Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound Engineering by Patrick Stolley
There's a line that The Slip vocalist Brad Barr sings on "Suffocation Keep" a song from the band's latest album -- Eisenhower -- that goes, "The forest is big/That's why we need rangers" and it happens to be the optimal phrase to keep ringing like a faint dinner bell in the ears when one wades through the complex and luscious record, as well as the band's 11-year career. It can be used as a turnkey to tap into the skeleton of an amorphous figure that stands loosely in time and place, undergoing evolutions and revolutions both big and small.
It's likely not at all through extraneous effort or willful scheming that the songs that the Boston/Canadian band (two-thirds of the group now lives north of the border) fraternizes with are labyrinths that don't get you lost. They simply spin you round and make you flutter like a sun dress caught in the wind and soon enough you're drifting lightly in absentia, just lost, hopelessly lost, but as comfortable as you would be snug in your bed at home.
It's as if you've never left, but you haven't stayed either. It sounds like the kind of thing Mr. Pothead would say about Pink Floyd while watching "Wizard of Oz" or something equivalent, like the amazing (and completely made up) synchronicity of Andrew W.K.'s The Wolf and "Problem Child." See, that sounded like an idea one could develop after marinating in this band's extensive oeuvre.
It's music that requires a ranger - someone to help give navigational tips...or maybe not. Some of the best scenarios that could come out of not having a guide to assist with the process of figuring it all out are that you can take away whatever you'd like to take away. Reasonably speaking, the combinations of routes that can be chosen and the many waving hands and distractions that yield these wondrous drawbridges from air to land to sea to manicured yard. There is expressiveness that conveys all of the available textures - the easily movable, the firm and tough, the choppy and the smooth and the kind of softness that one can get backaches from with lengthy exposures to it.
The music on Eisenhower is expansive and expressive. Barr quotes Dylan Thomas and makes interesting points aplenty with his thoughtful lines. His brother/drummer Andrew Barr and bassist Marc Friedman are aware of all needs taking care of, all that needs unleashing to make a song sound like its own world. There are more than just forests and trees here. It's the streets and the neighborhoods and the people and the airplanes that look and land like birds and the distance and the surly fight between all of it to make something that sticks and doesn't feel like a jigsaw puzzle done wrongly, pieces mashed together in a blind rage.
Elements of the best of Wheat and even Secret Machines are fused with jamminess that is concise enough to not draw comparisons to the wrong people, but to folks like their old tourmates My Morning Jacket. Without their focus, they paint mostly in watercolors - staying away from finer, distinct lines that could make things black and white. What this leaves is a spatial honey pot that you can dip your paws into and pull from it sticky fur and a meal that you'll still be licking from it days afterward. Songs like "Even Rats," "Airplane/Primitive" and "Children of December" - about the shittiness of having a birthday on Christmas or New Year's Eve because no one cares about it - are cobwebs ringing their strands of silk invisibly all across your skin, wrapping you up and forcing you to address it. Not tomorrow. Not next week, but now, right now, immediately if not sooner.
They act like, play like and write like a band that's been tinkering for over a decade, not just played together for over a decade. It's been through the cause and effect/trial and error system that Eisenhower exists as a thing - a thing that calls to mind cold days and toasting fires and some kind of odd, implacable camaraderie between the shadows and the bright, bright lights that hide nothing but the obvious.
The Daytrotter interview:
*What was your big break?*
Marc Friedman: I think in €˜04 somebody went to Spain -- somebody went sailing. It was a seriously long vacation from touring or any playing. I think it added up to about six weeks. We call this our "big break."
*The night before you were here with us was the last day of the My Morning Jacket tour. You said it got crazy. What all went down?*
Brad Barr: We will never EVER say.
*I think you told me that Jim James was a huge fan of your cover of Baba O'Riley. Is that true? How did you know?*
MF: I can"t speak for Jim James as well as I used to be able to. He might have heard us do this cover or maybe not. Could I speculate that he would be a "huge" fan of our cover of "Baba O Riley"? It"s hard to say, he likes the slow jams.
*What do each of those wild animal hats say about your individual personalities? The moose hat is kind of deformed, isn't it? Obviously, you had to buy what they had, but had you been able to dictate exactly which animal to have a hat of, what would you pick?*
Andrew Barr: Actually they did have a whole entourage of furry beasts. We gave Jim the bear, skunk went to our lighting designer. I couldn't have been more pleased to be the canis lupis, you know - the wolf, They're strong, honorable, adaptable, territorial, endangered....shit.
BB: He is not deformed, and I resent the implication.
MF: I would like a snow leopard hat because they are very rare and almost extinct. Some wild cat would be perfect, cats have always been my favorite.
*So, are you guys enjoying Canada as much as Boston? When did you move again?*
BB: We (Brad and Andrew) love living in Montreal. It"s completely different than Boston -- much smaller, a lot more bars, restaurants, cafes, galleries, venues packed into a tight area. The strong belief in maintaining a cultural identity is very alive up here. Between the struggle to keep international corporations at bay, the fight to preserve the French language, and the ongoing debate over separation, there is a lot that motivates Quebecers to defend their culture. And coming from a society that has more or less accepted the disintegration of its authentic cultural attributes, this is refreshing. However, I do miss a certain type of thinking that exists in Boston, among many of the artists I am friends with....a very collective learning process that relied on our understanding of the art and our tools, and the will to stretch beyond those rules together in late night jam sessions. I love that.
*With the start of Wakarusa in Lawrence in June and the following week tackling Bonnaroo, that's a stretch of time that could wind up 3. being a blur, no? If there's anything those two fests have, it's weed.*
MF: And hopefully bottled water.
*What are some things you all have had obsessions with in your life -- Pez or Alf or beef jerky for instance?*
MF: I do like me some Alf. For me, Woody Allen films - good comedy is a big obsession. I can get addicted to seasons 1-4 of Mr.Show on DVD anyday!
AB: The first day I ever worked in my life was caddying at a golf club and on the way back I saw a little bar setup at a flea market, the kind with two stools and a soft leather front with an arm rest. I was 11 and had two hundred dollars in my hand, the first non-jingly money I had ever made. I made my dad pull over and I bought the bar for $200. I think it was the first possible thing for sale outside of the golf club gates and I guess it was the freedom to pay for what I wanted when I wanted it that I was buying into. I did get a lot of use out of it with my friends throughout my high school years but when it rotted in the mildewy basement during my college time and I had to throw it away, it was that day that I remembered the most and knew that, like capitalism or not, in the world I was living in, it felt necessary to have that freedom. So I guess I've always been obsessed with hanging out with friends around a bar, it would seem like that's what I've spent the better half of my life achieving.
*What's it take to stay at it this long -- 11 years, damn? Most unknowing people would probably think you're a new band, but it couldn't be less true. How have you perservered?*
AF: If creative wellbeing is the target, than I'd say it takes a lot of being eye-on-target all the time, being almost hypnotized by that sound that you're trying to sink your arrows into. You've gotta be open to change all around you and take in all that is going on, but you're still walking, however slowly, however hypnotically, towards that initial target. That's what the last 10 years have felt like for me.
*Did Conan treat you well?*
AF: Great staff, he's a comic genius, and they gave us lots of sandwiches. Not as many as Anna Nicole though, I heard she covered an entire pepperoni pizza with a full bottle of mayonnaise and ate the whole thing at once. God bless her soul.
*What's the next best thing you guys do after music?*
MF: Drive safely.
BB: Drink grape juice.
AB: I make a nice linguine. My mom was Julia Childs"s assistant chef, so I grew up having chickens dropped on my head and taking in a tip or so.
*Can you quote anything -- poems, movies, authors?*
AB: Finnegan"s Wake is the only thing I ever quote: "What clashes here of wills gen wonts, oystrygods gaggin fishygods! Brekkek Kekkek Kekkek! Koax Koax Koax! Ualu Ualu Ualu! Quaouauh!"
MF: "It ain't what they call you, it's what you answer to" -- W.C. Fields
BB: "I ain't too young to realize / That I ain't too old to try / Try to get back to the start" -- Bon Scott, AC/DC frontman until 1980