ANTON BARBEAU – OH THE JOYS WE LIVE FOR (Q&A)

“One of her super powers is leaving things as there are”.

It’s these kinds of opening lines with which Anton Barbeau lets you into his world, where nothing is what it seems because when I think I understand her character and super powers just before the end, the song takes on a completely different meaning.

‘Oh The Joys We Live For,’ Anton’s latest record, is beautiful and tastes slightly different.

Have you ever walked into an ice cream shop to try gorgonzola ice cream? Just do it; it’s delicious! And it tastes like listening to an Anton Barbeau record.

Sweet Sweet Music spoke to Anton Barbeau about how Oh The Joys We Live For came about.

Order here (Big Stir Records)

‘Nothing is what it seems,’ or are we, as listeners, too spoiled to look for the real meaning in art, your art?

I really can’t help the way my songs come out. My brain goes where it wants to. My ears and eyes willfully mishear and misread things constantly. I try to write “normal, formal” songs, but I always end up subverting my work as I go along. With that said, I’m still making music – for the most part – that’s meant to sound pleasing in the ear! I love pop music, and I want to be liked by people! But as far as “meaning” goes, I tend to place that lower on the list of concerns than feeling and texture.

My lyrics are sometimes sung for the sake of sound. I’m reminded, though, especially with some of the weirdo interpretations of the songs on Joys that I’ve read, that many people look first for meaning. Nothing I can do about that except to point out that “Crystals” is about shoplifting, and “Cowbell Camembert” has more dancing in it than any other Anton song.

I get lost every time after the last two lines of ‘I Love It When She Does the Dishes.’

This song is probably the most realized one from a batch that was originally intended for a record which was to be called Christian Wife. That album was to revolve around a married couple living in a small conservative American town and playing out their traditional man-and-wife roles. Except each of them has a whole other secret, dark life that they keep to themselves. “Dishes” was the only song that got anywhere with that theme. It’s sung in a monotone, with male and female voices singing together and separately. The final lines are the only clear indication that something sinister is likely to happen beyond the body of the song. 

‘One of Her Super Powers’ is not an ode to the Power Pop genre.  Why was it important for you to write the song?

I find power pop, as a musical style, to be full of archetypal charm. I grew up in love with the three-minute pop song, rich in harmonies and jangling with guitars. But power pop as a genre is stifling. It’s primarily a hobbyist’s dream, steeped in musical self-limitation and seeming to revel in stunted emotionality. The song of mine you’ve mentioned hopefully takes loving advantage of the aforementioned style but gives the genre a much deserved lyrical kick in the shins. 

I think you made a European-sounding record.  A conscious choice or are you not concerned with it at all? Or: Was there a specific sound/vibe/feeling you were looking for (that would connect those 12 songs that are different from each other)?

I wrote and recorded half the record in Berlin, so maybe that rubs off. And the songs on Oh The Joys We Live For are coming from 5 different failed projects… the fact they sit so well together is quite a miracle. Oh The Joys We Live For is one of those albums that “makes itself.”

My previous record, Manbird, was a VERY intentional work. A double album that specifically dealt with my life divided between Europe and California. I’ve toured Spain something like 15 times; I lived in the UK and have toured there endlessly. Berlin for nine years… I sing with a French band in Paris… I’ve been so all over the place that it makes sense if various sensibilities rub off on my music, but at the same time, my songwriting and my record-making are now really blurred in time and place. I’d suggest that an earlier album, Berliner Grotesk, is the truest “European” Ant record…

The last time you wrote answers to my questions, you were in a cafe in Berlin.  Much has changed.  Were you in control of much of that change?

I remember specifically answering your interview questions from a Turkish cafe in Berlin. Soon after, I was hoovered out of Germany, catching whatever flight I could find. I’m only now – in three weeks – finally able to return to Berlin. So, no, there’s a lot of life clearly beyond my control! And yet, we’ve all shared that same sudden upheaval and have learned new patterns and ways of holding on and keeping close. I was able to release Manbird during the pandemic, and, ironically, not touring made it possible for me to give that album the proper promotion it deserved. Big Stir also released a reissue of an album I wrote/produced for Allyson Seconds called Bag of Kittens, and now we have the sweet Oh The Joys We Live For album out in the world, so good things have come during these long, difficult days!

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