Wednesday, 17 April 2013

THE GENTLEMEN BASTARDS Interview with Bill Barry

Recently I've had the pleasure of getting to know BILL BARRY of the Huntsville, Alabama hard rock / stoner rock band THE GENTLEMEN BASTARDS.  The guy is thoughtful and articulate and comes across as a true southern Gentleman.  On the other hand the guy just happens to be a Bastard and his music reflects that in a big way! (Check out the band's debut full-length on their bandcamp page here)

You go through life and think there are no more real rock n roll bands left out there.  Then you discover a band like The Gentlemen Bastards and realize that there are pockets of hope left in the world.  I wrote them up on this very blog a couple months ago (? has is been that long already?) and Bill was pleased enough with the results that we started corresponding (to read the review click here).  His enthusiasm inspired me and I hope the feeling was somewhat mutual.  

So I asked him a bunch of questions and this is the result.  What follows is a great interview, I don't mind saying.  If I never conduct another interview I`ve at least got this one under my belt.  Read on...

1.       Hi Bill, how are you and what have you been up to since releasing 'The Gentlemen Bastards’ album?
Hey Lucas! I'm doing very well thanks. I hope you are too. We've been trying to network and promote and play as much as we can to get our name out there. I think it's working. But, it's definitely a slow process.

2.       Why The Gentlemen Bastards?  There has to be a reason for the band name …
Will and I are big fans of Irish traditional music and we had tucked that name away for some future pub songs project. But, when we finally had enough material to start gigging and needed a name for THIS band, The Gentlemen Bastards came back up and seemed to fit better than anything else. We're four mild mannered, clean-cut guys and don't really look like a loud rock band. So, some people's first impression of us is that we're going to sound like Maroon 5 or something. The name is sort of a way to convey that there's something dirty lurking beneath that tidy exterior.    

3.       Have you been happy with the response the album has received from critics and fans alike?
Oh yes, we're very happy. Bloggers like yourself have really embraced what we're doing and helped us to reach people all over the world who never would have heard of us otherwise. But, we've also had a great response from people at shows who go out of their way to come up and tell us how much they liked the music or that they listen to our album all the time. It's really raised the bar for us in  terms of working harder to make sure we can come up with something even better the next time around. 

4.       I’m always curious to see what musicians think of the impact of the internet and downloading on the music industry.  What`s your take and how do you think the changing landscape has affected the band?
The internet and downloading have made it easier than ever before to network and expose your music to new people. But, the flip side is that there's also a lot more bands out there doing the same thing and you have to figure out how to set yourself apart - not just locally, but globally. Because, you're now competing for airtime with thousands of other bands who have access to the same resources and the same people you're trying to reach.

I wonder also, if the immediate gratification of high speed internet and downloading have taken some of the magic out of the music scene. It used to be that you saved your pennies to buy an album that you'd only heard or read about and then you'd wear it out and develop a kind of hero worship for those bands. Now, you can download 20 albums a day for free and become Facebook friends with the guys in Orange Goblin. Does that make things more or less exciting when you're a kid who's just getting into music? Very few things are larger than life these days and that seems like kind of a bummer.

Flag of Alabama
5.       Can you give me an idea of what the underground hard rock / stoner rock scene is like out Alabama way?
In terms of stoner rock, I think we're pretty much it in our area. I don't know of anyone else in North Alabama with that label. But, there's a really vibrant, supportive network of excellent rock, punk and metal bands who play shows together and it allows everyone to kind of cross-pollinate with different fan bases. When our album came out, the first two gigs we had were in Birmingham, where we knew no one and because we weren't an "indie-rock" band no one seemed to get what we were doing. But, we were invited to play at a little place back in Huntsville called Copper Top to more or less an underground punk/metal crowd and they just ate it up. It felt so good to finally get in front of an audience that had as much enthusiasm as we do. That show really meant a lot to us. Two months later, we went back to Birmingham and opened for The Heavy Eyes and we haven't looked back since.

6.       How and when did the band begin and what has been the evolution, soundwise of the band?
Well, Dave and I were in a rock band called Saturn5 several years ago and know each other's musical tendencies very well. So, when we started playing again we were already way ahead of where any other new band would have been. We played with another bass player and singer for a while but Dave and I are metal and hard rock guys and the other two wanted to go in some different directions. So, I don't think anybody was completely comfortable with the situation. 

The singer was the first change. He couldn't bring himself to quit. So, I did it for him - all very friendly of course. I think it was a relief for him and us. We put an ad on Craigslist and tried out a handful of candidates. But, there was no one that we were really sold on until Will came along. I think the singer search was kind of the breaking point with our bass player also because the candidate he brought in was someone Dave and I never would have picked. So, it really highlighted the fact that we were on two very different musical paths. He went on to form another band with that guy and everyone ended up very happy with the way things turned out. 

We tried out two bass players before Böðvar and they were good. But, when that Icelander jammed with us that first time, we knew he was the guy. There was just an energy and a sound that we hadn't felt before. We worked with one of the other bass candidates for a while as a second guitarist. But, in the end, we have a chemistry that works best as a foursome so we decided to keep it that way. I think you'll see on the next album that we're continuing to evolve as the stuff we're coming up with now blows away almost everything you've heard from us.

7.       What were some of the lessons you learned in Saturn5 that you’ve brought to The Gentlemen Bastards?
Lots and lots of things! In Saturn5, we had no idea what we were doing and no help from anyone who did. We worked extremely hard and we always thought our big break was right around the corner. But, it was a lot of trial and error and we couldn't seem to get to that next step. Everything we do in The Gentlemen Bastards is better and more efficient because of our time in Saturn5. We know the importance of band chemistry in the creative process. We know not to settle when it comes to recording. We know not to waste our time on dead end gigs or promotion that doesn't work. We know so much more about networking and promoting ourselves, my fingers would fall off typing up the list. Hopefully, all of this knowledge and experience will pay off for us this time. But, we are definitely not making the same mistakes we made in the old days.. 

8.       What would you say are your chief influences and by the same token, is there a specific mood or spirit that the band tries to evoke live, in rehearsal or on record?
We have pretty varied influences and they aren't what you might think based on the comparisons we get. My chief influences as a guitar player are Iron Maiden and old AC/DC. Growing up, that's what I played along with more than anything else. I also love Led Zeppelin, as does Böðvar. He also knows about all of these Icelandic bands and has jazz training, which gives him a different angle on things. Will is kind of old school with his Allman Brothers and Queen and old blues influences, but he's also more hip to new blues based bands than the rest of us are. Dave is really the purest stoner rocker of the band. He is by far the biggest Black Sabbath fan and has great reverence for the Small Stone records roster. This is part of the reason we never really bothered to learn any cover songs when we started playing together. We all like such different stuff, we could never agree on anything. But, all of these different influences come together somehow to make our sound what it is.

We don't really set out to evoke a specific mood. It just happens when we all start jamming. Some nights at practice, that swing is there and everything we come up with is great. Other nights, we just aren't clicking for whatever reason and new ideas don't flow as easily. The same with recording. Sometimes, that perfect lick just isn't in there that day or maybe it is, but it takes 3 hours to find it. Although, I'm happy to say we don't have that problem in a live setting. We are very consistent live, probably because we're focused on adrenaline and power and performing rather than creating and analyzing things. It's a different mindset and one that's easier to flip on and off.

9.       What’s the Gentlemen Bastards experience?  What’s a live show like?
I'd really like to hear a fan's perspective on this one. Hopefully, it's a tight set that gets you out of your seat. Going back to an earlier question, I think we catch some people by surprise when we start because we're doing something a little different than what they expected to hear from guys who look like us. There's always that one person at the bar who turns around with a "Huh?" expression when we start playing and it widens into a smile when they realize that we might be what they were looking for, after all. For us, we just try to have fun and hopefully project that mood to the audience. We don't get nervous anymore. We're very confident that we can deliver the goods. If we can get you headbanging or moshing or dancing or tapping your foot or whatever it is you do, then we feel like we've succeeded.

10.   Is there a kind of sound or feel that you try to attain/avoid in your music?
With us, I guess it's usually a matter of what to avoid. If a riff or piece sounds too much like something else or too happy or whatever, it'll get dropped immediately. The junkyard of throwaway riffs in our jam room has some great stuff. But, we're pretty picky about what we end up working on.

11.   What is the songwriting process like for the Gentlemen Bastards?
We get together and jam a lot and that's where most of our songs come from. We'll do these 15 minute jams and then go back and pull any good parts out of them. Sometimes, Will or I will come in with an idea and try it out on the others. Riffs come into my head all the time and I replay them over and over so I won't forget before I can get home to my guitar. If I decide to bring a riff to practice, it's only after I've worked on it by myself for a while to make sure it's good enough and I think Will's the same way. From there, we'll just play it over and over and tweak various sections and lines until everything clicks. In the meantime, Will works out a scratch melody and then will take it home and mess with it until he finds something he likes. We usually give a song some ridiculous title that only lasts until Will can finalize his idea for the lyrics. "Start the Show" was called "Galloping Thong" at one point.

12.    Is there a big difference between writing a song like “NMR” and a song like “Deja Vu”?
"Deja vu" came together pretty quickly out of a jam session. I started playing that riff and it was obvious immediately that it was a keeper. When Dave starts grinning as he's drumming, I know I've created something worthwhile. We worked it out in one session and then just tweaked little pieces here and there after that. But, most of it was done by the second or third time we played it. 

"NMR" developed a lot differently. Will had come in with an idea and some chord progressions that he wanted to try. We tried it a few different ways and that slow churn we ended up doing in the first section is what worked best. But, we didn't want it to just be that one part, so I added that swinging riff that comes in next and it slowly developed from there. It was originally about six minutes long. But, we just kept adding things and extending it because it was so good. That one always gets a really great reaction at shows. 

13.   There’s a 70s vibe to the music but it’s not a slavish re-vamping of an old sound.  Do you visualize the band as a kind of extension of an older era or very much as innovators of the here and now?
I definitely don't think we're doing anything innovative. If we have a '70's vibe, it's because we feel like the bands from that era are so much more authentic than most of today's popular music. The two big trends in rock these days feature either eight people playing folk instruments or that digital, overproduced, radio metal that has absolutely zero soul or swing. So, I guess we're rebelling against that and the only way we know to go is back to the 70's.

Dave and his red velvet kit

14.   Where and how was the album recorded and what was the recording experience like?
We did everything in Dave's garage, which is also our practice space. We sent Will into another room to isolate his vocals and just played everything live until we got a good take. After that, we went back and doubled guitars and redid the vocals and added and fixed things here and there. But, the basic tracks were recorded live in the same room with no click track or other such bullshit.

Unfortunately, the whole overdubbing and mixing process took much, much longer than we ever intended. Life threw a variety of speed bumps at us - a marriage, two new babies, jobs lost and found, hard drive crashes, deaths in the family, etc. But, we just kept on working and finally were able to emerge with something we're pretty proud of. Particularly because we did it all ourselves. All in all, that experience made us much stronger as a band because we got to know each other a lot better, not just musically, but as people as we worked through those various challenges.

15.   What were some of the non-musical influences that went into the album?
Well, without question it was just life in general. See the above answer for details. Will writes all of the lyrics. So, it's hard for me to answer that question without putting words in his mouth. But, I know that he draws heavily on his own experiences for his subject matter. He'll sometimes use familiar references from literature as a way to tell a story. But, he's not writing about any made up situations. For the rest of us, given some of the stress we were under during the recording process, it's likely that we were relieving that stress through our performances. But, it was never a conscious thing for me - like "I'm gonna rip this solo because I'm stressed out." We were just trying to do our best.

16.   How would you describe your music to someone who’s never heard it?
I'd probably quote something I read in your album review. No one's described us better than that. Generally, I would try to describe us in terms that I think that person can relate to. Some folks embrace the term "stoner rock" while others don't. "Kind of like Clutch" has been thrown around a lot, even though I don't really agree. Somebody else might relate to "kind of Sabbathy." But, "rock and roll" is usually the best answer regardless.

17.   Are there any current bands out there that you take a particularly keen interest in?
I pay particular attention to what The Heavy Eyes are up to because they're also from the South and seem to be doing a lot of the things that we aspire to do - in terms of the attention they get in Europe. Otherwise, I just try to listen to as many new bands as I can every day. I'm on Bandcamp a lot and I check out every band that you write about. I thought the most recent Black Cowgirl and Witchcraft albums were excellent. Samsara Blues Experiment does some cool stuff. There's a cheeky British band called Gentlemans Pistols that I really like. Of course, I keep up with bigger hitters like Maiden, Orange Goblin, Deftones, etc. also as well as non-metal stuff like The Tossers. Those are just the first few that come to mind. But, I'm always on a quest to discover something new and awesome.

18.   So what do The Gentlemen Bastards get up to when not making music?
Well, we all have families and regular jobs. So, they occupy most of our time. If we're together but not playing music, we're probably drinking too much, trying to impress each other with new music we've found and eating something delicious and unhealthy. Dave and Böddi are excellent cooks so we encourage them to feed us often. Böddi is in chef school and doing very well. Dave, our Canadian, plays hockey, of course. Huntsville is known as "The Hockey Capital of the South" for whatever that's worth. So, he actually has some good competition down here. Will does his running and rock climbing thing whenever possible or riding his motorcycle. I'm pretty happy just doing anything outside - hiking or catching bugs with my kids. Could this answer have been any more boring? Feel free to just make up something about drugs and groupies and put that here instead.

19.   When might fans expect to see the next Gentlemen Bastards’ release?
There's not an official plan at this point because we just don't have enough new songs yet. But, I think it's reasonable to say that we'll continue to play shows through the summer and fall and work on new music in between gigs. Then, maybe by the holidays it'll be time to start recording something new. Will recently sifted through all of our recorded jam sessions from the past two years and unearthed some killer cuts that we'd never had a chance to revisit. We're already playing three or four new songs at every gig that people really seem to like. So, between those and whatever new stuff we come up with this year, we should have plenty of great material to choose from for the second album. 

20.   Do you have any shows or tours you’d like to announce?
No tour at this point. But, we're hoping to expand our reach this summer to hit some new cities. We'd like to make contact with some like-minded bands and see if we can help each other out. Small festivals or events would be great, too. We just want to play our music for new people. So, we want to talk to anyone who can help us do that. 

21.   Bill, thanks so much for taking the time to chat with me, getting to know guys like yourself has made my personal experience here behind the scenes of the blog a very memorable and pleasant one.  Before we part company, I`ll let you have the floor for a final say …
Hey man, the pleasure is all mine. We owe you big time for bothering to write about some little band from Alabama. Your readers may not realize how much every bit of attention means to a band at our level. But, every time you donate even a dollar to download the album or "like" us on Facebook or say "great job" after a show, it's a huge validation for us that we're on the right track. We're not doing this to be millionaires - it's because we're moved by this music and want to connect with other people who are too. So, thank you very much for your kind words about us these past few months and keep up the good work bringing new bands to our ears.


To contact the band, write to

Thanks again to Bill Barry of the Gentlemen Bastards!

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