20 years of Kryptonite for Chris Barron and the Spin Doctors
JPG: Everything’s going so well. I don’t know if the upbeat attitude is due to the situation now or you’re a generally upbeat person or because you had a major health scare with your voice. I know it happened a decade ago but for someone who always wanted to be a musician it’s something that can change one’s outlook in life.
CB: Wow, man. It was really a scary moment I had week where I had a very, very dark week and then ‘cause I had a 50/50 chance of ever singing again I kind of realized maybe I’m looking at the wrong 50%. There’s a 50% chance of never singing again, but you have a 50% chance of singing again. So, I had a year where I couldn’t talk, let alone sing on a professional level. It was frightening and I guess my attitude during that time was probably 50/50. Half of the time I was really worried that I would never sing again and half the time I was hopeful that I would sing again. There were no guarantees. But, I learned a lot from that period of time, especially I’m glad the outcome was what it was.
I did get my voice back. I almost said I did get my song back, kind of a cool way of putting it. The two main things I got out of it were — on a very personal level when you can’t talk, you have locked inside your head all the things you want to say and you really start listening. When you’re just talking you’re not always listening to what you’re saying. When you can’t talk you’re stuck listening to the things you want to say. You realize that 90% of the stuff that I wanted to say was either to make me look smart or to be funny. And I also realized that most of what people say to each other is not an exchange of novel information but more like assuring each other that the world is the same world that we are all used to. It’s a lot of, ‘How are you?’ ‘Oh, I’m fine.’ ‘Gee, how about this weather we’re having?’ Mostly people being, so and so is still a jerk, and this other person is still awesome and the world is still going around and we’re still, everything is still normal and we’re hanging around together. We’re not going to fight or steal each other’s food supply. It sounds sort of jaded, but from the perspective of somebody who couldn’t talk and couldn’t participate in that exchange, I found it profound and beautiful and sort of balletic that we’re all doing this dance with each other that’s finely choreographed. A wonderful ritual that we don’t necessarily know we’re a part of.
The other thing that I got out of it was there was this outpouring of sympathy, which was very nice. Also, this outpouring of dismay that I might not sing again. People were genuinely dismayed that I wouldn’t sing any…I realized that singing is this thing that I had always felt like I had gotten away with. Hey, I didn’t happen to have a day job. I ended up be a singer. I’m in a band. I get to rock ‘n’ roll and ride around the country and fly around the world and do music is what I want to do for a living. What I realized is that my singing is something that meant something in the world, had made people happy. People would consider it a sad subtraction if I never did it again. That filled me with a sense of gratification and also responsibility. I felt like if I did get to sing again, I would forever be more in tune with using it as a contribution to the world and using it to make the room I was in a better place at least for a couple minutes at a time.
JPG: An example of that idea of making a contribution, you played for the troops back in ’09.
CB: We do it because it’s something that we really want to do, but we also do it because we have the desire to play for people who most need the entertainment and most need distraction. I jumped at the opportunity. As soon as I found out I was safe…I’m not going to lie. I wasn’t going to go over there if it was likely I was going to get my ass shot off or something like that. There’s a big, big difference between a guy like me and the men and women who are serving over there. They have made this commitment and are over there honoring this commitment that puts them in tremendous physical jeopardy. I want to make it very clear I was never in any particular danger going over there…at all. They kept us very, very safe. Any time we weren’t on a heavily fortified base, we were in some kind of a convoy that was tremendously, heavily armed. We were never in any danger.
It really was meaningful for us to go over there and bring people a little slice of home, and also we got to play for some of the Iraqis, which was really cool, too. There were people there who had never seen a rock ‘n’ roll song performed. So that was really neat, that we were bringing a slice of American culture to where it had been suppressed in the past. I’m, hopefully, some kind of an ambassador of this form of music, of rock and roll.
JPG: Was it you solo or did you have a backing band?
CB: it was me and the Time Bandits. Me and the guys I’ve been playing with. I went over there both times with three musicians — John Loyd, piano player, Phil Simino, my drummer and John Palmer. He’s a piano player, too, but he was playing bass with me.
JPG: Last thing, is there a future for the Spin Doctors past touring behind Kryptonite ?
CB: Right now, I’m really into the Spin Doctors. This 20th anniversary thing is a lot of fun. In England, we were delving back into the blues material. We used to have to perpetuate that we were like a blues band in order to work the clubs that paid in New York. They were all blues clubs. So, we wrote a bunch of original blues material and everybody in the band has a tremendous reverence for the blues. Everything the Spin Doctors have ever done has somehow had some kind of reference to that music. It’s truly the basis of all good rock ‘n’ roll. It’s somehow traceable back to that classical cadence and these chordal structures and pentatonic melodies that are the blues.
We’re gonna ride out the 20th anniversary thing as long as we possibly can. We’re talking about going and making a blues record, which is a fun and exciting project. These days nobody buys records anyway. So, if you can make a record, if you’re luckily enough to make a record, which most people can these days — not that hard to get into a studio — you might as well make stuff that really knock out your fans. This music really showcases the musicianship in the band. Eric is such an incendiary blues guitarist. He plays in some really good blues bands up in Canada anyway and he’s always just a great player. Aaron’s from Texas and he’s got such a fat shuffle. Mark uses his incredible skills, brings them there in this material.
Actually in high school I had my friends do an intervention because I was writing nothing but blues songs. They were like, ‘You’ll never be anything if you stick with this blues stuff. You’ll never be anything but a white guy playing the blues so you might want to branch out.’ I knew instinctively that I was just in a phase. I was exploring that music because it’s just so important to have a grasp of it if you’re going to play rock ‘n’ roll. I was like, ‘Yeah, whatever. I’m not going to be writing this stuff forever.’ But I do fall pretty naturally into that idiom. I’ve been kicking around a couple of ideas for a couple of new songs. Like I said, we’ve got a lot of older material. But the opportunity for us, to go back to “Pocket Full of Kryptonite” and instead of leaping back forward, continue backward in the trajectory and delve even further into our roots. Make a record based on that.