Wednesday, August 20, 2014

A Conversation with Overlake's Thomas Barrett

Overlake's highly anticipated debut LP "Sighs" has been one of 2014's most treasured and praised releases. The band, featuring  Tom Barrett (guitar/vocals), Lysa Opfer (bass/vocals) and Scotty Imp (drums),  formed in Jersey City, NJ in early 2012, and since forming they've built a loyal and growing fan base through intimate gatherings at local clubs and watering holes. As the trio returned from touring, I decided to reach out to Tom to talk about the band, their tour and their very impressive debut Lp "Sighs". Here's what transpired. JD (Interview and Images by James Damion)

James: In recalling a recent conversation outside the Bat Cave. I mentioned when we first met. (During an interview with No Pasaran) You seemed the least likely person to be fronting a band. The most unlikely to become this multi instrumental singer song writer.
Can you fill me in on all the reasons I was wrong?

Tom: You're not wrong for thinking that. Up until just a few years ago, I'd sort of accepted that I'd always be anything but a lead singer in a band, despite having a constant desire to do my own thing since I was 19 or 20, when I was obsessing over bands like Sebadoh and Pavement. I had and still have a lot of confidence issues, but I'm also not getting any younger so I have to do this now, while I only look partially ridiculous, haha.

James: Was there anything specific that make you go from the back beat to the front seat?

Tom: Nothing specific, just feeling the pressures of time and age, you know?
I'd also reached a point where some major life changes were starting to occur, my girlfriend
(now fiancée) and I moving to Jersey City together at the end of 2011 being the most major one. Shortly after, I just decided that it was the right time to start focusing on something more reflective of my own personality.

James: So did NO Pasaran run it's course? I think it's safe to say, the band left a lasting impression on a lot of people.

Tom keeping the beat with No Pasaran.
Tom: Yeah, that band ran its course. We talked very fleetingly about getting together and maybe playing a couple of shows, but we all agree that we wouldn't want to do it unless we were at 100 percent, and no one in the band has the time to bring it back up to that number. Eric is also about to get married and devotes so much of his time to his educational career, Romel has a job and a family and plays in Life Eaters, and I have all of my own nonsense. We'd only end up half-assing things and we don't want things to happen that way.

James: How did you and Lysa bond. How long before you realized you wanted to make music together?

Lysa rocking out at The Batcave.
Tom: Lysa and I played together in WJ and the Sweet Sacrifice.
I was on drums, she played keys. Before then, we knew each other only in passing, but in that band we came to realize we had all these different tastes in common, primarily shoegaze bands and some post-rock stuff. One of our first hangs was seeing Broken Social Scene at Webster Hall. She had been working on her solo record (Big Lake) and asked if I'd play drums on it, so I did and it turned out alright. Later on, we just sort of started exchanging song ideas that we'd been working on. This was three years ago or so. The initial idea of forming a band together came shortly after, but I was reluctant only because I'd had all these other musical endeavors I'd been entertaining and/or fantasizing about, plus I was still playing drums in No Pasaran. It was only when our drummer friend Michael DiTullio posted a Facebook status looking for people to play with that Lysa and I came together and the
band was formed. The ideas for first three songs on the record were hatched from those sessions.

James: Can you take me through the song writing process like for Overlake?
What inspires what  your writing? Where does it come from?

Tom: There isn't one set process, there's a multitude. The songs on the record are the results of a variety of different processes. There are the aforementioned first three songs which came from jams and songs still can happen that way, but everything else on the record came from demos I'd done by myself on the old Tascam 4-track. "Our Sky" and "We'll Never Sleep" came literally from nowhere. They were just floating around out there in the ether and managed to find me somehow. "Fell Too Far" and "Is This Something"
I struggled with a bit. There was a period when we thought "Fell Too Far" wouldn't make the final cut. A lot of nitpicking and fine-tuning went into that one. It's not my favorite,
but Lysa's vocals sound great. I wrote the lion's share of the lyrics on this record, but that song was a fifty-fifty split; Lysa wrote her part and I wrote mine. "Back to the Water" was a song from 2008 that just played well with the others. "Your KS" is literally just a demo.

James: I have this terrible habit of telling bands what influences I hear in their music. I hate it, but I always find myself thinking "They remind me of..." or "I hear a heavy ... influence there." The first time I saw you live, I definitely felt a My Bloody Valentine vibe.
However, Elliot Smith seemed to dominate my thoughts. Would my kooky comparisons hold any weight?

TB: They do. I personally don't hear it, but Elliott is one of my all-timers. I could never come close to approaching anything that possesses the majesty of an Elliott Smith song.
He's as singular as singular comes. It's still so upsetting because he should be here, making music or not. It's nice to hear that's what you take from it, though. Everyone's got their own set of ears.

James: What are some of the bands key influences? Inspirations musically?

Tom: My favorite period of music is the American indie rock of the mid-90's: Pavement, Sebadoh, Guided By Voices, etc. My two favorite bands of all time are Dinosaur Jr.
and Sonic Youth. I wasn't really having a lot of British music that was happening back then,
but would later fall in love with bands like Ride, Slowdive, Lush and My Bloody Valentine, obviously. I try not to cop other guitar styles too much, but I can't help myself.
Some sounds are just too much fun to make on an electric guitar with some distortion and delay thrown on top. Watch out for the Bendies, they're very addictive.

James: What do you like to listen to at home when you're by yourself?

Tom: The War on Drugs' latest is my current go-to. It's nearly a perfect record. I think about it when I'm not at home, how I can't wait to get there and throw that delicious-looking purple record on the turntable and just soak in all the sonics. It's epic-sounding. And it is delicious-looking. Like a giant piece of raspberry-flavored hard candy. Same with the last Kurt Vile record, except it's blue. I also recommend the new Big Ups and Dead Stars records.
And Sharon Van Etten, of course.

James: I keep hearing about The War on Drugs. What draws you in as a listener?

Tom: I just love them. Their music is so visual and dreamlike. I wish I could rattle off words as effortlessly as Adam Granduciel does, or at least that's how it seems. He's up there with Stephen Malkmus or Isaac Brock as far as being a truly singular and fluid vocalist.
There's a lyric in the song "Best Night" where he says "I'm a thousand miles behind with a million more to climb." How can you not connect with that? His band also manages to sound futuristic while harkening back to old classic rock reliables like Dylan or Tom Petty.
They bridge a generation gap. People of all ages are into them which is cool.

James: There' been a lot of praise for "Sigh's"..... I'm certain it will make a lot of "Best of 2014" Lists.
How do you feel about the finished product.

Tom: I feel great about it, ultimately. I can't allow myself to listen to it too much because I'll eventually tear it to shreds, but I've honestly never been more proud of a recording that I've done. Just taking in everything that led up to it,
you know? A lot of sweat and sleepless nights went into this record. We're monumentally happy with the end result. There are some things I would change, but that's what second records are for.

James: Have you been writing new material since it's release?

Tom: Yes. I've got a batch of songs I'm trying to finish, and Lysa has some ideas she plans on bringing into the fold. The goal is album number two. Since this record is sort of mysterious and in B&W, I'd like the next one to be a bit more direct lyrically, and bursting forth with all kinds of fantastic bright colors. If the first record sort of quietly eases its way through the crack of an unclosed door, then the next one should just push it wide open without knocking. It'll probably be a while before we start playing new songs live, though.
We haven't even started learning them yet. Maybe a new song here and there down the line, but we don't want to give too much away so far in advance of the record becoming a materialized thing.

James: You just recently went out on tour to support "Sighs". Where did you go?
What were some of the highlights and specific spots worth noting?

Tom: Philly, Columbus, Nashville, Memphis, Lawrence, Denver, Lincoln, Des Moines, Chicago, and Morgantown, WV. The performances themselves were all pretty solid.
By the end we were kind of on autopilot, in the best way. Attendance was pretty light most of the time, but those who did come out all responded positively. Highlights... Well, we had some time to kill in Nashville, so we went and visited Third Man Records where Scotty, our drummer, recorded a birthday song for his son in Jack White's recording booth. It costs fifteen bucks and you get your record pressed then and there. That was sweet. A personal highlight for me was getting to meet Bob Nastanovich from Pavement in Des Moines, where he and his wife Whitney live. They came and greeted us not long after we arrived, he unfortunately couldn't stay because of work, so we just hung out with Whitney all night.
She was super-gracious and took really great care of us. Just one of a whole lot of folks we
met out there who were all just very welcoming and made you feel completely at home.
Lysa and I also got to reconnect with some folks out at the Lion's Lair in Denver, which was probably the tour highlight. Good stage, good sound, lots of people.

James: Like most people, the thrill of getting out and exploring different cities, town and cultures is addictive. Yet, there always come a point when you look forward to going home. What were the things you missed most?

Tom: I missed my lady. I missed my cats. I missed my friends. There were also a couple of local shows that happened that I'd read about on Facebook and be like,
"Damn, I wish I could be there," like the Wax Darts show at Lamp Post, or that metal show at Moonlight Mile. That looked like a real hot and sweaty time. Also, Mikey from
The Everymen got engaged onstage at Pianos while we were away. I was seriously bummed to have missed that. And Nick Cave.

James: You mentioned missing that Everymen show at Pianos. Did you have any prior knowledge to the engagement announcement?

Tom: Haha, I did. I was so bummed to not be there for that, but I seriously would've been a hot mess. It would've been embarrassing.

Tom spreading the positive with The Everymen
James: Looking back, I think I really began to notice somewhat of an evolution, both musically and socially during your time with the band. Was it a hard decision to leave the band? I would assume they left the door open for a possible return in the near to distant future.

Tom: Exactly. The door is open. Mikey just asked if I'd be able to play the Hopscotch festival down in Raleigh, NC with them again. I don't know if I can yet, but I'd like to make it work. I do miss touring with those guys, but I want Overlake to achieve the same goals that those guys seem to be. They're putting out records, touring a lot and reaching all kinds of different people all over the country. I need to stick around and focus on making these things happen with my band.

Scotty puts a lid on it at The Batcave.
James: What's next for Overlake and in particular, Thomas Barrett.

Tom: More and more touring for Overlake, hopefully. We have a West Coast jaunt happening in October, we're planning some weekend jaunts in November and maybe December, and then a two- or three-week trip in the spring. Like I said, we've been working on some new songs, but it'll be a while before we start playing them live. I've also got a solo album coming out very soon that I'd like to do some things with, maybe some short tours if I can. I posted it very briefly on Soundcloud and people seemed to enjoy it. It's very stripped-down, just acoustic guitar, my voice and some piano. They're songs I've been playing around for a few years, but it's nice to finally have a document that I'm happy with and put it out there for folks. We'll see what happens.


No comments:

Post a Comment