Tim Barry likes to keep it simple. When he’s not making music, he lives in a shed without plumbing and with minimal electricity. His idea of a perfect weekend getaway is stowing away aboard a freight train and riding the rails hobo style. That simplicity is reflected in his music: The former Avail frontman traded the noise of a punk band for a career in straightforward storytelling folk. Unadorned tales of hard times and even harder characters fill out his third studio effort, 28th And Stonewall. The record lifts the shadow from Barry, one that so many get engulfed in making the crossover from punk to folk. He’s no longer a three-chord warrior dabbling with an acoustic, but a songwriter learning to master his craft and his genre’s history. In preparation for his show tonight at The Black Cat, Barry spoke with The A.V. Club about life after punk.
The A.V. Club: When you’re not on the road, you live in a shed in Richmond without running water and only 30 watts of electricity. Are you ever afraid of people thinking you’re some sort of weirdo hermit?
Tim Barry: People can see it how they want. I live in the shed because I’m never home. To pay $500 a month at a place that you’re never at doesn’t make a lot of sense. This is my third year living here. It’s cold or it’s hot. I really love it, though. To me it’s totally normal and simple. The truth is, in August, I’m going to move out and move into my girlfriend’s house, which will prove to be quite a transition.
AVC: When you’re onstage, you spend a lot of time chatting and explaining the songs. Why is that?
TB: Folk music is supposed to be shared live. With it comes the stories, not just the guitar playing and the vocals going, but the stories that introduce the songs. With that said, I tend to be slightly longwinded when I play shows. I think people would understand the songs more if they saw me play live.
AVC: In most of your songs, you don’t really call attention to the underlying issues with didactic slogans so common in folk and punk.
TB: Sloganeering is a little trite and played out. You can go all the way to ’70s punk or whenever that stuff started popping out. If I really wanted to see placards, I can just go to a fucking protest. They essentially say the same shit. It’s not dismissive of bands that do it well, but my favorite writers are people who use imagery, like [Leatherface’s] Frankie Stubbs or the (Young) Pioneers’ writer Adam Nathanson. As far as political writing, people writing, he nails it more than anyone I’ve ever met or read.
AVC: Going back to your days with Avail, your songs always emphasized putting a face on social and political issues. Do you see a lot of those perspectives from talking with people on tour?
TB: I wonder if I get that from people at shows or if I get that from people, period. I do a lot of listening. If you talk to someone in Madison, Indiana, a factory worker who works the muffler plant for Toyota, you listen to him talk about the recalls and how that trickles down to directly affecting their output at work. Then you learn that their home life revolves around taking care of a disabled mother and two nieces and a girlfriend. If I hadn’t met him, I wouldn’t read the recall headlines in the newspaper and think how it directly affects people. I would just read them as a business-based analysis. I don’t think I would understand a lot of the dynamics of politics and business from a personal perspective.
AVC: You mix personal perspectives and introspection into songs, but your presence on social networking sites is strictly business. Do you shy away from giving the world random details of your life?
TB: I almost felt like I was being offensive because the only thing I was posting was, “Hey, I got a DVD out,” “Hey, I’m going on tour.” It almost felt like I was selling myself and my music. I thought maybe it’d be a better idea to write more personal stuff, like “Snowed in the shed again,” but the only people in my life who need to know that already know that because they’re my friends right around town. There’s only so much I want to give, because I give plenty in my music. Truth is, I don’t think anyone would be interested. “Hey, I just loaded into Jacksonville.” The next day: “Driving to Ft. Lauderdale.” That’s fucking boring. I’m 39. I didn’t grow up with this shit, so I can see it from a different perspective. It’s fascinating to me, but it's unstoppable. Kids will adapt and call us primitives for knowing how to make a fire out of wood.