Bobby Bare Jr.
The duet he did with his father Bobby Bare earned Bobby Jr. a Grammy nomination at the age of five. Growing up in a household where frequent visitors included Johnny Cash and Hank Williams, Bare Jr. was bound to end up in music. History is overcrowded with lesser-talented kids of big rock celebs trying to capitalize on their family name without having anything of importance or consequence will say. But while space and time may make it hard for Bare Jr. to achieve the kind of status his father has earned for himself, there•s no denying the stunning quality of his musical output. His first two albums — Boo-tay (1998) and Brainwasher (2000) — were recorded under the Bare Jr. band moniker and presented a raunchy, grunge-y take on Southern death country. On 2002•s Young Criminals• Starvation League credit goes to Bobby Bare Jr., erasing all doubts about who•s in charge, and serving to underline Bare Jr.•s self-styled and inventive approach to music. The Lambchop-assisted Young Criminals is a spectacular Tex-Mex hybrid of indie folk and country rock, ’80s punk and ’90s alternative — and a huge leap forward from his previous releases. Ink 19 had the chance to catch up with Bobby Bare Jr. just as he is about to hit the road for treks across Europe and the US.
Ok, you went from Bare Jr. to Bobby Bare Jr., and now there•s something called The Young Criminals as well? Who is who and how does it all hang together?
Bare Jr. was a solo project with a band name, even though it sometimes was a lot like a band. Neither the bass player nor the drummer was in the band when I signed my first deal. Young Criminals is a short story I wrote that sounded good as a band name. Right now I like being a young criminal. I don•t know what•s going to happen in the future.
So what motivated the shift from Bare Jr. to Bobby Bare Jr., and from southern country rock to that more eclectic thing you•re doing these days?
I basically just wanted to dress my songs up in different clothes. It•s fun to explore these things.
With your family heritage and upbringing, it•s no wonder you ended up in music. But were you always heading in this direction, or did you first realize what you wanted to do later on?
I guess I have always been headed in this direction. But I graduated college while working on music, so that sidetracked things for a while… And it•s the only way I could get girls to talk to me.
For the curious among us — how was it, growing up in such a rich musical climate, among legends in music?
I am very lucky that my parents care about songwriters more than any other people in the world. Those are the only people they ever had hanging out with us at home. It is and it was great.
Do you think being the son of such a country star as Bobby Bare has helped or hindered your career in any ways?
Well, it•s not like my dad is Bob Dylan. Most people my age and younger have no idea who my dad is, so it•s not that great of an issue.
Your musical scope really started to show with the release of Young Criminals• Starvation League. Country rock is surely at the heart of what you•re doing, but there•s so much more going on as well. Where does all that come from?
You can really buy a Pixies album in Nashville, Tennessee, you know… It•s not all Porter Wagoner albums over at Tower Records. I got to see Black Flag and The Replacements when I was younger. In fact, Henry Rollins actually told me he was going to kick my ass at a show here in Nashville, so… I listened to everything but Nashville music growing up, but when I open my mouth I really am from Nashville, and when I sing it sounds that way. As a singer, I try to give the most sincere and natural version of myself that I have to offer. And that•s it.
So what are your thoughts on the blossoming alt-country scene?
I pay no attention to country, so I have no views on it. I like the music, but not the theme party. We do some shows with some alt-country bands that dress up like cowboys and rewrite some Hank songs, and that really just leaves me cold. I think it•s important to embrace the genre sincerely while molesting and sodomizing it all at the same time. It•s the only way to do something potentially original.
You cover both The Smiths and Shel Silverstein on your latest album. Would you say that you•re consciously trying to broaden your musical parameters or to challenge people•s conceptions about Bobby Bare Jr.?
No. I like both equally. There is no effort to broaden the parameters, it•s just having fun with music. I would hope it showed on the previous albums that I liked those artists — we have covered Smiths songs for a long time, and I co-wrote a song with Shel for the first album.
I haven•t had the opportunity to see you live yet, but something tells me that•d be a pretty cool experience. Do you think of yourself as more of a studio artist or a live act?
I•m a live performer. I love to play live. The studio for me is just a different type of performance.
Bobby Bare Jr. will visit Europe in January, tour the US in late February through March, and return to Europe for more tours following that. Plans include writing and recording an album as they•re traveling around. Meanwhile, Young Criminals• Starvation League is out on Bloodshot Records and is definitely worth checking out.