Brainwasher (Virgin, out Feb. 13)
For tickets, call 255-9600
Nashville rockers Bare Jr. take their name and their attitude from Bobby Bare Jr., the band’s primary singer, songwriter, and guitarist. Most of the quintet has hair as long and unkempt as their frizzy leader, they’re all Stones fans, and when they take the stage, Bare Jr. collectively jump and shout and push the rock pedal through the floor. On a recent tour of Europe with like-minded American bands like The Urge and U.S. Crush, Bare says that it was like “The Battle of the Bands every night.” And he says his band won. Every night.
Bare Jr. was on the road for about 300 days last year, in part because they’re at home when they’re away, and in part because the band has become a priority for their label, Virgin Records. “We played New Orleans and the president of Virgin saw us and freaked out and decided to put a whole lot more money [into] the band,” Bare says. “We’ve got much more fuel in the engine, but they’ve kept us on the road a lot.”
The highlight of Bare Jr.’s yearlong jaunt was Europe, and the highlight of Europe was Amsterdam, where Bare says they “spent an extra day...being very, very bad boys. Y’know, when you’re in Memphis, you go see Graceland....” Bare leaves the thought unfinished, letting the smoke of hash bars and the red lights of the sex industry fill in the gaps between his words.
All of this hard work and harder play inform the songs on Brainwasher, Bare Jr.’s upcoming sophomore release, the follow-up to their well-received 1998 album Boo-Tay. On Saturday, Jan. 27, the band will be stopping by 328 Performance Hall as part of their current tour with Cowboy Mouth, and they will doubtless be favoring their hometown with a generous selection of material from both their new record (due in stores Feb. 13) and their debut.
The difference between the two is that Brainwasher all but abandons the country touchesinherited via Bare’s successful musician fatherthat flavored Boo-Tay. Instead, Bare Jr. roars out of the garage on Brainwasher with loud, frenetic hard rock. Bare’s guitar and Tracy Hackney’s electric dulcimer leak distortion and threaten to drown out Bare’s strangled howls on bouncy potential hits like “If You Choose Me” and “Why Do I Need a Job?,” while drummer Keith Brogdon pounds away as though he were trying to shake a stubborn piece of Scotch tape off his hands.
Brainwasher was produced by Sean Slade, a specialist in guitar crunch who’s worked with Buffalo Tom, Dinosaur Jr., Radiohead, and Uncle Tupelo. He’s “a punk-rock old-school guy,” according to Bare, who adds that when it comes to putting his band’s scorching live act on tape, “we leave it up to the engineers. We do a week in pre-production. We rehearse with the producer, and decide things like, ‘Let’s get to the bridge earlier.’ ” Otherwise, he counts on people like Slade to pull it off.
But Bare doesn’t leave everything up to the men at the boards. Brainwasher opens up with an orchestral overturegenerated by Bare’s pal, producer Brad Jonesthat presents a medley of melodies from the record. “That’s just me and Brad Jones,” Bare says. “Just to set a tone of ridiculousness. Let folks know that perversion is a part of what’s upcoming.”
Bare also toys with the best way to wrap up his songs. Up until the moment the track is laid down, Bare says, “we have three or four different endings in mind.” Sometimes the song fades out, sometimes it comes back, sometimes it kicks into high gear just as it’s concluding, and sometimes it just stops, because, according to Bare, “sometimes that’s the most relevant ending.” He says his careful approach to codas was inspired by The Police’s “No Time This Time,” from Reggatta De Blanc. “I always liked how, as it’s fading out, that song just starts hauling ass.”
The Police are just one of many unusual influences for a man who grew up as the son of a country star and plays in a band that is more beer-soaked than Brit-popping. Nevertheless, ask Bare what his current faves are and he answers: “I keep listening to my Blur CDs, and my Smiths.”
Perhaps someday the instrumental nuances of the bands he likes will temper Bare Jr.’s present bash-it-out approach; Bare says he had designs like that for Brainwasher. “I wanted to do a whole song with piano,” he sighs. “But you know, you’ve almost got to write the song on the piano to have it be a piano song when you record it. And I’ve never even tried.”
So Brainwasher remains rough-hewn, and full of sarcastic and/or ironic lyrics about Bare’s equally sloppy stabs at long-term romance; in fact, the album’s original working title was More Songs About Girls Who Don’t Like Me. The energized hilarity on “You Never Knew (I Lied)” and “Kiss Me (Or I Will Cry)” makes a sweet ballad like “Miss You the Most” sound somewhat less than sincere, and when asked whether these latest tunes are autobiographical, Bare chuckles and says, “I’m going to decline to keep from incriminating myself. If I say yes, my ex-girlfriend will get real angry. Although I guess I could blame it on the guy I cowrote it with.” Bare would rather poke fun than mope around anyway. He loves to play his nastier songs live, “Just to get a roomful of people to laugh along, so that they can see that the horrible awful things won’t seem so bad one day, even though they are.”
That constant indulgence of “perversion” and “ridiculousness” is evident from the artwork for Brainwasher, which features the band being terrorized by a man in a chicken suit. The photo shoot was developed into a full story in comic book form, which is available on the Web site www.barejr.net. And for the cover of the new disc, a sexy girl in white-trash apparel is squatting on the head of the fiendish chicken. “The one I wanted was her sitting on the chicken head and holding a raw fryer with blood dripping off of it,” Bare admits. “But I don’t really get my way all the time.”
Bare Jr. is not, despite the name, a monarchy. Bare says, “I’m signed as a solo act, but the guys get [a percentage of royalties].” But he wouldn’t have it any other way. “The camaraderie of being in a band is one of the best things about doing all this,” he says. “I’ve never had more fun. It’s just so creative.” Plus it’s more fun to share the good breaks with a group. When Bare Jr. found out that their songs were going to be featured in the movies Varsity Blues and Cruel Intentions, Bare says, “it was exciting...a lot of fun. As a band, we all [went] together [to see the films].” Then they waited together in the dark for their music to show up. Bare was particularly tickled by Cruel Intentions, in which “they put my song over the blow-job scene.”
The goodwill among men that Bare feels on the road only multiplies when he’s at home. “I’ve never felt such a sense of community,” Bare says, talking about the current state of the rock music scene in Nashville. He refers particularly to a recent benefit for the guys in Joe, Marc’s Brother, to help replace some stolen equipment. “Man, that night was like a big hug,” Bare says. He feels that the rising heat in Nashville “really ups the ante. Nobody wants to be the worst band of your peers.”
That’s Bare Jr.: constantly stirring up a Battle of the Bands, and certain of who’s bound to be the last act standing.
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