Tim Barr: Risk & Reward

Tim Barr is an independent musician, as well as a firefighter, originally from New York City. Early highlights of his musical journey include being a live bassist during the “Lizzy Grant” era of Lana Del Rey’s early career, and fronting the bands Recluse, and later, Silverbird. An important evolution in Tim’s artistic philosophy materialized when he became a student of Mike Longo, who was Dizzy Gillespie’s pianist for 17 years. In the summer of 2013, Tim formed a lasting musical partnership with U.K.-based producer Kristofer Harris, the singer for the indie rock outfit Story Books.

Tim spoke in detail about his decision to build his own studio after a couple of unsuccessful recording attempts. Currently, Tim has a solo act on the horizon, with its first release, “First Kiss,” and the accompanying music video, being released on May 2. The music video features New York night life icon, Sophia Lamar, and we discussed working with her, as well as shooting the video. 

Can you tell me where you are at mentally as well as creatively right now, as a musician just releasing their first single and music video for a brand new project?

I am excited to release something. It’s been a while since I released anything. I am feeling creative and have been working on new things. I spent the last few years submerging myself in the fire department which, while being an incredible experience on so many levels, has left me with some pent up creative energy. I have been writing and recording a lot and I am looking forward to getting some of it out there starting with this first song.

What is it like being a firefighter and how does it influence your music?

Being a fireman is a true privilege. I am humbled every day that I go to work. I truly admire the guys that I work with. Being able to help people on that level is extremely rewarding, and the risk involved adds a level of excitement to my day to day life that I would not be able to achieve anywhere else. I also take myself and life too seriously at times and the guys are always there to remind me to not do that (laughs). As far as how it influences my music, I am not too sure yet. I have noticed that certain things I have seen or experienced have crept into my songs here and there, but something tells me there is more to it than that.

You have had a bit of an adventure in coming to the decision to build your own studio in order to record this project. What convinced you this was the right path to take?

I had a bad experience with a producer who I recorded a whole album with. It did not turn out anywhere near what I had envisioned or wanted. I realized that I had always recorded myself, but never felt like I was good enough to release the recordings I made. After going through that experience, I came to the conclusion that [wasn’t true]. Sometimes things are more interesting when they aren’t perfect or coming out of some beautiful studio. I don’t think that is a necessary thing nowadays. I have always been into recording. I got a few extra pieces [of equipment] I needed and was able to make something that sounds cool.

The music of this current project of yours is meant to be looked at as dream pop, what attracted to you this style of music?

I don’t know. I am not sure if I would classify myself as that, but that is fine with me. I am not necessarily attracted to that specific style of music. I try to make things that evoke some sort of feeling in the people that listen to it. Ideally, I try not to try and instead allow things to flow without being interrupted by my neurotic mind. It’s difficult to do!

For this project, were there some albums that you hoped to emulate the quality of the production?

I guess some older records that were made using more primitive techniques. I try not to be too technical with some of the digital abilities that you have. I like to stay more in an organic kind of sound. I like a lot of those albums that were made before computers were used really heavily for recording purposes. But in general, I dislike imitations. Sure, we are all influenced by the things we hear. But who is to say a song was influenced by some band you liked as a kid versus the time you broke your arm at the playground? I know there are plenty of people who sit down and say, ‘I am going to write a happy song about my girlfriend, and I want it to sound like Tom Petty,’ or whatever. Or, they listen to something and cop as much as they can before they get caught. On the other side of that are the people who pick up a guitar and play a D chord, and for whatever reason, it sounds extra good that day. That leads to the next thing and the next, and without thinking about it, a song is born.   

When you think of your home recording studio, how did you decide upon the different equipment?

Some of it was used at other studios that I liked. Some of it was just research. I don’t have everything that I want. Audio equipment is very expensive. Most people are using the same gear. There are only so many pieces of great gear out there, and it is all very expensive. As time goes on it becomes even more expensive…. Music is so mystical, there is no formula. Some of my favorite albums were recorded on broken tape machines or cassettes or compromised situations. If the song is good and the artist is haunted enough, the cream rises to the top.  

So now that you have your own studio, how many days did you work on this project and what was a typical day like for you

I am still working at it, practicing and getting better at recording. I like to work very fast and once I start on a song, I don’t stop until that song is finished. I rarely spend more than one day on recording a song. There is an energy that gets started when I am recording that I don’t like to interrupt. I usually start work on a song early in the morning and work until it’s done. Sometimes it takes 24 hours to finish it.

How much time did you spend on the song “First Kiss”?

“First Kiss,” I didn’t do that at my own studio. I did that at a studio in Bensonhurst, (Brooklyn) with an engineer named Alan Labiner, who is a friend of mine and has a great studio. He engineered it and I produced it. I recorded it in one day. I like how minimal it is.  It’s pretty basic. There is just guitar, vocals, with that one pounding drum beat that is actually me hitting the water cooler in the studio with a stick.

I feel like “First Kiss” is the darkest song you have ever composed. Tell me your muse for this piece as well as recording it?

I don’t have a muse for it. I don’t know where that stuff comes from. It is not about me. It is about a new experience that packs a lot of emotional turmoil. Emotional pain and strife and struggle is seen as something to run away from now. It is something that requires medication so that you can be in a consistent state of homeostasis. But that pisses me off, because that is how we end up with Targets in Manhattan. It’s fucking bland and boring. Passion is not easy, but it is also enjoyable in that way as well, even though it can be disastrous.

The music video for ‘First Kiss’ features New York night life queen, Sophia Lamar. How was it working with her, and can you tell me about the general theme of the video?

It was great working with Sophia. She is a very interesting and amazing person. She came from Cuba a long time ago and is an icon in the New York City night life scene. She was awesome. It was a very cold day and pretty uncomfortable for everyone. She was a trooper and I think she did a great job—the same is true for the other actress that was, involved Nicole Lugo. The director I worked with, Michael Maxxis, we both have a similar aesthetic. He has an incredible eye. We found some intense locations, and interesting characters, and that’s what we made the video around.

What kind of plans do you have for the rest of the year?

I plan on playing some shows and releasing some more music. And, I am always recording and firefighting.

For more information on Tim Barr, please visit TimBarr.com, or follow him on Instagram (@timbarrmusic)