October 17, 2006
Bobby Bare, Jr
It's hard not to smile when you listen to the music of Bobby Bare, Jr. He's got a clever way with words; his singing voice might not register as 'perfect' by traditional standards, but that's okay, because, hey, who needs tradition when you've got talent? His first two solo albums were lush, pretty things—both made the tops of my best-of lists for the years they were released, a claim I still stand by—full of lovely weepers and the occasional rocker. With The Longest Meow, Bare and company decided to do something a bit different, and different is the best way to describe it. This record is as close to live as you could possibly get; I don't want to say too much about it here, because, well, Bobby has some great things to say about it below. If you've heard his previous records, The Longest Meow might seem a bit shocking, but that's okay. It's a great record. It was a real honor to speak to Bobby, and I hope you take the time to seek out his work.
What inspired you to do a long, eleven-hour session? Was it spontaneous, or was it well planned-out?
It was something I'd planned. We did eleven days of pre-production for the album. Me and Carl—Carl from My Morning Jacket lives like a mile away and their drummer Patrick was really wanting to play drums, because they were just sitting around for a while. So I lucked my way into playing with those guys, and we had a blast! We had a total and complete blast. We kind of did songwriting for about six days in my living room. After we did six days of writing, we recorded it all with the producer and got all the arrangements down. I only really co-wrote two songs with them, but we did all the arrangements with the producer, Brad Jones. Then we took all of that, we recorded the album on a computer, as a dress rehearsal, as a blueprint, never meant to be heard by anyone. We then worked out all of our overdub ideas, we worked all of those ideas out on the computer in the rehearsal space, and then we taught 'em to the band, the eleven different people who were playing on the record, and then we just went into the studio and recorded the session. Instead of spending two weeks recording at a less expensive studio, I just rented one day at the nicest studio in town, and had the most fun I've ever had in my life…so much fun.
It's definitely one of those records that I hear and think, "dang, I wish I coulda been there."
Yeah, I wish you could have, too! It was nothin' but happy people doing happy stuff, even if some of the songs were really miserable subject matter. There was such a happy vibe in the room. Jim James showed up and sang, and he was such a cheerleader. We just rocked out and had fun.
Would you say this is the quickest record you've ever written?
Not really. Some of the songs have been around for a few years or so, and some of them are brand new. It's the quickest actual recording. We did some trumpet overdubs and I did some vocals and stuff back at Brad Jones's studio. Other than that, everything you hear is from that day. The Pixes cover I did at the rehearsal space all by myself one day. So that one we didn't do. But 99% of everything you hear was done that day, recorded live. We weren't even using headphones.
Were you surprised at how it came out? Even with the preproduction, did it surprise you how well it came off?
Yeah, we were all in disbelief that we actually pulled it off. The very last thing we did was the song "Sticky Chemical."
That's perhaps my favorite on the record.
Oh, it is? Thanks! At the end of that, we all went "YAAAY!"
Were any of the songs written during the session?
Nope! No, but some of the words, I was finalizing that day, but no.
Because I assumed "Uh Wuh Oh" sounded like a spontaneous thing.
Those are actually lyrics from the song "Back to Blue." It has twenty verses to it, but I only used six or seven on the finished song. Those lyrics are two unused verses from "Back to Blue," and I'm singin' "Makin' my way, just makin' my way uh wuh oh"
When I look at pictures of you playing live, the energy just shines through. You really love playing live, don't you?
It's a lot of fun, especially when you have people you really enjoy being around onstage with. We just did two weeks and there were six of us onstage, and it was a blast. A total blast.
I get the sense that you enjoy playing live as much as you do working in the studio.
Yeah, they're both fun. This last studio record was as much a live record as it was a studio record. My original plan was to be able to say, this album was recorded between 1:00 and 1:57 PM on Thursday," or whatever, and really do the whole thing live, but, really, we really needed to try two or three versions of the songs.
Your previous two records were pretty and well-produced in the studio. Did you want to capture that live-show energy?
Yeah, 'cuz even though those two albums are really quiet, when we'd play 'em live, they'd be really loud and really crazy.
You do a Pixies cover, and you've referenced Black Francis on your debut. Have you heard from Frank Black, and has he ever given you any feedback?
Yeah! Actually, I sang on his new album. It was really fun. I walked into the studio after they played the Ryman, and there was Ian McLagan of the Small Faces on keyboard, Levon Helm on drums, Steve Kropper on guitar, Tom Petersson from Cheap Trick on bass, and everybody in the room was rock and roll hall of fame. It was amazing, and they let me sing background on vocals.
Did he give you any sage advice?
I just shook his hand and said, "Hey, I'm your biggest fan!" (chuckles)
The Longest Meow is available now on Bloodshot Records