When the Martin Barre Band takes over Buffalo’s Sportsmen’s Tavern on Sept. 30, fans can expect to hear “Aqualung” and “Thick as a Brick” performed by one of the most distinctive guitarists to emerge from Birmingham during the 1960s. His oft-imitated style stood out at a time when Barre says “people all over England were playing really lousy imitations of B.B. King” and led to a magical partnership with Ian Anderson that lasted 43 years under the moniker Jethro Tull.
While Barre would be remiss not to incorporate Tull into his solo endeavors, his upcoming release, “Roads Less Travelled,” should be reason enough for someone to venture out to the club on a Sunday night. The 11-song offering is a stellar piece of modern prog that features all the melodic wizardry we’ve come to expect from the 71-year-old master, so, even if he decided to shun all things Tull for one evening, it would still make the list of western New York’s shows to see once the leaves begin to change.
I had the opportunity to speak with Barre recently about the project and how the demise of Jethro Tull actually rekindled his passion for new experiences. He’ll be in Buffalo on the same day that the Bills face the Packers at Lambeau Field, so, let’s face it, the city is going to need the brilliance of the Martin Barre Band to elevate its spirit.
MNOD: What was your creative process like for this album?
Barre: It’s still just doing what I love. I sit down and write music with the same approach that I’ve always had. I think I’ve made something more melodic and logical this time around, because some of the criticism in the past has revolved around being too complicated in my arrangements. I wrote all of the music first and the lyrics took a couple of months to bring up to where I wanted them to be.
MNOD: How do you think you’ve grown as a songwriter since your initial solo release?
Barre: I hope that I’ve gotten much better. I like to think that I’ve learned from my mistakes and made a more fluid finished project with this album. I have no regrets about any of my past releases, but this one is probably more accessible than my previous work. The complex nature of my music is such that people will always say that it’s over-complicated when it’s really just how I’ve always made music.
MNOD: How has your opinion of the album as a construct changed throughout the years?
Barre: I wrote a piece of music as a gift to a friend once, but that’s the closest I’ve ever come to creating something as a one-off project. I don’t write on the fly when I’m out on the road, so sitting down in the studio with a pencil, paper, and my guitar is still the best way to go. My projects are meant to be listened to in their entirety as opposed to picking out singles, because every song flows into the next. I love working every day on a project and establishing a routine for myself. I wake up, have coffee, and get to work. I don’t look at it as a chore. It’s good to have your brain cells rested in between, but the ideas just come readily when I structure my day around writing.
MNOD: Becca Langsford’s lead vocals really stand out on this album. How do you feel about her performance here?
Barre: I had no plans for her to sing lead on the album, but I decided to have her give it a shot and was blown away when I heard what it sounded like. I just said ‘Wow.’ It’s always a shot in the dark when you’re laying down vocals in the studio, because you never know how good something really is until it’s finished. Even with Dan, I’ve always given him a lot of leeway to change lyrics if something isn’t flowing as well I initially thought.
MNOD: Your soloing has always felt more melodic than simply playing as many notes as possible. What do you think makes an effective guitar solo?
Barre: I could sit in the studio jamming on something by Joe Bonamassa and play as fast as possible, but I’m not particularly interested in that. My music has never been solely about the guitar. It’s about the arrangements, harmonizing, and melodic construction of the material. Clapton with Cream and Hendrix were the players that I always liked, because they crafted solos that were as hummable as they were complex.
MNOD: Your upcoming date at the Sportsmen’s Tavern will mark your third consecutive year playing the venue. What do you enjoy about playing the Buffalo area?
Barre: We enjoy touring the coast of Lake Erie and Ontario. It’s a great area and the audiences are always really strong. I just love being near the water. I’m sure we’ll go see Niagara Falls, as well, but being near the water in general carries a very romantic notion for me. Also, the Erie Canal gives the city a character of its own.
MNOD: Do you still enjoy touring?
Barre: It’s my lifeblood and what I do. I’ll probably always be a gigging musician. It’s very demanding, but also very rewarding to establish that connection with the audience. It isn’t something I take lightly. I have people who come to hear my solo stuff as well as fans who are crazy about Tull, so there are some interesting dynamics at play. I’ve always felt that music is meant to be played live, and, if I spend six months working on a CD, I’m excited to share it with people.
MNOD: Given how Jethro Tull ended, do you feel as if there is any unfinished business with the band?
Barre: Not at all. We’ve closed the door with all of its rusty hinges. Moving on has given me a lot of freedom and the end of Tull was a new beginning for me. It was a little emotionally negative to realize it was over, but I don’t think it’s necessary to revisit. I’m always examining the catalog and deciding which songs to incorporate into my own set. I was listening to War Child the other day, which is great. Next year will be 50 years since “Stand Up” was released and there’s a lot of good stuff there, as well. If you’re asking me to be honest, I think the albums after “Crest of a Knave” are the weakest, because they just weren’t on the same level as the earlier work. The thing with Tull was that we were expected to deliver good music and that can sometimes be a lot to live up to after a while. Ian has certainly remained prolific, so, if I can produce a tenth of the music he has, I’ll be happy.
MNOD: Fans have been clamoring for Jethro Tull to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for quite some time now. Is that something you’ve thought about at all?
Barre: The Martin Barre Band played a show in Cleveland not too long ago and I went to the Hall of Fame, which is an amazing place. I used to think that they were just biased and always wrong, but I don’t feel that way anymore. I think their heart is in the right place. I would certainly attend the induction and be proud to be there, but it may not happen in my lifetime.
MNOD: Is there anything you’d like to accomplish before your career is over?
Barre: I would like to have my band playing big venues again. We’re coming up on the 50th anniversary of Tull in America and that’s going to be a big show. We might play clubs forever, but the industry is a business and I would like to be able to put money back into the band. I love the gigs and I love the band, but I want to get back to the larger venues complete with a greater production value. At the end of the day, finances are a major part of keeping the machine running.
The Martin Barre Band will be at the Sportsmen’s Tavern on Sept. 30.
“Roads Less Travelled” is out Oct. 19 on Cleopatra Records