By looking backward, the Barr Brothers are leaping forward
Queens Of The Breakers (Secret City), the new album from Montreal indie-roots outfit the Barr Brothers, has a hazy kind of nostalgia to it, an echo of the afternoons the two brothers at the heart of the band, Andrew and Brad Barr, spent as young men cruising the streets and beaches of Newport, R.I., with their friends. As Brad relates it, they’d dress up in someone’s mom’s clothes and go out to crash parties, fancy restaurant soirées and, once, Newport’s Vanderbilt mansion itself, called The Breakers.
“It was my first group of beloved friends,” says Brad. “Some of them I barely speak with, but I would still go to the ends of the earth for them.”
Themes of love and loss, the bittersweet formula for nostalgia, are rife throughout the record, and there’s a kind of resigned sadness at the heart of the music. Shimmering vocal harmonies and a rolling undercurrent of acoustic/electric guitar and harp bring the brothers’ summer memories to life, evoking filtered images of sun-bleached hair and skin left tacky by the salt air. It’s a remarkably visual album in this way, different from previous Barr Brothers LPs, which have relied more on the diverse soundscapes of the brothers’ Montreal home. You’d think that some of the record’s themes would have come from both Andrew and Brad’s new forays into fatherhood. When the topic comes up, however, Brad insists being a parent hasn’t much altered his musical process.
“Writing and recording music has always been, for me, part struggle, part revelation,” he says. “That hasn’t changed. Performing music has always been the reward. That hasn’t changed, either. One thing I noticed was that it became harder to stay interested in the kinds of self-reflections, or reflections on the world, that I used to rely on for songwriting. They were way less interesting to me than how my son saw the world, or how he saw me. But this person’s life becomes a part of you, and you eventually carry on with a new subconscious.”