lead singer/guitarist of the Williamsburg, NY-based indie rock band Silverbird. He has been in a number of groups including Recluse and Father And Son, in which he learned about the DIY nature of being a musician. Barr has also learned from seminal jazz musicians such as Dizzy Gillespie and Mike Longo.
Surface Life, the first EP from Silverbird, will be released May 27, and they’ll be playing at Union Hall in Brooklyn on May 30. I recently talked with Barr about the band’s history, collaborations with other musicians, touring and more.
What were some of the important steps you took from beginning your musical career as the singer of Recluse, to being frontman of your new musical project, Silverbird?
It just happened by itself. I sent a few demos to this guy Kris Harris from London. He liked them and offered to come to New York to record them. Then I got a band, and now I have a manager that books at Pianos. She got us a gig there. Then I got this other gig, and am in touch with this producer, Bob Brockman. He might do the band album. This sort of came naturally.
Please elaborate more on how you developed the connection for your producer Kris Harris to fly out from England and record with you.
I had these demos that I recorded at my house. I was just looking up different bands one day on the internet. I found this one band, Story Books. I really was into their sound; they had this really dark, cool sound. I looked them up and the singer-songwriter was this guy Kris Harris, who also produced their stuff. He engineered their work as well.
You have performed two electrifying concerts at Pianos and Club Spin as part of a CMJ Brooklyn Vegan showcase, and I noticed there was a small flurry of people coming in to see your performances. How did you work promotion for your concerts?
My manager helped promote as well. She books at Pianos and Spin, so she is helpful in that way. She made some flyers and put some things up on Facebook. There were a few blog postings about the show—on the CMJ show especially, since there were some other bands there from this record label Decades.
I look at your song “Hollow Heart” to likely become your signature song, kind of like how “Perfect Sight” was when Recluse was around. Do you expect that to be the case or another song of yours to become your signature piece?
Yeah, “Hollow Heart” might be the one since it’s kind of epic. I have been writing a lot lately, and I do like the stuff I have been writing lately. I feel like my mind has been expanding.
Why do you think recording with a metronome is a bad idea?
It is very counterintuitive to what is natural in music. The thing is it is kind of like a brainwashing of our society into thinking that the metronome is the way to play music. That is the way kids are being raised, and that is very unhealthy. A metronome has only been around for a couple hundred years. All these people like Bach, Mozart, didn’t have metronomes. Their time wasn’t good?
For instance, if you were to go to Africa or somewhere, where this stuff was taken from—where Dizzy Gillespie learned this from and all of these places—if you take some of those bands with some of those people, and experienced some of those spiritual rituals in Africa where they are all dancing and the time is very free and there is this open thing, and then you say to them, “Oh no, you’re going to need to play to a metronome,” imagine how insane that would be. All of these guys dancing around going “ooba da ooba da” then all of a sudden with a metronome they are just fidgeting around.
What were some of your favorite memories from those days studying with Mike Longo?
When playing with him, at the end of a lesson we would play a song together. Music used to be a mentorship thing. It was passed down by learning to play with these great masters. Now it is like, learn to play by copying off records. The problem is when you copy off records, you are playing with your feelings.
Music produces feelings. A lot of people have it backwards. They think you have to feel it and then play it. Then that’s how you do it. But actually, it’s not that way. Music creates the feeling, so you learn the music in a direct way through certain exercises with the polymetric method. You learn where to put the accents in the correct place and then all of a sudden, boom, the feeling comes in.
So it is like, get in that perfect offbeat “boom ba ba ba bo ba,” and now all of a sudden I have this feeling inside of me and this music is coming out. Playing with Mike Longo and getting that real experience of playing with a master and mentor, and being able to absorb his energy into my playing style, definitely changed my life.
I take it some of the funkier songs from the Silverbird sessions such as “Too Tired To Sleep” and “With The Spirits” benefited greatly from your new understanding of polymetric time signatures?.
Yeah, some of that did. That was a little bit of a different situation because I was still learning about that stuff when I made that album. I was in between at that time, but now I have a greater understanding of that. It has really influenced my band more than anything, because [when] I try to play with a band, I try to make sure I am following these rules so it comes out in a natural, organic way, and there is not any of this small-minded ego shit that gets in the way.
The melody varies but it stays constant. The kind of polymetric time signatures that I am talking about are where there is one meter happening, like 4/4, but there is still 3/4 and 6/8 infused in that 4/4 time.
In “Too Tired To Sleep,” the lyrics, “You’re not my friend, you’re my enemy,” are repeatedly chanted throughout the song. Was this about a person you knew or a situation that caused you pain in your life?
I mean, I certainly have those feelings of alienation from my friends. I love my friends but I also have a side of me that sort of alienates the world. You can see your friend and one minute they could be your friend and you love them, and the next minute they could be doing something that makes you feel like they are your enemy. But ultimately, I try to look at it from the perspective of, no matter how I feel, underneath it all—underneath whether I am really angry at someone, underneath the feeling of hatred, even—there is still love. That is what presides through everything. That is greater than me and my little feelings even though I might not be able to express or deal with that person in this world, in this life, in these set of circumstances, because I was born with this ego. At the end of the day, underneath that ego, underneath that feeling, there is love that exists.
You have had very privileged encounters performing and recording with musicians like Lana Del Ray, Tom Morello and Slash. Can you speak about some of those experiences, starting with Lana Del Ray? Was it more difficult when it came to preparations having these encounters set up for you or actually working with the musicians?
So Lana Del Ray, I basically played with her right when she was starting out. She was still Lizzy Grant. We got together and I played bass. We opened for a couple of bands. We played around, but that was really cool. I really liked those days. We used to rehearse in Red Hook in Brooklyn. She and I would take the train.
What type of music did you make together?
We just played her songs. She’s really brilliant and talented, obviously.
Tell me about Tom Morello and Slash.
That was just a cool experience. I was part of this thing called Road Recovery, which is this program that helps troubled youths, and they had this benefit show and Tom Morello, Slash, Jerry Cantrell and Perry Farrell were there. I got to play with them.
Probably the most memorable thing of all was that they rented out a rehearsal space the night before the show at Nokia Theatre [now Best Buy Theater]. We had a private rehearsal with them. There were 12 of us there, along with all these famous guys. I was literally 15 feet away. It was like a private show watching Tom Morello and Slash rehearse. Tom Morello and Slash had this kind of guitar duel out-shredding each other. It was really amazing to see.
Any final words?
It’s just about focusing naturally on making the best music possible that I can make.
Surface Life, the first EP from Silverbird, will be released May 27, and they’ll be playing at Union Hall in Brooklyn on May 30. For more information, go to facebook.com/silverbirdsongs.