If the late AC/DC frontman Bon Scott taught us anything, it's that it's a long way to the top, if you wanna rock 'n' roll.
That is, if you want to make a career of being a musician, you'd better be prepared to put in a lot of work, pay your dues and not expect anything to be handed to you. Sometimes you get lucky, but, chances are, you've got to apply generous amounts of elbow grease if that career's ever going to get off the ground.
Members of the San Diego post-punk quintet Barbarian—who'll perform at The Griffin on Thursday, Jan. 9—not only understand this; they embrace it. Over a round of beers at Olive Tree in Ocean Beach, singer / guitarist Andrew Mills and guitarist Seton Edgerton use some permutation of the phrase "You gotta bust your ass" around a half-dozen times in one hour. But that doesn't mean they won't welcome a lucky break when it comes.
Last summer, the band was asked to open for U.K. singer-songwriter Bat for Lashes on a string of Midwest and East Coast tour dates, which exposed them to a whole region of new audiences. They borrowed a van and launched a Kickstarter campaign to pay for food and gas, but just getting the chance to play those shows was an educational experience in itself.
"Getting that taste of professionalism, on that level, was the most rewarding thing," Edgerton says. "Because we were able to quickly learn that we don't know shit. We've never played before with an artist on that level."
When Barbarian formed in 2011, one thing that Edgerton and Mills decided was that music wouldn't be a lower priority than their day jobs. The two met at SDSU, and each had played in other bands and, after graduating, spent time abroad—Mills in Spain, Edgerton in Australia. After returning, however, Mills found himself on the business end of an existential awakening that occurred during a soul-sucking interview process at a paycheck-processing company.
When he got back to the States, Mills says, he interviewed "with this bullshit company. It was something that I would never want to do." But he figured, "that's what you're supposed to do": When school is over, you go out and get a job to pay off your debts. "On, like, the fifth interview," he says, the interviewer was "full of shit, and I have to be full of shit to try to keep up with him.
"I didn't walk out," he adds. "But I got done and thought, I'm not gonna do this."
A little more than two years later, Mills, Edgerton, keyboardist Dan Nichols, bassist Phil Dupasquier and drummer Darrin Lee have gained significant momentum, with an East Coast tour under their belts and a recently released EP, City of Women, demonstrating their strengths as a band. That EP's "Song of Love and Hate" is a haunting psychedelic pop song with touches of dream-pop and a slight Nigerian highlife influence, while the fuzzy "Red Tide" is a darker, post-punk rocker with a catchy, sultry side.
Shortly after City of Women's release, the band headed to Joshua Tree to record their first full-length with Dave Catching, a guitarist who's played with Queens of the Stone Age and Eagles of Death Metal, at Rancho de la Luna. The studio, where Queens, Kyuss and Arctic Monkeys, among others, have recorded, is also Catching's home, which provided a more hospitable environment—and a more inspirational one at that—than a standard recording studio.
"The thing with most studios is that they're so sterile," Edgerton says. "It's not inspiring at all to be in an enclosed room and be, like, 'OK, I have to solely rely on what I'm hearing without visual stimulation or any kind of outside stimulation.' You have to really focus on what you're hearing.
"But, out there, it's so peaceful and so quiet and so just out of the radar."
The new album, tentatively scheduled for release in early summer, doesn't yet have a title or artwork, but after the group puts the finishing touches on it, fans should expect to hear a new stage of sonic evolution. Mills describes it as a "progression" from their previous recordings and cites Talking Heads' Remain in Light and early New Order singles as major influences.
"It's different than what people are used to from us," Edgerton adds. "But I think it fits, because what people are used to hearing from us is so hard to describe, anyway."
All of Barbarian's recordings to date have been self-funded, and most of the money that the group makes gets invested back into their projects. And though almost everyone in the group tends bar when not on stage, the hard work and humble approach to building the band from the ground up looks to be paying off. Still, as Mills emphasizes, things don't happen unless you're ready to commit to it.
"It's got to be tangible," he says. "Your parents and everyone around you are usually, like, 'You need to get a 9-to-5.' But it is tangible.
"You just work your ass off."