Sibling rivals find their harmony

Queen’s grads Jill and Matthew Barber return to the city that’s close to their heart

Though Matt and Jill Barber don’t usually jam at family reunions, Jill said they inspire each other to work hard at their craft.
Though Matt and Jill Barber don’t usually jam at family reunions, Jill said they inspire each other to work hard at their craft.

Most family road trips spell disaster. But if you’re Jill and Matt Barber, it means nothing but good times and music on the road. The siblings, who’ve established themselves and toured as musicians independently of each other over the past few years, are now teaming up for their first-ever combined cross-country tour. You would think for a brother and sister who both attended Queen’s, got their starts at The Grad Club and went on to musical careers, there would be some lingering competition or rivalry issues lurking back stage, but unlike most families in the limelight, the Barbers have a pretty stable relationship and mutual respect for each other’s music.

“[The only sense of sibling rivalry] is of us subconsciously pushing one another to write better songs and stay busy as a songwriter. That’s just a healthy sort of thing,” Matt said.

Music in the family seems to have had a positive impact on the siblings, fuelling and prompting each other to write.

“He’s the reason I started playing music. He encouraged me to pick up the guitar and write songs at a time when not a lot of girls were playing music—it seemed like a boy’s game. My brother encouraged me and he was a huge source of inspiration,” Jill said.

“He’s been my mentor in a lot of ways.”

Despite the major role they play in each other’s lives, the Barbers have been busy with their own music and haven’t had the opportunity to join forces beyond a few gigs together here and there. Jill and Matt live in Halifax and Toronto respectively and the distance was another factor making it difficult to orchestrate a duel effort on a larger scale. But with Matt’s upcoming album, Ghost Notes, finished and set for release on Tuesday and Jill still enjoying the afterglow of the recently Juno-nominated For All Time, it was finally the right time for this double-feature set of gigs. Joining them will be Les Couper on piano and Paul Matthew on upright bass to add a touch of accompaniment to the set.

“We haven’t been living in the same place for five years now. … It finally made sense to do a full cross-country tour together,” Matt said.

Though the two are set to play together on tour, they don’t actually jam together all that often.

“We kind of save [playing music together] for the times we’re on stage. … We definitely perform our songs for one another, when it’s in the developing stages after we’ve written it. We’ve bounced ideas off each other.”

The tour, affectionately called Sibling Revelry, hits Kingston. It’s a tour packed with memories for Matt and Jill, who graduated from Queen’s in the early 2000s.

“We’re both looking forward to going back to Kingston. It’s where we both found our feet. We both got our start performing live, so it’s a bit of homecoming for us,” Jill said.

“I’m a victim of nostalgia every time I come back. I’m already a pretty sentimental person and Kingston is a city that’s really close to my heart. You know, it always feels like coming home, especially returning to The Grad Club, where I played my first ever gig.” Since The Grad Club’s tiny stage has been well-worn by the Barbers, concert-goers can expect a relaxed and warm atmosphere, especially because connecting with the barroom crowd is something the Barbers know and love well.

“I’m into playing quieter shows [now] I think because I spent most of the last three or four years playing full rock band shows, which have been a lot of fun. I’m also really enjoying exploring the nuances of playing solo or minimal accompaniment. I’m finding a really good connection with the audience,” Matt said.

Jill has spent her musical career playing a variety of venues with audiences looking on from the plush seats of theatres or the stools of hole-in-the-wall clubs. “I love that I get to play in that range of places. I love playing in a big beautiful theatre where people are all seated and it’s dark and the spotlight is on me,” Jill said.

“It’s a real treat to play in that environment but I would never trade it for the club environment where people are right in front of the stage area and you can see their faces. There’s a real energy to club shows that I really feed off of.”

Poised to keep the musical momentum going, Matt will continue touring in support of Ghost Notes and Jill has written the material for her next record, so this touring marks a fun, family affair for the artists.

“I’d like to see more of the world through my music and I think she would, too,” Matt said. Jill and Matt Barber’s Sibling Revelry tour hits The Grad Club tonight. Tickets are sold out.

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