Interview with Spin Doctor’s front man, Chris Barron

You can pretty much guarantee that anyone in the UK who was in their teens or twenties in the early 90’s will have fond memories of dancing The Spin Doctors alt-pop chart toppers like Two Princes and Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong, you might even find they have a copy of multi-platinum album Pocket Full Of Kryptonite in their loft, you would however be mistaken if you thought the bands career was over.

Chris Barron (vocals), Aaron Comess (drums), Eric Schenkman (guitar) and Mark White (bass) are leaving frozen New York City for a tour of the UK having played The Cartoon ‘back in the day, the band returned to Croydon to play our very own Fairfield Halls.

I talked to Chris Barron about walking down Sesame Street, being backstage with the Rolling Stones and performing for Norway in the European song contest.

Hi Chris Barron,

I’ve been nosing on your blog, and saw lots of photos of you hanging out of helicopters…  What were you doing in Iraq?

In 2009/10 I went over to Iraq and played for the troops with my solo band.  It was pretty profound.  We went over there with enough gear to fit on one pallet so that we could ride around in helicopters and go to army bases to play for crowds of soldiers.  I’m still friends with one guy I met called Roger and he told me; “you’re concert was the only happy moment I had all the entire time I was out there.” – That means a lot, to be able to make someone happy.

Tell me a little about the music you’re making at the moment

I have 3 drawers in my career, I have the spin doctors (loud Rock n Roll band) my old buddies I’ve known since I was a kid.  I have another band called the Canoes with three Norwegian rock stars from the 90’s (at which point I ask Chris if they were in A ha – only a decade out but they are the only Norwegian band I can name – Chris says no! ).

The Canoes is all harmony singing, like The Eagles meets Glee; rootsy, acoustic, country-soul with a touch of blues.  We apply for grants from the Norwegian Government and go and write songs and record them in caverns in the side of Norwegian mountains with fjords.

The third drawer is my kooky /goofball songs, like the weird odds and ends drawer you have at home with cellotape and a stapler and Swiss army knife and that kind of stuff – that’s my solo career. It took me until my 40’s to figure it out but now it’s pretty satisfying, because now I have these three different outlets and I’m writing my brains out.

I didn’t find anything about The Canoes when I googled you..

We have just started out, we’ve made one record and it’s all very Norwegian so it’s probably quite hard to find outside of the Norwegian search engines.  We we’re semi-finalists in the Eurovision song contest, we were the token ‘not-pop’ group and they were very nice to us.  Google ‘booze

and canoes’ and you’ll find us.

I’ve been listening to The Spin Doctor’s 2013 album; ‘If the river was whiskey’ and its very heavily blues influenced, do you think you are mellowing a bit as a band?

I wouldn’t say mellowing, we are still maniacs musically.  We started out as a blues band and blues is some of the most raucous music ever made – you have to remember that when it was being made the blues was ‘the devils music’.  We started out in blues clubs in NYC, making up our own songs because we didn’t want to do covers like we were supposed to.  So we would go into these clubs and play our original blues songs and pretended that they were old Willie Dixon tunes and old Elmer James tunes and completely got away with it – nobody knew we were playing our own music.  You have to listen to this stuff comparatively; if you listen to ‘The River was whiskey’ it kind of becomes this skeleton key where you really get this view into to how bluesy the music on pocket really was. Because what we were doing first was more like the music on ‘The river was whiskey’ and then we did little miss can’t be wrong and two princes and that’s what we became famous for and that was the avenue we found ourselves on and it’s taken us a long time to circle back to where we came from what we were originally doing which was the blues.

Talking about your earlier influences, on your Tumblr blog you talked about listening to Muddy waters on your boom box, who else were you listening to?

There was a great record store in my town called Princeton Record Exchange… which was a mecca of vinyl… so I went down there with my pocket money…  and I bought a couple of 99 cents Blues records.. They were essentially field recordings of gut-bucket solo artists, guys from Mississippi playing on guitar and sometimes harmonica and it blew my mind… it made me want to write.   Then I got into Led Zeppelin and the Rolling stones and The Beatles.  I’d also go into record stores and ask for recommendations and come out with jazz and Thelonius monk.  On the other had I was listening to Paul Simon who was a huge influence on me as a songwriter because his music was so… poetic… I think he is among the great paragons of pure songwriters, and of course Bob Dylan who was the prince of darkness of the songwriter universe with powerful imagery and a supreme command of the language but also able to write in this gallant style that was still accessible to everyone and not pretentious at all.

chris barron

You found fame with multi-platinum album ‘pocket full of kryptonite’ how did your life change when the record stated selling?

Without that album I wouldn’t be playing on stage and dancing around for money, it made my life what is it.. It was an amazing time and a great experience… At one point, we were selling 50,000 records a week!

What has been the highlight of your career so far?

I was watching Sesame Street and I remember seeing Peter Sellers on it and Aretha Franklin and I said to my manager, can you get us on Sesame Street, so he called them up and they said yes and we went on the show.

Also being backstage with the Rolling Stones when we were supporting them on tour… I remember being in the tuning room with Keith Richards, where they kept all of the equipment amps and wall to wall guitars… I remember sitting on the floor with Keith towering above me (despite not being that tall) I remember saying to Keith “I want to do this for the rest of my life” and Keith – like the Pope of Rock n Roll – looked down at me and said “you will son”.

 

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