Music » Music Features

Love/Hate Relationship

Bobby Bare Jr. on good/bad Music City.



It’s 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. isn’t 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 Nashville’s 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, he’s 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 he’s played with the big boys — Sony and Virgin — and he’s 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 it’s 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.”

It’s a sentiment he explored on his last album, 2004’s From the End of Your Leash. “The hills are filled with naked Hee-Haw honeys who all sing along in perfect harmony/The world’s 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.

“It’s 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 weren’t signing me because I was somebody’s son, and that meant a lot.

“It’s not like I’m Bob Dylan Jr.,” he adds. “Hardly anyone my age or younger knows who my dad is. Today, I’m like, hey, I have this dad, and he’s really talented. But people really think that because I live in Nashville, I hang out at the bar with Wynonna Judd. They don’t understand that you can buy an AC/DC record in Nashville, Tennessee.”

At home, Bare manages to fly under the radar. He’s 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. It’s a facade, God bless him,” he continues. “He’s much better sitting behind a computer writing music that sounds more like Nine Inch Nails than [sounding like] Waylon.

“Shelton is a friend. I’ve known him since he was a kid, and that Hank routine is the most applicable use for him. He’s 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. “I’m currently working on a psychedelic crooner album with my dad,” he says. “He’s 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 he’s letting me and [frequent collaborator] Mark Nevers do our weird stuff with it, things like horns and strings, space noises and Star Trek harmonies. We’re recording it at the Beech House studio, which is located in the middle of town.”

That’s 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 Berman’s Silver Jews. At the Beech House, he’s content to make music with players such as former Jesus Lizard guitarist Duane Denison, violinist Andrew Bird, and saxophonist Deanna Varagona, three players you’d never find at a session on Music Row.

“They don’t give a damn,” Bare says of the mainstream Nashville scene. “All they’re trying to do is pump money into radio. Groundbreaking albums like [Loretta Lynn’s] Van Lear Rose and the O Brother soundtrack might come along every once in a while, but Music Row isn’t about to move toward that. All they care about is pumping up Kenny Chesney.”

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