“I’m just trying to follow my ears,” says Canadian singer-songwriter Del Barber, referring to the equipment he used to record his fourth album, Prairieography (True North Records). Those words also apply to a unique location Barber chose that tied together his sonic sensibilities as well as the album’s lyrical theme.
For the first time in his career, Barber worked with both analog and digital recording equipment. The rhythm section and vocals were tracked with the former, and overdubs were done with the latter.
As for the analog side of things, Barber says, “I was worried about it because there was more pressure to perform well, to get good takes because we were doing most of it live. But it ended up being more fun because there was that bit of excitement; you can’t do as many takes as you want. And everyone has to play together, so there’s a sense of community, I think, when it happens.”
Barber says a communal connection was also made when he and his backing musicians spent about 30 hours on a farm in the Canadian Prairies region, setting up microphones in various structures with the hopes of recording reverb.
“It’s about a five-minute drive from where I grew up,” he explains. “Our bands have always rehearsed in that hayloft there, so it’s a really close-to-home place. I grew up around all of this infrastructure; a lot of it isn’t used anymore, and there’s a lot of amazing sonic locations.”
They hit pay dirt inside a grain silo.
“It was filled with pigeon crap, and we’re hanging these ridiculously expensive microphones at different levels,” Barber recalls. “And I’m the guy climbing up and down this old three-bar ladder, trying to please the engineer, trying to make it sound like something he can use.”
Barber sums up the silo project as “a chance for us to spend time together in a different atmosphere that lends itself to the record, just trying to make that connection literal instead of just a figurative, metaphoric connection to rural realities.”
With Prairieography, Barber says he wasn’t necessarily writing about his life in the Canadian plains. But he did set out to tell specific stories that have universal qualities to them.
“You can apply them to more situations than just one particular geography,” he adds. “That’s sort of how I’m attempting to connect the urban to the rural, and vice versa. Because I float between those two worlds — that’s my life, really. So trying to be specific enough that people can see themselves in the story or that character.”
In the process, Barber took some liberties with the folks he’d met and subsequently based the songs around. “I can’t say I know them particularly well,” Barber says. “Most of the time it’s romanticized versions of some people’s lives, making mundane things feel a little more holy.”
He adds, “I guess the goal is to learn to value difference as we make our way through the world, instead of siding with likeminded people. Our lives become pretty homogenous when we don’t allow ourselves to be around differences. To have some respect for the other — I think that’s the reason I write songs.”
— By Chris M. Junior
Del Barber on tour (schedule subject to change):
* May 25: The Ice House — Minneapolis
* May 27: The Ark — Ann Arbor, Mich.
* May 29: Elbo Room — Chicago
* June 5: McGonigel’s Mucky Duck — Houston
* June 6: Cactus Café — Austin, Texas
* June 7: Luckenbach Dance Hall — Fredericksburg, Texas
* June 9: Saxon Pub — Austin, Texas