Interview: Tim Barry
If you’re from Virginia, you might conjure up images of railways and the River James upon hearing the title of Tim Barry’s latest album, Rivanna Junction. This landscape is where Barry finds the stories to tell in his songwriting. Of the story of his life, Barry says, “The whole thing would take place at the river, on freight trains and on the road playing music.”
Barry’s follow-up to 2005’s Laurel Street Demo is another set of songs in the tradition of old country and folk music. He is joined on the record by a collection of artists whose experience ranges from folk to bluegrass to jazz and even classical music. In fact, of the musicians, only Barry has played in punk bands, and of those who join him on Rivanna Junction, some had little knowledge of his role as singer of legendary punk/hardcore band Avail. Two musicians who know him well, however, are his siblings, James and Caitlin, who play piano and violin, respectively. Barry is quick to compliment each of them, calling James a heck of a composer, and mentioning that Caitlin’s violin can bring him to tears.
The album owes something to his parents, as well, he will explain, since they introduced him to folk music: “My father always listened to classical, and my mom folk. The church I grew up going to had a band that played folk, rock, and bluegrass — both my parents were in the band. I rebelled against that music young, choosing punk and metal, but in my early 20s felt comforted by both classical and folk. I suppose my parents were right in the end.”
Though the genre and musicians around him have changed, Barry still finds the music familiar: “I don’t think that Rivanna Junction is that abstract to Avail albums. Many Avail songs are rooted in three-chord acoustic songs. It’s just when the songs are completed we throw distortion on the guitars and bang the hell out of the drums.”
In terms of lyrics, it’s easy to see where Barry has found inspiration when hearing him talk about Woody Guthrie.
“I’ve always said that Woody Guthrie was the first punk music I was introduced to. Woody rode freight trains around the country writing songs and telling the tales of those he met through them.” On Rivanna Junction, Barry sings stories based on his experiences, or of hard-luck characters, many of who were inspired by people he’s met. Overall, the songs have a personal and moving feel to them, coinciding with Barry’s outlook on life.
“Tread lightly and don’t become a part of the corporate machine,” he offers. “I’m nearly 36 and I still live this way. I am proof that radicalism can be more than a twenty-something phase.”
When at home in Richmond, Barry works as a stage production assistant for a ballet company, a good set up for someone who is often on tour, he explains: “I work when it’s needed and still have the autonomy to roam the country at will playing music.” Barry will continue recording and touring, and listeners will continue to hear his experiences through his songs, but don’t expect the Tim Barry story to be made into a movie any time soon. “Fuck egomaniac shit like Tim Barry movies,” he explains. “There are plenty of folks more interesting to make movies about.”