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Track By Track: The Barr Brothers’ Queens of the Breakers

Dean Budnick | October 13, 2017

“On all the other records, I’d pretty much written all the songs by myself, either in a bedroom or down in the studio. But, this time, we decided to try something different,” Brad Barr muses while tracing the creation of Queens of the Breakers, the third full-length record from The Barr Brothers. The Montreal-based singer/ guitarist explains that—along with his drumming sibling Andrew and harpist Sarah Page—on this album, they “decided to go off and see how we play together. It had been over seven years, and we decided to check back in with the three of us to see how we’d play together without any songs, to see if we can develop the music out of that. In the past, Andrew and Sarah and whoever else was in the band would tailor their approach to what the song called for, crafting their parts around a song that I wrote with a lot of room to be as impressionistic as they wanted to be. But this time, we wanted to develop the music out of that kind of playing instead of the inverse.”

DEFIBRILLATION (FEAT. LUCIUS)

This was the last song to be conceived, written and recorded for the album. Andrew’s opening drum beat was the impetus for the tune. Our mother had a small, not-really-consequential fall, but she needed stitches in her head. He went to the emergency room with her at 1 a.m., and overheard two EKG machines pulsing. They were lining up and then going out of sync, and then lining up. I assume that they were monitoring two patients on the wing. When we got back to Montreal, he was like, “I’m gonna try and make a beat based off of that.” He emailed that beat to me—we’d already started mixing the record— and I pinned the song on top of it really quickly. Then, we got the Lucius girls to sing the bridge and they just sent the song to the next level. It was the last tune to come to us and probably the one we spent the least amount of time laboring over.

LOOK BEFORE IT CHANGES

I wrote this one while I was working on a six-string ukulele that I brought with me to Mexico in the winter of 2015. Then, it all came together during our first session for the record. We went to this cabin in the woods of Northern Quebec and we were doing these improvisations and just trying things out. When we took a break, I tracked that little song just as is. For the first take, I sang and played the ukulele. The next time we took a break, Andrew went in and did a drum pass on it—pretty much just cymbals. And then, during the next break, we recorded Sarah.

We felt that we should just build this little song off on the side while we were writing the songs that were gonna be on our record. And it ended up being an easy and delightful experience. It feels really good and it reminds me of Lhasa de Sela, one of our friends from Montreal. She was an icon up here. Her voice was something just totally otherworldly and influential on all of us. Her band was The Barr Brothers band, minus me. She had Andrew on drums, Sarah on harp, our first bass player Miles [Perkin] and Joe Grass, who plays pedal steel with us. And then she got cancer in 2009, and she passed away on New Year’s Day 2010.