Anton Barbeau | Interview | “I like making albums that are a little bit confusing!”

Uncategorized November 30, 2023

Anton Barbeau | Interview | “I like making albums that are a little bit confusing!”

Prolific psychedelic pop artist Anton Barbeau recently released a new double album, ‘Morgenmusik / Nachtschlager’ via Think Like A Key (USA) and Gare du Nord (UK), as well as ‘Polynormal AB,’ another oddball collection of songs.

The songs on Barbeau’s recent record ‘Morgenmusik / Nachtschlager’ are culled from three feverish writing sessions. In 2022, Barbeau made two trips to Berlin, where he’d lived for nine years before the pandemic. The first batch of songs was written in ten days in Berlin, a second batch was whipped up back in California, and yet a third batch was penned on a return trip to Berlin. The results are staggering: a whimsical and, frankly, wonderfully weird double album, full of quirky power-pop, fuzz-drenched acid-rock, freak folk, hard left into world music and krautrock, fictional advertisements, and psychedelic funk. As is typical with an Anton album, musical guests constitute a range of personal heroes and longtime friends. Colin Moulding of XTC adds harmony vocals and Chamberlin tracks. Andy Metcalfe and Morris Windsor, formerly of Robyn Hitchcock’s Soft Boys/Egyptians (and Barbeau’s erstwhile bandmates in Three Minute Tease), reunite as a formidable rhythm section on ‘Morgenmusik’. Superstar drummer Michael Urbano (Lindsey Buckingham, Todd Rundgren), a longtime fixture on Barbeau’s albums, appears on several songs; Julian Cope guitarist/producer Donald Ross Skinner brings psychedelic flavour to a number of tracks. Peter Daltrey, of ‘60s UK psych legends Kaleidoscope, adds spoken word.

Anton Barbeau

“I like making albums that are a little bit confusing!”

It’s really fantastic to have you. You have a brand new double album out. How much time and effort went into creating ‘Morgenmusik / Nachtschlager’?

Anton Barbeau: I’m very happy to be here – thanks for having me. The songs and the recording of this album, including almost a third album’s worth of outtakes, came together quite quickly. I wrote the first batch of songs in Berlin in March 2022 – 14 songs in 10 days – which even for me was lightning fast. Once I knew I was making a new album, the songs kept flowing out. Almost a year to the day, in March 2023, we mastered the album. One year! And while there was very much effort put in, I can describe it as “effortless effort.” This was an album that simply wanted to be made!

Where was the album recorded and what can you tell us about the recording and producing part of the record?

I kept some bits from the Berlin demos, but most of the recording I was directly involved in took place back in California. I really wanted to make an album with people, in a studio. Some of that work took place in Nevada City, some in Sacramento and some in my home studio in Auburn. Still, there are musical contributions from all over the world, with people sending me tracks from England, India, Germany et cetera. While the writing of this album was almost invisible, the recording and production were very much in color! Being able to be loud with guitars and drums was wonderful after a pandemic’s worth of drum machines and tiny guitar amps. I always like to play with sounds… the old Beatles trick of making a piano sound like a guitar, but taken to extremes. And there are all sorts of “found sounds” on the album… a drunk Hungarian on a train singing “Happy Birthday” to a bunch of German men and a group of women chanting in a church in Prague are mixed together in the same song.

You had some truly impressive musicians being part of it. The album features a range of personal heroes and longtime friends, including Colin Moulding of XTC, Andy Metcalfe of The Soft Boys, and Bryan Poole of Elf Power and of Montreal. What was it like working with all these people?

I’ve worked with these people before, and I should add Morris Windsor, a Soft Boy with Andy, and Donald Ross Skinner, erstwhile Julian Cope producer/guitarist, are also on the album. This particular gang have all played vital roles in albums that had a massive influence on me. Having these guys on the same album – on the same SONG in some cases – is a thrill. I’ve worked on and off with Morris for years now, but this is the first time in years I’ve worked with Andy. Having the two of them together again is magic. Musically, they each and all add something unique. Each of these folks always knows what’s best for the song but they also always bring their distinct personality to anything they do. I can add that of this specific gang, Colin Moulding and Andy Metcalfe tended to be the most involved with their parts. There was a lot of back and forth over email about what might work or what could be changed. The other guys simply sent me tracks and said “Hope this fits!”

Was there a certain concept behind your album? How do you see the overall vision of the album and songs featured on it?

The album started as a blank slate. When I first got back to Berlin, I had the apartment to myself for 10 days and I simply started writing. I was generally up early and with my discovery of a book of poems by Frank O’Hara, I started to see a theme. I stole the title Morgenmusik from O’Hara, who, in turn, took it from Paul Hindemith. The second half of the double album, Nachtschlager, was meant to speak (or sing?) to the darker, seedier image of Berlin, though as I’ve said before, the truth for me is that I spent most of my Friday nights stoned at home watching Schlager on TV, hence the name of the album. I’d wanted to bring an Iggy Pop/’Idiot’ vibe into the mix, but I’m not Iggy it turns out! Amidst all the Berlin songs are many songs written in California on my wife’s farm. Not that all these songs are full of golden light – ‘Coming Clean’ and ‘I Demand A Dream’ are on the darker side – but there is a nice balance of yin/yang across the varied material.

Would you share your insight on the albums’ tracks?

As is pretty typical of my albums, there’s a range of styles and sounds. Psychedelic country, prog, pure pop, impure pop, electronic, noise, dumb rock and things I don’t know how to name. I’m satisfied with the way the album flows, song to song. There are a number of imaginary adverts and pretend radio jingles scattered between the songs. I like making albums that are a little bit confusing! My ideas about making psychedelic music aren’t very traditional, but I always make sure my albums are very friendly in the headphones.

What’s next for you now? Are you planning to play some shows?

Yeah, we’re in the midst of a few gigs promoting the album. We just played a wonderful gig in San Francisco the other night, and the next afternoon my band played an outdoor concert in the university town Davis, California. We play my hometown of Sacramento next week. My father is very ill so I’ve been staying close. I cancelled concerts in Berlin, Estonia and the UK. Meanwhile, I’ve built a studio in my basement and have been rocking out in the dungeon, working on new songs. I’m recording new versions of two songs from this album for a Spanish label.

As a multi-instrumentalist, do you see that as an advantage as you can create music with different instruments?

I made a point of not playing bass or drums on ‘Morgenmusik,’ cos I wanted a proper band vibe for the album. In contrast, the new record I’m working on, to be called either ‘PolyNormal’ or ‘Lemon & Onions’ (not sure yet!), is all me on every instrument. I’m not a virtuoso… I’m good at the instruments I play but not great. Still, I’m always learning and developing and I can play well enough to present my songs decently. Mostly, I just enjoy being able to make music in any way possible… loud guitars or dumb drums or plonky piano… and synths! I’m a synth obsessive! Tech is an instrument to me… computers are a writing tool but are also now one of the main ways I make exciting messes.

Would love it if you could talk about your background. Where did you grow up and how did you first get interested in music?

I was born in 1967 in Sacramento, California. I was a Beatles baby, also listening to my parents’ Doors, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Simon & Garfunkel records.

At age 13, I was hit by the new wave/punk thing. It was Gary Numan that made me want to be a musician. My dad bought me the first Casiotone keyboard, the 201, and I started writing songs immediately. A crazy thing is that the first song I ever wrote, ‘Come Back,’ was re-recorded for ‘Morgenmusik/Nachtschlager’. I even found another Casiotone 201 to use on the song. When I was very little, I remember hearing a song with my mother on her car radio. We didn’t know what the song was and I feel like I’ve spent my life trying to track it down, this archetypal mystery song. I think that ‘Waiting On The Radio’ is the song I’ve spent my life searching for. There are a lot of energies like that on this album for me.

“I loved punk but “identified” as new wave!”

If we were to visit your teenage room, what kind of records, books, fanzines and posters would we find there?

The Beatles, XTC, Devo, Ultravox, Sex Pistols LPs. It was too cheap to buy loads of punk records, so you’d find Black Flag and Dead Kennedys dubbed onto cassette. I loved punk but “identified” as new wave! You’d find copies of Keyboard magazine, and some C. S. Lewis sci-fi books. My radio was tuned to KDVS, the college station nearby. I found my Sex Pistols poster crammed into a drawer in my dad’s basement a few weeks ago, but I have zero idea where my precious Beatles posters went!

How would you describe the scene there? Did you see a lot of bands? Do you have a hangout place where you listen to new music with your friends?

I live in a small town called Auburn now, with a few biker bars and a “Christian” coffeeshop. Sometimes there’s a guy who sets up his drum kit in the town square and plays along to Bob Marley records. I’ve done a few piano jazz gigs for money in a local art gallery, but I’m not tuned to any far-out music scene here.

I moved to England in 2006 and toured there constantly, always excited to meet amazing musicians. I moved to Berlin in 2011 and while I don’t think I ever fit into a scene, I loved the staggering diversity I encountered. I would go out often to see music and art. My new record was recorded partly in Nevada City, a place with a very magical vibe. I’m hoping to turn my basement studio into a scene of its own, a place I can invite people over to listen to albums and maybe to do intimate concerts as well as recording sessions. My wife Julia and I are always excited to find new music though she probably keeps her ears and eyes wider than I do.

What would you say were some of the most essential records for you that inspired you and at the same time made you who you are today?

To pick just a few that really hit me hard… ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ and the first US Beatles album, ‘Meet The Beatles’. Gary Numan’s ‘Cars’ single and his ‘Telekon’ album. ‘Bringing It All Back Home’ was the Dylan album that turned me into a freak fan of his songs. ‘English Settlement’ by XTC, ‘Element Of Light’ by Robyn Hitchcock and the Egyptians and ‘Peggy Suicide’ by Julian Cope each had impact that affects me still. The first Can record I owned was a bootleg called ‘Radio Waves’. I hated it at first, but once it clicked, voom! You can imagine that there are hundreds more albums that left a huge mark on me… ‘The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter’ by The Incredible String Band, ‘Scary Monsters’ by David Bowie, ‘Hounds of Love’ by Kate Bush… on and on and on!

Thank you for taking your time. Last word is yours.

Very happy to be here! Thank you for giving me a space to talk about music. One funny thing that occurred to me during this interview… I so strongly believe in the archetypal idea of the pure, perfect pop single. But also, I’m an album guy. Fitting one track after the next and trying to tell a sonic story excites me and I can’t stop doing it. That I can make these records with musical heroes of mine, as well as friends and even strangers is thrilling and humbling. Onward!

Klemen Breznikar

Anton Barbeau Official Website / Facebook / Instagram / Twitter / Bandcamp
Think Like A Key Music Official Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram / Bandcamp / YouTube
Gare du Nord Official Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram / Bandcamp

Anton Barbeau – ‘Oh The Joys We Live For’ (2021)

Anton Barbeau – ‘Manbird’ (2020)

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