Brad Barr: “I love cardboard guitars, man, and plastic instruments have a very unique sound”
As a solo musician and singer-songwriter, Brad Barr’s work differs significantly from his work with his brother Andrew in The Barr Brothers, specializing in folk and blues-rock.
Brad’s second album, The Winter Missiondisplays various tunes for lead guitar, all recorded live without overdubs – surprisingly so when you hear the complex music.
“My solo style is rooted in improvisation,” Brad tells us, “but I’m also always looking for a physical feel on the guitar. The way hammer-ons and pull-offs line up should be visceral. It’s not enough that it sounds good, it also has to feel good to the touch.
Hailing from Rhode Island, Brad’s musical journey began around the time he swapped his drums for Andrew’s guitar, but it wasn’t easy.
“The guitar was this mysterious thing that I couldn’t get to work,” he says. “When I can’t do something, I really want to learn how to do it, so the challenge of that has kept me going. That and MTV…
“Angus Young was my first guitar hero. He looked like he was having a great time and I wanted to know how to get the guitar to do what it does [with it]. It carried me through much of my teenage years, much like Slash. I listen to his tone and how he plays and it’s really impressive.
As his own musical abilities developed, Brad’s influences changed and he moved towards more complex music.
“I started listening to jam bands like The Grateful Dead and The Allman Brothers,” he says. “But when I got to about 18, it was guys like John McLaughlin, Wes Mongomery and Bill Frisell, so all the jazzers. I really liked those guitarists.
“I had understood all the Angus Young stuff by then, and what I loved about jam bands was that they took rock ‘n’ roll and blues and stretched it out and brought different harmonies and melodic ranges to the music. It was just a natural progression for me. I mean, these guys were inspired by John Coltrane.
Strength of siblings
Brad is a fascinating guitarist whose music, both with the Barr Brothers and solo, feels like an expansion of all the styles that have influenced him over the years.
“For me, it’s more of a continuum,” he says. “I’m sure from the outside it looks like a sea change, but like a lot of teenagers, I grew up playing rock ‘n’ roll. I finally realized that there is so much more to music than meets the surface and it was a lifelong quest that I decided to embark on.
“Having helped my brother too. He’s one of the biggest influences in my life because I have a partner to go through it all with and we’re hedging our bets together. If I did it alone, it would have been much more intimidating.
Equipment and more equipment
Brad’s guitars past and present make a long list, including a long-awaited six-string.
“After 35 years of listening to Angus Young, I finally got an SG,” he says. “It’s now my guitar of choice – it’s a Special, so there are two P-90s you can switch between. But the first really cool guitar I got was an Ibanez Studio from the early 70s that was shaped like a Les Paul. Then I had a 1954 Gibson ES-175 Hollowbody and played on it for a good 14 years.
“I had a mid-’60s Guild Starfire V, then a 1951 Gibson J-35, but all the while I was taking Danelectros and Silvertones – I love cardboard guitars, man, and instruments plastic have a unique sound. ”