Its almost noon, and Bobby Bare Jr. is cruising around Seattle, looking for a cup of coffee. This is confusing, dangerous, and complicated, he mutters, determined to find a jolt of caffeine, which, in Seattle, should be simple. But life for Bare Jr. isnt often quite as easy as it seems on the surface.
Take his music career, which began with a bang: Bare Jr. received his first Grammy nod at age 5. The song was a duet with his father, country music veteran Bobby Bare. The duo also performed at the Grand Ole Opry on its closing night at Nashvilles fabled Ryman Auditorium. But as he grew older, Bare Jr. decided to go against the grain, and he forged ahead in rock-and-roll.
Able to live anywhere, hes nevertheless made Nashville the seat of modern country music his home, even though making rock music in the Tennessee capital is akin to ordering a cup of decaf in downtown Seattle. But hes played with the big boys Sony and Virgin and hes eked out a nice living for himself as an indie artist on the respectable Bloodshot Records roster.
The worst music in the entire world is made in Nashville, but its home, he says. Like everybody else who lives there, I embrace it with one hand, but twist, fondle, and molest it with the other. I hate my city, he mock-groans. I love my city.
Its a sentiment he explored on his last album, 2004s From the End of Your Leash. The hills are filled with naked Hee-Haw honeys who all sing along in perfect harmony/The worlds greatest living guitar pickers can deliver you a pizza or sell you weed, Bare sings on Visit Me in Music City, the lyrics delivered with a perfectly pitched, acerbic wit.
Its really that way there, he insists, describing how he discovered guitarist David Steel a sideman for John Prine and Lucinda Williams while getting some work done on his van.
Nashville sucks, but there are so many cheap studios there, and you can get any piece of gear worked on at any hour of the day or night, Bare says. And there are more talented guys per capita in Nashville than anywhere else on earth, he adds triumphantly.
Yet Bare has spent the better part of a decade shaking the stigma of his Music City upbringing. The first people who heard my music and liked it were the guys who signed Korn and Incubus, he says of his short-lived Sony deal. They werent signing me because I was somebodys son, and that meant a lot.
Its not like Im Bob Dylan Jr., he adds. Hardly anyone my age or younger knows who my dad is. Today, Im like, hey, I have this dad, and hes really talented. But people really think that because I live in Nashville, I hang out at the bar with Wynonna Judd. They dont understand that you can buy an AC/DC record in Nashville, Tennessee.
At home, Bare manages to fly under the radar. Hes in the shadow of more famous offspring second- or third-generation musicians such as Shooter Jennings (son of outlaw royalty Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter), Waylon Payne (son of Willie Nelson guitarist Jody Payne and Help Me Make It Through the Night singer Sammi Smith), and the possessor of the ultimate country pedigree, Shelton Hank Williams III.
Shooter. Well, my dad would kick me in the teeth if I did something so similar, Bare says, alluding to Jennings role as his father in the upcoming Johnny Cash biopic Walk the Line. That Hollywood thing. Its a facade, God bless him, he continues. Hes much better sitting behind a computer writing music that sounds more like Nine Inch Nails than [sounding like] Waylon.
Shelton is a friend. Ive known him since he was a kid, and that Hank routine is the most applicable use for him. Hes really good at it. But Shooter, Shelton, and I all love modern, industrial bands like the Ministry, Bare says. It would be really fun to do a Ministry tribute record instead of trying to walk in our fathers footsteps.
That said, Bare quickly contradicts himself with news of his latest project. Im currently working on a psychedelic crooner album with my dad, he says. Hes singing 40s and 50s music not country songs. He knows that if he releases a straight-up country album, it will be boring. He has a sincere passion for songs, so hes letting me and [frequent collaborator] Mark Nevers do our weird stuff with it, things like horns and strings, space noises and Star Trek harmonies. Were recording it at the Beech House studio, which is located in the middle of town.
Thats the same studio where Bare cut his own strangely soulful From the End of Your Leash and where he recently recorded an album with Dave Bermans Silver Jews. At the Beech House, hes content to make music with players such as former Jesus Lizard guitarist Duane Denison, violinist Andrew Bird, and saxophonist Deanna Varagona, three players youd never find at a session on Music Row.
They dont give a damn, Bare says of the mainstream Nashville scene. All theyre trying to do is pump money into radio. Groundbreaking albums like [Loretta Lynns] Van Lear Rose and the O Brother soundtrack might come along every once in a while, but Music Row isnt about to move toward that. All they care about is pumping up Kenny Chesney.