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Danny Barnes

A Conversation with Danny Barnes

Puremusic: So yeah, I'll start out by apologizing that I've put this interview off several times.

Danny Barnes: No, it's okay, no problem.

PM: Not for the usual logistic reasons--they were more like content reasons. I kept feeling unprepared for the conversation. Every time I--

DB: What do you mean, unprepared?

PM: Well, every time I looked into the music that you've made over these years, there kept being more to it, and more layers to the onion.

DB: Oh, I see. I've been in it a long time, I guess. [laughs]

PM: Not only that, you've been at a lot of different things over the years, and a lot of complicated things. I mean, you're probably as complicated a banjo player as one can find. [laughs] My first contact with your music was the solo record, Dirt on the Angel. So I came to your music mostly through Dirt on the Angel, and Get Myself Together first. Because there was an artist on Terminus also from this town--

DB: Tywanna Jo Baskette.

PM: Yeah, Tywanna. And I was doing a piece on her. I used to hang out with her a little bit. She's a wild artist.

DB: Yeah. Her music is cool. I don't know anything about her but that record.

PM: I was friendly with her some before she got that record deal. We'd go up to her place and she'd play me these one-minute songs about goat cheese and parakeets and stuff. [laughs]  Very original stuff. 

I was really knocked out by Dirt on the Angel, and met the president of Terminus at Tywanna's show. We talked about your music, and he thanked me for covering it. Anyhow, it was only after getting into this latest record, Get Myself Together, which was also amazing, that I started to look back--

DB: At that other stuff.

PM: --on the Bad Livers.

DB: Yeah, there's a pretty big catalog back there.

PM: And an astonishing catalog in its uniqueness. It's so unique, first of all, that it had such punk underpinnings.            

DB: Yeah. We totally, totally threw ourselves into that band.

PM: It was a real kamikaze outfit.

DB: Yeah, that's a good word for it. Yeah.


PM: Now, your main homey in that band was Mark Rubin, right?

DB: Yeah.

PM: And you guys still--I mean, the way you've related over the years, I'm sure you're still tight friends. What's he up to now?

DB: He does all kinds of cool stuff. He was a manager of a violin shop for a while, just a retail violin place for a while there in Austin. I think he's gone back to just playing a lot. He's a DJ in Austin. And he has a lot of bands and things that he travels with and puts out records on, and does. He's kind of like an impresario of weird roots music and stuff like that.

PM: And an impresario that does pretty well for himself, right?

DB: Yeah, he does well for himself.

PM: It's amazing to see very particular and high integrity artists who can really stitch a good living together, regardless, in this crazy world.

DB: Well, if you can somehow keep the outgo and the income in balance, you're always ahead. No matter where you are, if you can keep those two things in proportion--if your outgo gets too high, you're always going to lose money, no matter where you are on the curve. You can clean swimming pools, and if you keep that together, you can still sock money away, if you can do that. But when you forget that, though, you get in a lot of trouble.

PM: And you're a family guy, so you can't afford to forget that.

DB: That's right. I have a mortgage and all that stuff.

PM: It's amazing that the Bad Livers seem to always have been that way, too. I read a remarkable thing one time on one of the sites connected with them that you were breaking it down, that, "Well, there were about 11,000 fans out there. And that's about how many records we'd sell, and that boils down to 136 comers on any given show--give or take, sometimes none, sometimes 272." [laughs]

DB: Yeah. We had it worked out to a science, because we did it for so long. Exactly how to do it, and we kept our costs low. For me, it was a real learning experience just to see how all that stuff works. And it was a good time in my life where I could sleep on people's floors and do things like that. We were able to sort of live on the cheap like that, and think it was great.

PM: Right. You've got to be young enough, and you've got to have that turn of mind, to pull that off. And you got it while it was hot, all those years in question.

DB: We really believed that we were doing something important.

PM: Oh. And looking back, I believe that you were.

DB: I think so, too, because a lot of people cite us as influential--you read about us in a lot of interviews with other artists that they've done. You know, they listened to our records or caught us live. Because when we were doing that in the early 90s, that was before the days of Unplugged, and people doing acoustic records. It was very uncool to play acoustic guitar. Everybody played electric guitars, it was like that. We didn't even have a guitar in the band, really. The main lineup was banjo, bass, accordion and fiddle.

PM: Right. And it was remarkable that you got by without somebody pounding or strumming on anything. Well, I mean sometimes the banjo was--

DB: It was pretty amazing.

PM: The banjo was working and worked in a multitude of ways.

DB: Somewhere I read that Oscar Wilde said that "A successful artist is someone who confuses his audience and they still like it."

PM: [laughs] He also said, "If man was meant to be naked he would have been born that way."



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