With a decade of asphalt in the rearview mirror, some might claim that an inevitable reckoning– spiritual, financial, familial, or even physical– would be in order for any band or artist with the tenacity to endure. Evan Barber’s spent years stepping up to the mic and meeting morning’s first rays with an armload of amps and guitar cases after fueling the evening’s revel with Georgia-grown rock n’ roll.
At the helm of the Dead Gamblers, the Albany native has ranged far and wide sharing the stage with stylistic comrades Blackberry Smoke and the Drive-By Truckers among others while releasing two full-lengths (a self-titled debut in 2010 and 2014’s Bronze), but on his first proper solo outing, Evan’s turned to the introspection that’s kept him company through many a journey home in the early glow of a fading Saturday night.
Until The Thunder is a collection born from those hours spent questioning, justifying, and reaffirming choices made. Far from forsaking rock n’ roll and all its seductive faults, Barber instead embraces his own narrative with compelling songs that delve into nostalgia, faith, mortality, and the more important aspects of a home at the end of the road.
Evan Barber makes his Grant’s Lounge debut on Thursday, April 29th!
AI- You’ve been at this for a little bit, but it’s been primarily as a frontman for Evan Barber and the Dead Gamblers.
EB- That is correct. I ran across the country with a rock n’ roll outfit for years, and in more recent years, I got into more the craft of the song than necessarily the rock n’ roll. I do a lot of solo stuff– and I still got a couple o’ the same guys. As the songs formed into what they were, I wouldn’t say dialed it back, but the Dead Gamblers was a lot of creative effort, musically, and now we’re serving the songs a little more.
So what precipitated that? What was for you a moment that said, “You know, I would like to concentrate more on the songs themselves?
I don’t even know if it was a moment as much as it was just time. In the Dead Gamblers days, most of my life was just bein’ on the road and playin’ rock n’ roll and I loved it– and I still love it! And then as my kids got older, I guess, life and the world started to matter more– so I felt like I had a little more to say about it! It was a pretty organic change, I wasn’t ever like, “Okay, we’re done with this, now, we’re movin’ here!” Just the stuff I brought to the table kept dealing more with [that] subject, and so we wanted to convey that. And it was kind of a group thing as we got to a point where it was like, “Man, you know, when we’re doin’ these songs, it probably makes sense if we don’t have the loud screamin’ guitars ’cause we wanna make sure the lyrics are heard.” So I think it’s just really like they say– life reflecting art or vice versa! It was just where I was. I was a young rock n’ roller for a long time and that was my only focus, and as I got to thinkin’ more, as I became more of a thinking man, I started creating that way as well.
That comes out on some of your songs too. Without meaning to jump so far ahead, the album’s closer, “Shreveport”, sounds like that independent touring musicians lament to a degree.
Yeah! Yeah, yeah, yeah! And that’s exactly what it was! We even tried to reference that in the production of it, that was the thought we had. We put it as the last song and we did kinda draw that one out a little bit because it was not necessarily signifying an end, but saying, “This is where we are.” So it’s a nod to just like you say, some thoughts about that constant running and how it affects you. And then we wanted to nod to it with a little bit of what we always did out there.
I think my favorite song on the record is “Sundays”, and to my ears, that song also sounds like an adult reconciling the life that he or she has chosen.
(Laughs) That is exactly what it is! Man, I wrote that song… I used to play a place in Albany, you know, whenever I was home, my gig that I could just show up to most any night was a place called the Harvest Moon. That first line is, I’m leavin’ later, but I’ll meet you back at the Moon,” cause that was always my spot to return to. Everybody knew that I was gone most of the time, but you could find me there! So I got home from a gig that night– you know, like four o’clock in the morning on what’s technically Sunday morning– and I had that thought of like, “Man… Fuck Sundays.” (Laughs) They’re never much for me, you know what I mean? I’m always comin’ in late and sleepin’ all day, so as far I’m concerned, this is still Saturday night! And I feel better about Saturday nights!
You follow that song with “Walking”, which I think if you had done a split, like a 45 or something, for me, that would be the A and the B side. I’d wondered if this shift towards more personal songwriting had anything to with the pandemic as much as just being a musician, getting older. Because in that song, “Walking”, you’re pondering death and eternity and I have to admit, those have been big subjects on my mind the last couple years as well.
Yeah, and just like you say, the pandemic just provided that opportunity where for all of my adult life, for the most part, I’ve been on the road and I never was still much. So we had that time during the pandemic to just sit and think, and you start thinking about, “What have I done? What have I learned? Who am I?” (Laughs) You’re runnin’ constantly– and then you just had this unexpected stop! You had so much time to reflect, and for a guy like me, I was a kid and then I’ve been running for years, and that was really the first time in a long time that I had sat at home that much. You had a lot to think about– and certainly your mortality (laughs)! When you really get to thinkin’ about it, it weighs pretty heavy on you, you know? You’re exactly right, it’s just comin’ to grips with where you are and what you’re up against, and how much time you got.
You made the record last September in 2021, you went up to Whites Creek in Tennessee. Ambrose Lockerman– he’s got a studio up there, right? A Sound Decision? Is that the first time you’ve been there or had you worked there before?
I had done a little bit of work there. Ambrose– I’ve known him for years– he’s actually done my last two records. He had a studio in Byron, Georgia years ago. I went over there and did a record a few years back. He did live sound for years, so I’d known him as a sound guy for the longest time, and then after a couple years he said, “Hey, man, you oughta come up to my studio and see what we can do!” As he got better with that, he moved up there to Whites Creek and opened that place. I had done a little work there just passin’ through. We would go in and cut some stuff if we had a free day. If we found ourselves in Nashville, we would stop in there, but that was the first time I’d gone and hunkered down.
It’s cool because he’s got a little loft there in the studio, so you can take the band there and basically live there for the time you’re there. So it was good for the creative process because I’m… A horrible procrastinator is the way to describe it, and so I’ll have a batch of songs that are 80% done and a couple of ideas and stuff. Goin’ up to his place, it’s out in the country a little bit and when you get there, you’re maybe 15 miles, 10 miles from downtown Nashville. If you wanna go do somethin’ you can, but it’s a little cabin feelin’ so you’re kinda locked away there. It was me and my guys and we were able to flesh out some of that stuff– and I think it showed on the record. I feel like in the past, the records we made really just sounded like the band sounds live. And with this, we were able to go sit with ’em for some time, everybody locked in a house, basically. We were able to get a little more creative with it, so it’s not my first time in Ambrose’s studio, but it’s my first time at doing a full project there. It was really cool and he’s a great guy! He’s got a great understanding of me and what we do, and like I say, he’s run us live, and this is the second record o’ mine he’s done, so he’s one of those guys that makes it real easy!
You called “N. Florida” one of your favorite songs that you’ve ever written. Recently, I talked to Ian Noe, and he had told me the same thing about a song on his new album, “River Fool”, and what he said was, “I got everything out of that song that I wanted to get.” I thought that was really cool. Is that how you felt about “N. Florida”?
That is exactly how I felt, man! I used to spend a lot of time with my grandfather when I was a small child, so it was always this big part of my life. I would find myself ridin’ with my friends– they’re just little antics from car rides. My granddad loved to fish, and so we used to go down to Florida all the time. That was our thing– we’d get in the car and go down there– and I knew that it had been a huge part of my life, I recognized it, and then Hurricane Michael came through just south of where I live, so when you’re drivin’ to the beach, you’re always there (laughs)!
I was drivin’ down one day and just lookin’ at all those trees bent over from the hurricane and I got that first line of the song immediately. As an artist, you always got an idea, but it’s rare– for me, at least– that you execute it, that you get, like you say, just what you wanted. That was certainly the first time that when I was finished with the song, I thought, “Man, that is exactly what I was lookin’ to convey!” You don’t know if it’s progress in your craft or if it’s just that time that it works. It’s an interesting thing! I guess we’ll see on the next record (laughs)!
The song “Jesus & The Kid”, I think the story that I read about that one is you an overheard a conversation in a Waffle House…
That’s exactly right!
But what that really made me wonder was how many songs have started that way? Over somethin’ somebody heard in the Waffle House!
Exactly, man! And it was just such a thing to me! I mean, one, it was just hilarious when I heard the lady say it, but then I just had this wild idea! Cameron Malphrus is a guy that does most of my poster design stuff, basically all of my graphics. He did the album cover and does a lot of stuff. A couple days after that, he always has a sketchbook, and sometimes when I’m interested in poster ideas or somethin’, I’ll just flip through his sketchbook and just see what he’s got. Probably two weeks after that, I was flippin’ through and he had this pencil sketch of a Jesus character and this kid standin’ there looking up at him and I was like, “That’s where I’m goin’ with this!”
I keep little notes all the time– you hear some random person say somethin’ and you jot an idea down– and so I jotted down “breakfast with Jesus, kid and Jesus,” and then I saw this picture of this Jesus-like character and this kid having a conversation. And I thought, “That’s what I want to talk about is how would these two react at the breakfast table– what would they talk about?” It came together good! But yeah, Waffle House inspired the whole thing!
This is gonna be your first chance to be on vinyl when Until The Thunder comes out. Now you are a vinyl guy, right? You’re a vinyl enthusiast?
Oh, I’m a vinyl enthusiast, man! My parents were that way, so I got a record collection that’s just so cool! For so long, until a couple years ago, it was tough to get ’em done! There were only a couple people manufacturing ’em in the whole country, and so I never much thought about really having my record on vinyl, it was just, “I have these cool vinyl records and I’ll be puttin’ out CDs or digital downloads or whatever.” I actually had no real intention to do it until I went to look at duplication and stuff– and there was all of a sudden this option that hadn’t been there in years past! I was thinkin’, “Man, that’s incredible!” It’s certainly the most exciting product I’ve ever… I mean, you’re always excited about the creation and the art, but I’m really excited to have a vinyl record with my name on it and put it in the stack! And it’ll stick around forever. I read somewhere, the Library of Congress keeps a lot of their records on vinyl just ’cause it’ll be there. It’s exciting for me– very exciting!
Well, let me ask you this… I don’t know how you alphabetize or categorize your records– I do all of mine by first letter of first name, which I know some folks think is weird– but tell me where you’re gonna fit in your stack when your record comes out? Who you gonna fit between?
What I do is I group ’em by, not necessarily genre, but feeling. I keep my guitar heroes together. I’ve got a horrible obsession with ’80s country music. I have Ry Cooder and Dire Straits sittin’ right beside each other when I want to hear some monster guitar playin’. I have mine sectioned. Honestly, for the first period of time, I’m just gonna set it right in front, so when people come to my house, they’ll be like, “Wait a minute– your record?” And then I guess I’ll figure out where it goes (laughs)!
I was tellin’ somebody the other day, “It’ll be a while before I listen to it!” You know, when you make one, you listen to it so much while recordin’ it– you’re listenin’ to playbacks and you get it mastered and you listen to it and you get another version, and so you hear it so many times, you almost disconnect from them slightly because you’re viewing ’em so subjectively. I feel like I might just have it sittin’ right front and center for a while. And then I guess the test of time will tell me where it deserves to be! I’ve got a section that’s records I don’t listen to that much, and so hopefully, it’ll end up in my favorites!