What can we say...Del Barber looks good against blue. (Mark Maryanovich)
I wrote most of my first two records in my parents' upstairs bathroom. Kind of unusual, it sounded good, there was a little bench.
—Del Barber, musician
Winnipeg's own Del Barber is set to release his latest CD, Headwaters. And since he's known for his ability to weave intricate storylines and intriguing characters into his songs, SCENE decided it was high time to find out where his passion for storytelling comes from.
What compels you to craft complex stories in your songs?
My interest in storytelling comes from my family. My dad used to read to me before bed. He read tons of classic books: Tom Sawyer, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, tons of Farley Mowat (Lost in the Barrens, The Black Joke, etc.), and Treasure Island.
Those characters came alive when he read aloud. I think that's where it comes from. That, and my love for fishing. There's nothing like a good story about a storm or the one that got away from a seasoned fisher-person. I've been hearing those kind of stories for a long time, as long as I can remember.
What's the most unusual place you've ever written a song?I wrote most of my first two records in my parents' upstairs bathroom. Kind of unusual, it sounded good, there was a little bench...Seemed like no one else in the world could hear me playing. Maybe the most unusual place was in a chicken coop in Albuquerque, NM. I wrote "Hen House Manifesto" there. I was inspired by how happy the chickens seemed to be, and I wanted that kind of blind happiness
Tell me how the character from your song "The Waitress" came to be? What inspired it?
"The Waitress" comes from my Grandmother. The character in the song is loosely based on her, and also some other waitresses I've met over the years of late night drives. My grandmother was a single mother of three, she put the kids to bed and then went to work the late shift and the bar.
I've always had beautiful and strange conversations with the women who serve truck drivers, police and musicians into the wee hours of the morning. I see them as preachers or at least holy in some way. They have a sense of the world that not many do.The character Genevieve in Larry McMurtry's The Last Picture Show was/is also a part of this ongoing point of inspiration.
Who are some of your lyrical heroes?
John Prine, Bruce Springsteen, and Greg Brown. I like writers who are direct in their narratives. I am less and less impressed with heavy metaphor and artsy poetry. I like songs about things everyone can understand. These guys seem to do this perfectly.
What do you listen to when you've got writer's block?
I listen to CBC Radio when I can't write. Well, I listen to it all the time, even when I can write. It's the thing that keeps me sane on the road, it's the sound of home. It's the truth. Some kids were raised by the television, I was raised by CBC Radio. From Peter Gzowski to Danny Finkleman. Other than the CBC, I listen to podcasts: Freakonomics, or This American Life.
Del Barber's CD release show is at the West End Cultural Centre on October 26.