Eric Barnett, guitarist for Progressive Rock group Points North.
Points North Interview
1. In March, Points North is releasing “Road Less Traveled” album, could you describe the idea behind the album?
Well, it’s our first album…and accordingly, I’d describe the idea behind the album as the story of the band thus far. Very little about Points North – the way in which the band formed, the makeup of its members, the path we’ve taken to get to this point, even down to the music itself – has been what one might describe as “conventional”. Just being an instrumental band in the first place, in this day and age, is arguably a statement of individuality.
So “Road Less Traveled”, the title inspired by the Robert Frost poem “Road Not Taken” and its ending, “I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference“, felt like a good description for the journey we’ve been on – individually and collectively – that we felt was reflected in the music we’d created for the album.
2. How did the recording session go along for the “Road Less Traveled” album?
I would say it went much like the story of the band…not exactly linear, and not without its challenges, but ultimately rewarding.
We didn’t yet have our record deal when we set out to record the album, so we had to finance it ourselves. Luckily for us, Dave DeVillers, one of our early listeners, had just enrolled at the music recording program at Foothill College in Los Altos – who had invested in a fantastic top-end recording setup – and gave their students the opportunity to record projects there. This is fairly typical for recording education programs, but the usual engagement looks like doing a demo over a weekend, which is initially what Dave inquired about, when he reached out to us to see if we’d like to be his project. I told him, “we’d love to come in, but we don’t want to do a demo, we want a commitment to a full-length album”. So Dave went to the school, and they thought we were an interesting project, and they agreed – though I don’t think either the school or Dave realized what they were getting into! So many, MANY hours of tracking later, we’d finished capturing the performances.
At that point, the collective feeling was that we’d created something special, and that completion would be best served by hiring an experienced mixing engineer, so we engaged B.Z. Lewis from studio 132, who’s won several Emmys and has a long and distinguished list of credits. He jumped right in and started piecing things together. And we also engaged my good friend, experienced engineer, and monster guitar player Danny Danzi to handle mastering; he went well beyond the call of duty, and really helped us sort things out in the mixing process too, to make sure that the album’s production and overall presentation would be something we’d all feel proud of when it was done. There were certainly a few disagreements (and a lot of education!) along the way, but I think the time and effort was worth it; at least for me personally, I tend to be a perfectionist and I have a hard time listening to my own recordings, and I think it really came out well. And I’m also pretty certain that this is the first and last Points North record I’ll self-produce.
3. Where did you find the inspirations to write the music for Points North?
Each song is different…sometimes, songs just write themselves. Other times, at least for me, a song or a melody is inspired by an emotion or feelings that reflect what’s going on in my life, or around me. In instrumental music especially, the bar is set kind of high there; in the absence of words, there’s a lot of responsibility on the melody, dynamic, and arrangement to reach the listener’s heart, and not just their head. I’m not big on sharing personal details, but I will say that for me, a lot of the experiences of my life over the last few years, including some very difficult ones, are reflected in the songs on this record, and my playing.
4. Will there be any tours lined up for Points North?
Absolutely; we plan on supporting this record anywhere and everywhere we can. We’re still working out the details, though. The East and West Coast of the U.S. are currently in our cross-hairs. In the meantime, I would like to give mention to our CD release show; we’ll be headlining the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco on March 9.
5. What are your current endorsements?
I am currently endorsed by TC Electronics, Egnater Amplification, Mogami Cables, MXL Microphones, Seymour Duncan pickups, and Sfarzo Strings.
6. What’s your vision on the Internet as a tool to promote and market Music?
Without the Internet, there would be no Points North; for example, as a band in a style that’s typically seen as somewhat genre-specific, the Internet has been a primary vehicle in our ability to find our audience, and their ability to find us. We managed, for example, to build an audience in Southern California, hundreds of miles away, mainly through social networking, collecting Email addresses, and playing infrequent shows opening for touring nationals. It takes a lot of work – while the reach of a band might be greater, so is the number of bands vying for the same eyeballs – but it does create a new path for bands like us that didn’t exist previously.
On the other hand, monetization is a challenge; there’s almost an expectation or belief now on the part of the listener that music is free or at least that it should be. So the dynamics of making a living as a musician, never easy to begin with, are changing as well, and I don’t think a lot of how to make this work has been figured out yet; there are a lot of competing interests, and the musician trying to make a name for him/herself, while on one hand the source of content creation – without with there’s nothing to promote – on the other hand from a business standpoint tends to be the most resource challenged and the low person on the totem pole. I think this story is going to continue to evolve; in the mean time, there’s lots of struggle and anxiety, and this includes for business entities like record companies, especially independent ones, who are trying to find their way through this new reality.
7. With all the bands coming out today. Do you keep updated with what comes out online at all?
Somewhat. I engage more through YouTube, and posts and/or suggestions that are made through social networking than I do actively go looking for new artists, or read blogs or reviews. I do like to know what’s going on in the music world, and I have a certain weakness for pop music too; for example, I still listen to the radio in my car. The amount of talent out there that you can find is absolutely amazing nowadays; for example, on YouTube, it’s really easy to lose a couple hours hopping from one suggested link to the next. Social sharing is what most often helps the cream to rise to the top nowadays.
08. What could we find interesting in your music collection at home?
That there’s not as much of it as there used to be…a lot of it was left back East, when I moved to California. Maybe the surprise would be that I don’t listen to that much “guitar” music. My first instrument was violin, and I still have an affinity for classical, especially the romantic era stuff. But there’s really not any style that doesn’t show up in my musical tastes; since moving out West, I’ve been exposed quite a bit to Bay Area thrash metal, some of which is fantastic…with regards to guitarists, lately I’m listening to a lot of “outside” players; say, Allan Holdsworth, Scott Henderson, and I want to give a quick plug for a guy named Eric Glass that likely few outside of the internet denizens of a few guitar sites have heard of; he’s absolutely amazing. And I’ll never outgrow my love for old-school progressive rock.
9. Could you describe what goes on in a day in your life as a musician?
Since we signed with Magna Carta, that’s been changing a lot…right now, there’s a lot more business…not that I am complaining about that though! I still typically practice at least a little each day, although practice isn’t the same formal regimen it was during my more formative years as a musician, and we keep a pretty regular performance calendar, so there’s always something going on. But, for example, at this particular moment, I am doing this interview!
10. How is the health of Guitar oriented albums in 2012 in your eyes?
Questionable. On one hand, I definitely feel resurgence in interest in guitar playing, and guitar music in general. I think video games have a lot to do with this, Guitar Hero, Rock Band, and so forth; there’s a younger generation engaging with the instrument on a more intimate and detailed level. And there are just some unbelievable players out there; again, spend an hour on YouTube and it’s both inspiring and humbling to see how many fantastic players there are.
But on the other hand, I feel like in the age of YouTube and tablature on demand, that there might be some negative impact on creativity and individuality…being old enough to have grown up with the turntable, for example, instead of the iPod – when a new record came out by my favorite artist, I didn’t have the tab and video to turn to, to learn exactly how something was being done or what notes were being played, I had to try and figure it out by ear and with my hands. Lots of happy accidents happened that way, and some of those became intrinsic to my style. There are certainly some, like, say Guthrie Govan, but I find for myself, that there are less new players now than there used to be that really grab my attention immediately that I can identify after just a few notes, or from their tone, or compositional style.
I think the net result may be that guitar albums tend to be more relegated to the guitar audience, and focused on the abilities of the guitarist – as opposed to, say, the days when records by Satriani, Vai, Eric Johnson, and others found their way to a more mainstream audience. And this may be limiting the overall reach and popularity of the genre.
Check out Points North Online http://pointsnorthband.com/