Interview: Tim Barry

words by Josh Diamond | photo by Chrissy Piper
| Friday, April 6th, 2012

Tim BarryFor nearly two decades, Tim Barry fronted Avail, a hardcore punk band whose catchy, aggressive music coupled with Tim’s smart, straightforward lyrics gained the band a massive following.

The band, however, released its last album in 2002, and by the time the Richmond, Virginia-based five-piece officially disbanded in 2008, Barry had already released a trio of solo albums. Barry’s musical output away from Avail is a stark contrast to his former material. Calling to mind folk troubadours such as Steve Earle and Buck Owens, as well as country and rock performers like Clint Maul and Lucero, Barry’s fifth studio album, 40 MileR, alternates between spare acoustic songs and raucous rock tracks steeped in Americana and roots influences.

Barry took the time to speak with us shortly before April 10th release of 40 MileR on Chunksaah Records.

Previously, you noted that “many Avail songs are rooted in three-chord acoustic songs.” Would you say this is true for most of punk rock, as well as folk music? Do you see your move to performing acoustic/Americana as part of a process of maturing with your audience and evolving with their tastes?
It is true that many punk songs and acoustic folk/country songs are similar in chord progression. However, in all honesty, I don’t think much about technical sides of music-making. And I never really know where the songs I play come from. But when I watch and listen to others, whether it be a punk band or a folk singer, I enjoy presentation. I connect to how songs feel. I relate to songs based on lyrical content. I feel a connection with melodies and harmonies. I hear sounds in color. If a song doesn’t conjure a distinct color in my mind (whether my own or someone else’s) I don’ t have much attraction to it.

And to further my honesty, I don’t listen to much music other than classical these days. Well, classical and NPR. Perhaps I’m just old. I still love live shows though. Nothing can replace the energy of seeing a band or solo performer kill it on stage.

To answer the second part of your question, regarding “maturing with my audience”: I am, unfortunately, not very mature. But I’m truly happy playing acoustic music. It seems natural to me. Far more natural at this point in my life than [playing] fast punk.

When you have toured over the past few years, how would you describe the people coming out to these shows? Are they Avail fans eager to see you and quietly hoping you play something from Satiate, or are these folks further removed from your punk rock past?
I see a real mix of people at my shows. I’ve not heard anyone request an Avail song in many years — and I simply don’t play them. I’m thankful to see a real diverse group of ages and interest at the shows.

What has it been like to tour with your siblings? Do you behave any differently on the road while surrounded by family?
I’ve not toured with my sister Caitlin in over four years, but when Caitlin did tour with me, we had a wonderful time. I behave no differently with family present than I do with my criminal friends. I have nothing to hide.

In previous interviews, you have mentioned that many of your songs tell other peoples’ stories: first-person narratives of prison, economic woes, and traveling the country riding the rails. Have you encountered peoples’ tales that you wanted to share, but a song was just not the right medium? Or stories that were inspiring but too deeply personal to share with an audience?
I love to collect stories, and I love to listen to what people have to say. And thankfully, I am lucky enough to be surrounded by many different people of varying backgrounds and ages. I didn’t go to school. I think most of what I know is based on trial and error, traveling (whether for music or by rail for adventure), and really learning from and listening to what others share.

With all of that said, my story songs are often drawn from personal experience with the people I’m writing about. Yes, there are some situations and personal stories that would absolutely be absurd to share publicly. It is necessary to draw a line at some point.

Many of your lyrics seem highly observational and critical about your surrounds, especially tracks like “Fine Foods Market.” Are such lyrics based upon what’s going on around you in Richmond, or do you level criticisms against society at large?
The title of the song you are referring to is long. It is actually called “Fine Foods Market (aka: Tim Barry Makes Fun of Tim Barry).” In the song, I am making fun of every aspect of myself. It’s really that simple. I’m at an age where it’s actually relieving and fun to rip myself apart publicly.

Five years ago, you mentioned that you were working as a ballet stage production assistant in Richmond when not on the road. It was an ideal situation for a musician, in that it gave you income and allowed you the freedom to tour. Have you continued with this work? If not, what else keeps you busy away from the music?
Most people that I know who play music also hold jobs at home. I’ve been lucky that for years my trade has given me the autonomy to both tour and work upon my return. There is certainly not much money in music, and there is not much money in a regular job. So I maintain the same as the rest of us: doing whatever I can to get by.

But I truly enjoy music, and I truly enjoy technical theatre work, even if it’s just loading and unloading trucks some days. But with all the touring ahead, I won’t be doing much other than that. [Outside of music], I have so many hobbies and interests that there is not enough daylight for me to get done all I want. I really can’t sit still.

  • Matt E.

    Tim was my first ever interview that was published back in like 2001 or 2002. Such a nice guy and awesome musician. Avail is such a great band too.