December 28, 2017 Interview – Chris Barron of Spin Doctors
In a world where there are constant pressures put forth by mainstream media, social networks, and just angry mobs, is there any reprieve? Yes there is, and it comes in the form of music! Leader of the beloved Alternative Rock band Spin Doctors, Chris Barron believes in the power of song and continues to lean on it as he approaches the half-century mark. Initially joining Spin Doctors in the late ’80s, Barron would become the voice and face of a band that would launch the band into superstardom with 1991’s Pocket Full of Kryptonite.
Still going strong all these years later, Barron continues to expand on his musical journey with his latest solo album, Angels and One-Armed Jugglers, as he plans for more excitement in the future. Recently we caught up with Barron to talk the wild early days of Spin Doctors, the work put into Angels and One-Armed Jugglers, the chaos that is the world, plus much more.
CrypticRock.com – You have been involved in music most of your life. From the major success of Spin Doctors in the early ’90s to your more recent solo material, you certainly have kept busy. First, tell us, what has this wild ride of Rock-n-Roll been like for you?
Chris Barron – God. It was nuts. We were traveling constantly for about seven or eight years… I mean, I probably never spend more than a week in one place from the age of 19 to 27. I’ve been lucky. I fell in with some very talented people at an early age. People like John Popper of the Blues Traveler and some really great music teachers like Arnie Lawrence. Music and show business make for a fulfilling and interesting life. Part of it is traveling, meeting lots of people, seeing new places, and part of it is pretty contemplative… practicing, writing, working on what you do.
CrypticRock.com – It sounds like a crazy, but very cool experience. As mentioned, The Spin Doctors had a great deal of success. The band’s 1991 debut album, Pocket Full of Kryptonite, has gone 5 times platinum! Looking back, what was over 25 years, what was that time like for you and the band?
Chris Barron – As you can imagine, it was very intense. It was before cell phones so there were times it was kind of lonely and isolating, but at the same time, every day something was happening. The song was bouncing up the charts, we would hit some sales milestone, the band would have a big fight… we had a lot of fun and we saw the world. I think my big takeaway from that part of my life is having nothing to prove. My Stepmom used to say I was going to die in a gutter. I guess we showed her.
CrypticRock.com – (Laughs) Absolutely! The Spin Doctors went on to release several albums through the 1990s, but then did not put out a new record until 2005, and then again in 2013. Over that time, the band’s sound always seemed to progress stylistically. As an artist, is it important for you to have that creative freedom?
Chris Barron – It is. In my case, the hardest person to wrest that freedom from has been myself. When I was a kid, I wrote in this very free kind of way. After the band had a big hit, it took me a long time to stop trying to have another one and just write like a kid again.
CrypticRock.com – That has to add a lot of pressure. Speaking of new music, you recently released a solo album, entitled Angels and One-Armed Jugglers, back in October of this year. This album comes across as a very organic and smooth progression. What was the writing and recording process like?
Chris Barron – I began this project with a huge backlog of material. That was kind of luxurious. I came up with title, Angels And One-Armed Jugglers, relatively early in the process so I selected songs that fit into that oddball theme and ended up with this eclectic little set of tunes that hang together in a wonderful, eccentric sort of way. Roman Klun, the producer of Angels And One-Armed Jugglers, and I felt like we had some excellent material so a big part of the process was working until the playback made the hair stand up on our arms.
CrypticRock.com – You had mentioned the record thematically touches on the chaos that is the world, but also is quite personal to you. Tell us a little bit about some of the inspiration behind the tracks included on the album?
Chris Barron – The title track is about a neighbor of mine back in the day. Adelaide lived next-door to me when I had a little apartment on Waverley Place in Manhattan. I was driving across the 59th St. bridge and thinking about how she would probably be 120 by now.
There are definitely a few dead people on this record… My old friend Bobby Sheehan, the bass player of Blues Traveler and my childhood friend, for example. The last track, “Too Young To Fade,” is about him. He was this magic figure in my life, the guy who dared me to move to New York City, the guy who dared me to live the life I live now. So… those are the Angels. I was coming off a paralyzed vocal cord while I was making this record so, I’m the one-armed juggler.
CrypticRock.com – Very interesting, and the stories behind the songs certainly add to it all. There are a lot of textures in each of these songs. Best of all, the production keeps it simple. Do you think sometimes it is best to pull back when producing an album to let the music itself breath?
Chris Barron – Always. You want the song to speak for itself. That being said, some songs are like a little still life painting of a lemon and an orange in a little bowl. Some songs are more like landscapes with mountains and skies.
CrypticRock.com – Right. On the topic of society and its breakdown, it seems people are at each other’s throats more than ever. It is quite exhausting to even log on to social media sometimes. That said, it is important to maintain a sense of humor, but most of all, start listening to one another rather than just ‘talking.’ Would you agree?
Chris Barron – I would. I’m grateful to be a musician and songwriter because I can come at the social problems from a more oblique, metaphorical angle and say what I want to say with pictures and emotions rather than rhetoric. My tune, “Raining Again,” for example, is that tune about climate change, the constant pressure of the 24 hour news cycle, or the fundamental truth that life is a siege of trouble punctuated by the briefly grasped straws of joy and relief? You tell me. I’m not sure. Probably all of them and more.
CrypticRock.com – Well, leaving a topic open to interpretation and allowing listeners to develop their own opinions is very much becoming. Too many artists are looking to shove something down your throat more often than not. As a songwriter, you have always shown different faces. You have Blues, Folk, and Rock influences laced throughout your music. What are some of your earliest influences musically, and nowadays, what newer music do you dig?
Chris Barron – I love The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Paul Simon, Bob Marley, Toots and the Maytals, Led Zeppelin, The Who… all that Classic Rock stuff. I also like Mose Allison and Cole Porter, Rogers and Hammerstein… musical theater. I’m song freak. I like Haim these days, as well as Whitney and the Front Bottoms.
CrypticRock.com – Those are all great selections! You have a few shows lined up into January of 2017. Could we expect more solo shows and possible Spin Doctors dates for 2018?
Chris Barron – Yes! I’ll be out doing solo shows playing stuff from the new record and Spin Doctors favorites interpreted for the voice and solo guitar. Also, The Spin Doctors are still playing together really well with the original lineup.
CrypticRock.com – All great news and something to look forward to. Last Question. CrypticRock.com covers music as well as Horror/Sci-Fi films. If you are a fan of Horror or Sci-Fi films, what are some of your favorites in these genres? If you like neither genre, what genre of film do you enjoy?
Chris Barron – I’m a big fan of Alfred Hitchcock. He invented such a cool photography vocabulary and he is such a great storyteller. I like movies like The Sixth Sense (1999) where the fear comes from a great story. I’m not crazy about gore and sadistic stuff where it’s all about torturing people and chopping people up. I like John Ford, Akira Kurosawa, film noir and Westerns like Winchester ’73 (1950) and Stagecoach (1939).