Mr. Barber’s ghosts

Queen’s grad comes home for Halloween show

Former philosopher Matthew Barber is back with a new bad, The Spades and the more mature album Ghost Notes.
Former philosopher Matthew Barber is back with a new bad, The Spades and the more mature album Ghost Notes.

When I walked into the Journal house to get cozy with indie-rock musician Matthew Barber, I brought two hot chocolates. I was wary: what if he’s diabetic? This is loaded with sugar. Should I have brought a tea instead? Since Matthew Barber is careening wildly upwards in Canada’s thriving indie scene, I began to have doubts whether or not he even drank hot chocolate—probably some kind of space age liquid that involves crystals. At any rate, I was extremely disappointed to discover that the interview would be one that takes place over a telephone.

Don’t get me wrong, the interview went swimmingly, I thought—it’s just that I wanted to meet this hailed son of songwriting in person and have a musical chat. But due to his relentless touring schedule we were forced to converse from a van—barreling east from a gig in Montreal to his old stomping ground in Kingston.

“I love coming back to Kingston, feels a little bit like a second home to me. Besides Toronto … I’ve got so many memories of Kingston,” Barber said.

While Barber usually plays The Grad Club in Kingston, his venue this Friday will be the gritty Merchant Tap House near the docks. The Queen’s philosophy major went off to McMaster to get his MA before seriously pursuing a career in music.

His stop in Kingston on All Hallows Eve is part of his cross-Canada tour promoting his latest album Ghost Notes—a delightfully festive and appropriate album title for the show. This tour also marks a second tour for the album, which was released not from his previous major label Warner but from a smaller, more independent Canadian label, Outside Records.

“Warner was fun, but it was a big bureaucracy. It’s better to work with a few people who are really excited about your music,” he said.

Barber’s major Warner release The Story of Your Life was met well critically, but was often accused of being over produced and too pre-fabricated. Fortunately for Barber, Outside Records offer their musicians more creative freedom and a promising future in the Canadian scene.

“Outside is a great indie label,” he said.

“They were a distribution company for a long time. …They just put more emphasis on the music”.

Let’s face it, nowadays when everyone and their Uncle Terrance are working on careers as solo indie musicians, it’s important to keep it real and make a genuine impression as an artist. With Ghost Notes, Barber has done just that. His critically proclaimed “most mature album” has received acres of acclaim. The album showcases Barber’s incredible abilities as a songwriter, and his broad, rustic musical accoutrements. Each track is cleverly wrought; tough yet emotionally charged and executed with precise, un-pretentious musicianship.

A fusion between country-folk, rock and blues, Ghost Notes is what would happen if Patsy Cline and Hank Williams were hanging out at a barn party where Wolf Parade were providing entertainment, Wilco were the bartenders and Bob Dylan and Jill Barber were hanging out by a Jukebox, arguing whether or not to play Tom Petty or The Racconteurs. They’re all there, and golly, are they ever having a good time.

“Certain people have always been a big influence in my music,” Barber said.

This includes his quite notable younger sister Jill Barber, recently a Juno nominated ‘Artist of the Year.’ Jill has some country influences as well but with some more Broadway thrown into the mix.

Man, things are looking up for the Barbers.

“We didn’t really come from a very musical family … but we got into a lot of the same music, and we both started playing the guitar.”

The two recently finished their Sibling Revelry Tour.

“Fifty per cent of the people who read Sibling Revelry automatically assumed it read Sibling Rivalry.”

“It’s interesting how your brain processes preconceived ideas and jumps to the negative.” So after the East to West Ghost Notes tour with the Spades, Matthew and his sister Jill are off to Oceania for a tour of Australia’s major cities to promote their sound.

“It’s new ground, nobody has any preconceived ideas about our music, it’s like a blank slate,” he said.

Eastern Australia’s growing indie-folk culture should promise a warm reception for the Barbers. It’s about time these two went international.

Closer to home, though, is Matthew Barber’s Halloween set at the Merchant Tap House. Will he be dressed for the occasion? Only time will tell.

“I might have couple of tricks up my sleeve ... We might play a song or something, I don’t know,” he said.

“We have a lot of time to think on the road.”

Matt Barber plays with The Spades tonight at The Merchant.

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