Bobby Bare Jr. touts his new Young Criminals Starvation League album The Longest Meow as “11 tracks recorded by 11 musicians in 11 hours.” But when pressed, Bare admits those numbers are a little fudged. There are 12 tracks on the record, one of which is an acoustic cover of the Pixies’ “Where Is My Mind,” recorded solo by Bare before the daylong session even began; another is a 20-second intro to the first song, “The Heart Bionic.” So call it 10 tracks, really, and even those were extensively demoed by Bare with My Morning Jacket’s Patrick Hallahan and Carl Broemel, then rehearsed by YCSL. There were some after-the-fact overdubs and vocal fixes, so The Longest Meow didn’t really come together over one long inspired day in the studio.
It doesn’t really matter, though, because what’s important is the spirit of the project, and what it means to a singer-songwriter-rocker who’s never been a studio rat. Bare remembers the making of Boo-Tay, the first album he made with his scorching Southern rock band Bare Jr.
“We did it at Ocean Way,” he says. “A whole week of basic tracks and then two weeks of overdubs and vocals. Then we mixed for a week or two. And by the end of that month or so, I was sick of hearing the songs. And it sounds like we over-thunk it. And I don’t wanna overthunk it.”
By contrast, the first two YCSL albums were recorded in about a week, with band members hearing material the first time on the day they recorded it. The Longest Meow, Bare says, is “just a little bit different.”
“We didn’t even use headphones on a lot of it,” he says. “It was just recorded live in the room. I think I’m better when I just toss it out there quickly. I mean, there are a lot of different ideas we worked into the mix. Plus it was kind of a challenge, and a lot of fun. Jim James from My Morning Jacket came down and sang some, and my dad was there. You know, a lot of people hanging around and stuff. It was super.”
Could Bare fancy himself as a Billy Corgan or Jeff Tweedy, spending months on the painstaking arrangement of songs and the precise sound of the instruments? Bare laughs that idea off. “I’m just not as good as they are,” he says.
But anyone who spends time with The Longest Meow would beg to differ. Since shifting from the hard-edged boogie pyrotechnics of Bare Jr. to the more nimble, poppy sound of YCSL, Bare has found a style to suit his voice’s sugary twang. Now he skips through the mariachi/honky-tonk hybrid “Back to Blue” and the throwaway surf-shouter “Uh Wuh Oh” with equal ease. And when he comes across more substantial songs like the jaunty but mean “Snuggling World Championships” and the near-epic rocker “Borrow Your Cape,” he shifts between tender and gruff from verse to chorus.
But what’s most remarkable about Bare’s songs is how effortlessly catchy they are, even when he’s defying conventional rock/pop/country structures, or sticking in a weird song with a goofy title like “Mayonaise Brain.” His is a sensibility that supports quirkiness with melody. The only real curiosity about Bare’s career to date is that he hasn’t yet become a big name in modern rock—the kind of artist whose every album is awaited with the eager anticipation that greets the latest from Spoon or The Shins.
When asked his opinion on the matter, Bare shrugs. “You know, there was a time when Son Volt was more popular than Wilco. There was a time when The New Pornographers were opening up for Bare Jr., and a time when My Morning Jacket was playing with us at The Slow Bar, and no one knew who they were. Honestly, I just think it’s a matter of waiting my turn. I think the way it all works is that people just happen to be looking in one direction or another, and all of a sudden, they’re looking in your direction. I think my time will come. I really do.” Bare takes a breath, then laughs. “Maybe I have too much patience.”