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The Slip Does It Again: An Interview with Guitarist/keyboardist Brad Barr
By Brian L. Knight

The Slip are the subtle movers and shakers of today’s jam band scene. Their talent is superb, their following is vast and loyal; yet, the trio escapes the frenzied hoopla that is associated with their peers such as the Disco Biscuits, Soulive and Galactic. Consisting of brothers Andrew Barr (drums & voice) and Brad Barr (guitars & voice) and Marc Friedman (electric bass), the trio plays some of the most intellectual  music available to a jam band fan’s ears today. While so many bands guide their music immediately into a catchy "in your face" groove (which is not a bad thing), The Slip nurtures their improvisations. The trio's songs are journeys through different tempos, moods, themes and atmospheres. When listening to the Slip, it easy to ascertain that they are a jazz trio first, and than a jam band.  Three years ago, the band released the phenomenal album, From the Gecko, which beautifully bridged a gap between Weather Report jazz-fusion and Steely Dan rock and roll. Now, the band has released Does which uses the same magical formula for catchy yet cerebral improvised music. For those who waited long and hard for Does, the wait is well worth the down time. The Vermont Review spoke to guitarist Brad Barr from his home in Rhode Island where we talked about some of the band’s recent gigs, their influences and the story behind Does

VR: The Slip recently played a set of weekend shows on Martha's Vineyard. How was that experience for you?

BB: That was great. We got to spend time with our good friend Isaac Taylor. He is our roommate but he hardly ever lives here- he is always subletting his room. He came on board for our real first big tour of the country. He sings with us – he has a great voice. He gut up and sang Alsoa with us. That was a great trip. I just love being out there too.

VR: Did Isaac sing Alsoa on your first album too?

BB: No. He never recorded with us. He is just a kindred musical brother. He is always teaching and (we are) teaching him. It is a really good relationship.

VR: Jumping to another recent gig. The Slip played at Scullers Jazz club in Cambridge. After playing lots of rock clubs, what was it like to perform in a traditional jazz venue?

BB: That was a great gig for us. The fact that we are so used to playing clubs and bars where people are talking and are easily distracted from the music, this was a great experience for us.

VR: Did you accommodate your set list or the mood of your playing for that environment?

BB: A little bit, but not much. In both playing situations, we require a lot from our audience to listen to the music, as opposed to being able to talk for awhile here and than be expected to be able to snap right back into a stream of consciousness. Being in that room, it definitely felt like the audience was with us 100%. There was nothing else to do but sit down. I thought it created a carbonated beverage feeling– intense bubbling energy but the lid was on. I remember a certain point during the second set where somehow the lid just blew off and people were on their feet. It was unbelievable.

VR: So you got people out of their chairs at Scullers?

BB: We did. They actually told us before we started that show "If you see people starting to stand up and dance, just say something." I could not see how I could possibly do that. Yeah, people did get up and then they sat down.

VR: Which first came first for you – the piano or the guitar?

BB: In my life it was the piano, but not in any kind of performance setting. I may have played a piano recital when I was nine or something. I played piano from ages six to eleven or twelve. Right in that area – ten, eleven or twelve, I started thinking about the guitar and its role. The feeling of actually plucking those strings really became appealing to me. To be able to move around more and that you could walk around with it. Instead of having sit behind a piano the whole night. To me, an eleven year old, that was what was enticing about it. My first guitar hero was Angus Young and basically from there, I was committed. My brother actually first had an electric guitar in the house. He bought an electric guitar thinking that I would stick to the piano.

VR: I take it that your family instilled music on you at an early age?

BB: Yes, they did. They recognized some kind of young yearning to make noises. They told me that I would often run to pianos when I was little. So I think my mom saw that and tried to cultivate it. I don’t know if she had any expectations for me. They weren’t necessarily musically inclined themselves, they just never discouraged us.

VR: Lets jump to your new album, Does. I know from my point of view, it has been a long three years since From the Gecko. Any reason for the amount of time between the two albums?

BB: It is hard to say why we waited so long. I think it probably had something to do with the fact that we are generally kind of......... just……..slowpokes. We were constantly writing the songs. We never said to ourselves ‘We have to do a second album.’ It is hard to explain because the album itself came together in just about a week. It wasn’t like we were sitting up in a chateau sipping wine. We wanted to have the right tunes for it and I think we captured a good side of our playing on that album. There are some great moments on it. We are definitely starting to focus on the next one now.

VR: From the Gecko had such a mature sound for a debut album. Do you think that you have matured as a band for Does?

BB: Yes, I do. I think as players we have and as songwriters we have. When I look at the two albums, I think From The Gecko has more potential as far as the songs on it. There are songs on that album that people might be able to gravitate towards more than some of the stuff on Does. Maybe that has to do with the fact that we have matured as players. (Does has) different harmony and different degrees of improvisation. We also put less production time into Does – less overdubbing and guest musicians. We wanted to play as a trio. From the Gecko may have more radio potential. For the next one, I want to see if we can combine those two elements.

VR: So Does is an accurate representation of the Slip in the year 2000?

BB: Yes. Just for the sake that it is more modern and more up to date with us. I listen to some of the improvising on From the Gecko and I shutter at times. With Does, I am a little more comfortable with the performances.

VR: I hope you don’t shutter when you listen to "Entering Saugus"?

BB: Well, no. That was something that back then and we never played ever since. I think I wrote it maybe a week before the recording, said lets give it a try and we stuck it at the end of the album. For that reason, I don’t shutter. I really enjoy listening to it. That is one of my favorite tracks on that album. Possible because it happened so quickly and it hasn’t happened since. I haven’t had a chance to say "Ah, I can play that better."

VR: At the Jammys Awards at Irving Plaza this year, you did a tribute to Bob Dylan. How has he affected you as a band?

BB: The three of us have such vast influences - probably people you would never guess that we would listen to and enjoy. Bob Dylan has guided me in his lyrics, his songwriting and his aesthetic sense is incomparable to anyone else. In the old days of jazz – thinking of people like Monk and Charlie Parker – their songs were coming out of popular music. Music that had been popular fifteen to twenty years before. Simple songs. We feel that we should update the jazz improvisation traditions. It is important for us. Those simple songs inspired us.

VR: I am going to name some names. I would love to hear what you have to say about them. Pat Martino?

BB: Yes. His album El Hombre, his first album as a leader and recorded when he was 22 years old, floored me. I transcribed three to four songs off that album. It still challenges me in every way. His music follows very mathematical patterns – formula playing where he can go on and on playing 16th notes forever. Now, I think that I started shifting my focus as a guitarist playing. Pat Martino is a little too monstrous – a little too masculine. I am still incredibly thrilled every time I hear him, but he is not what I have been listening to.

VR: Joe Zawinul?

BB: I have heard the stuff that he did with Weather Report and his contributions to Cannonball Adderley and Miles Davis. The only solo stuff that I have heard is the Zawinul Syndicate. From his last world tour, he put out a double album. Are you familiar with that?

VR: It is so good.

BB: That album……….a friend of mine played it for me six or seven months ago and I flipped out. It definitely put a "call out" to that certain sound. Actually, after hearing that album, it inspired a certain approach that I started taking recently. He incorporates the voice to the audience, which I first came across with Pat Metheny. On his recent tour, Pat Metheny always had a vocalist. Zawinul does it in a different way – in a more of a gruff kind of voice.

VR: Bill Frisell?

BB: Forget about it. I don’t think I can say anything but that he is probably my favorite guitar player right now.

VR: Kurt Rosenwinkel?

BB: I got to see him for the first time with the Brian Blade Fellowship at the Freihofers Jazz Festival. I felt like I was hearing a brother playing. The way he was playing with that music, I felt like he was treating a lot of it the way that I would. It was really good to hear, because it forces me to keep moving away from myself. Keep moving into sounds that I might not necessarily aim for.

VR: Lake Trout?

BB: We have performed with those guys four or five times. They were the first guys that we heard who were putting that techno-break beat stuff into this kind of music……and also repeating the guitar lines. I think, subconsciously, after seeing them, we incorporated some of their style into ours. Like repeating a line and using that as a basis for the drummer to take a solo. Their taste for the break beats stuff – when we heard them doing it, it really validated a lot of that stuff for us. I had not been a big fan of electronic/techno stuff before but then I heard their drummer taking all of those sounds and putting them on his kit. I will also say that they are one of the loudest bands that we have heard.

VR: Arne Livingston?

BB: Definitely a total individual. You hear him play, it is just Arne – no one else sounds like that. What he has to offer is a gift. Playing with him is definitely a huge thrill. He fills up the space. It was difficult to play with Arne and Mark at the same time because Arne can fill up so much space and really has a dominating sound. I always get conscious of that when we are playing together. I think he is a master of setting up textures and cushioning people. His soloing is exceptional too but his strong point is setting up textures.

VR: John Coltrane’s music was compared as "sheets of sound". Do you think the Slip has a similar impression?

BB: I think Coltrane came to that concept after years and years of study. I feel that I will come to that in my own time. I do experiment with it a little bit. That kind of stuff involves so much technique on guitar such as sweep arpeggios. It is basically where you sweep up and down the guitar. You go from the lowest string to the highest string in one motion. There are guys out there who have mastered that technique but I am still trying to get the changes on my fingers. I listen to Coltrane all the time but when it comes to approaching music and the learning process, I need to work on it. At some point, I will do it chronologically. I will go back to the early stuff – Louis Armstrong, Django Rinehart, and Charlie Christian – then work up to bebop. From there, the more horizontal motion like Kind of Blue. I feel that I will be ready to approach Coltrane’s stuff soon.

VR: Would Sonny Sharrock be in the far future?

BB: That is another guy that I am not so familiar with. I have heard one album of his,  listened to it twice and then it disappeared. Sometimes that sound on the guitar is not most appealing to me. I remember hearing it at that point and recognizing that there was something going on there. At the same time Vernon Reid was never appealing it to me. It sounded like there were too many notes to take in. I started learning towards the more melodic player. I heard Bill Frisell five years ago and that was perfect for me at the time.

VR: In recent years, you have held some performances in roller skating parks. Were you a frequenter of the parks as a youth?

BB: The whole inspiration for that came from years as skate hall punks. Birthday parties and stuff. That was the theme for our events –to play songs that we may have heard back then. That was the whole gag for us – "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" and Men at Work. We played 80s hits basically. We are trying to decide if we are going to do it again.

Do you want more of the slip, than check them out here.