INTRODUCTION: This interview with Bare Jr. took place just months before Manhattan club, Wetlands, got hit with debris from 9-11 and forced the hippie-ish venue to close down a few weeks earlier then expected. But while Wetlands couldn’t last as a friendly bohemian retreat (with good beer selection), Bobby Bare Jr. continues to put up the good fight. I saw him a few years hence at Maxwells in Hoboken and he still kicked raw arse.
As I stand drink in hand at Tribeca’s Wetlands Preserve, it becomes perfectly clear what a great live band Nashville’s Bare, Jr. has become. Constant touring has cemented the quintet’s reputation for full throttle live sets. As serious road warriors, they unleash brazen pop and in-your-face rock in the best honky tonk tradition.
The pride of Country & Western legend Bobby Bare, frontman Bobby Bare, Jr. first appeared alongside his father on 1974’s Top 50 novelty single, “Daddy What If,” as a five year old. Now a seasoned troubadour in his early thirties, Bobby, Jr. kept the crowds’ attention by singing in a rough and tumble style both Southern Rock and hard rock fans would appreciate. To his left side, lead guitarist Teel shows off mannerisms probably learned from The Who’s Pete Townshend (rambunctious axe wielding) and John Entwistle (stoic facial expressions). Long-haired bohemian bassist Dean Tomasek (a cartoonist with a 2-page comic strip featured in the recent issue of CMJ Monthly) and drummer Keith Brogdon provided rhythmic force while lanky dulcimer player Tracy Hackney tried desperately to rise above the loud din of raunchy noise.
After this sweaty set, Bare, Jr. quickly slipped into The Who’s “Baba O’Riley,” which cleverly and seamlessly segued into The Cars’ “My Best Friends Girl” without a hitch. It made for a fantastic, stylistically intriguing encore.
On record, Bare, Jr. obtained a solid reputation with ‘99s blistering Boo-Tay. Its more consistent follow-up, Brainwasher, continues to bottle up and then extract anxiety and emotional pain. The fierce “Kiss Me (Or I Will Cry)” and the whiny “If You Choose Me” beg for consoling. And the twangy slacker anthem, “Why Do I Need A Job,” proves these devilishly post-adolescent nightcrawlers have no intention on growing up too soon.
AW: Do you really face all those insecurities portrayed in your self-deprecating lyrics? I’ve noticed you sub-titled this set More Songs About Girls That Don’t Like Me.
BOBBY BARE, JR.: Any decent art should have humility and honesty. Getting up on-stage and laying all this shit out is almost like being a stripper. I’m obviously not hiding anything. Many songs are somewhat confessional. I’ve been raised around some of the greatest songwriters and it’s all about blood and guts. Who has the balls to show their ass. Who’s the most courageous.
So are a lot of your songs truthful reflections of real life experiences?
Some of them are and others are complete fabrications. But all the feelings involved I’ve felt. If I could address these things and get a room full of people to giggle along, it makes it not so heavy to air them out.
There’s plenty of mixed emotions scattered along the way.
Twist it up and pervert it anyway you can. I like to build things up to tear them down just as fast by being as abstract as I can be. But what I do with songwriting isn’t abstract. If I lose you at any point on Brainwasher, I fucked up. Except for “Limpin’,” which is completely abstract. I’m the only one who knows what that song means. The words were read into a voice recognition thing on my computer and they came out purposely fucked up. But usually we want to have as much freedom and fun as we can have.
I know you sang with your father on the novelty “Daddy What If” as a child. But what made you pursue music later on?
I just wanted to be like my dad. Most kids look at their father as some kind of God. My father just happened to be playing guitar and shakin’ his ass. Well, not really shakin’ his ass, but definitely rocking. His best album was ‘74s Lullabies Legends And Lies. It’s one of the first double albums in country history. It was maybe the first country concept record, too. And the first album a country artist did with just one songwriter – Shel Silverstein (recently deceased Playboy cartoonist and composer of Dr. Hook’s “The Cover Of The Rolling Stone”). Shel co-wrote a song on my first album and he critiqued everything I wrote up until he died. He was my dad’s best friend. But I had written bad songs for a long time and just started writing songs that didn’t suck so bad. We started rehearsing and within five days I had a publishing deal and within ten days I had a record deal. So it just happened fast.
Did you listen to funky ‘70s Southern Rock by Wet Willie, Ozark Mountain Daredevils, or Charlie Daniels while growing up in Tennessee?
Oh yeah. I grew up listening to Lynyrd Skynyrd. But I also went to Lollapalooza to hear Jane’s Addiction and the Pixies. Frank Black (of Pixies fame) is the pinnacle. I can’t think of anyone in rock and roll I respect more, except maybe Neil Young or Morrissey. Morrissey’s more of a lyricist than a rocker.
Why title the album Brainwasher?
All the songs are basically love songs because they deal with issues concerning girls. At “Brainwasher’s” bridge, I say “My mind is so dirty I got mud running out of my ears.” I was in rehab with an old man who was talking about the first time he got out of rehab. His friends all said, “You been down in rehab getting brainwashed.” He said, “You know what. My brain needed some washing.”
So you don’t drink anymore?
No. I do. I did eight years without drinking but at the millennium I decided to drink again.
You learned to handle liquor better?
Not really. (laughter) I haven’t ended up in jail. I still black out like crazy if I drink six or more beers.