Q&A with Irene Barber of Nearby
By Sean De Tore of the mixtape
Irene Barber is no stranger to creating music. Especially with other creative talents from around town. You might know her name (or, moreover, her voice) from her recent collaborations with Erik Blood and Hotels or her current rock band, Dust Moth.
I had the chance to chat with Irene about the creation of Nearby, collaborating versus solo work, what the term “Luxury Bedroom” means, action figures and mixtapes.
the mixtape: What are you doing right now besides answering this question?
Irene Barber: When I started answering this question I was in a minivan on my way from Baltimore to Atlanta in the middle of an east coast tour with Dust Moth. I thought I could answer these on my phone, but the screen size didn’t feel right. I left my laptop in NYC at the beginning of the trip to ditch the extra weight and try to be tech-free for the week. Anyways, I ended up marking this message unread in my inbox and resumed Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore instead.
Now that I’m returning to the question, I’m sipping on a mint team at Anchored Ship in Ballard — waiting for the alignment on my car to get adjusted.
tm: Why did you name your solo project “Nearby?”
IB: It wasn’t really a matter of using my name versus using a moniker. I just really like the word Nearby. It’s comforting and close in the same way it is mysterious and unknown. I like that it’s a term we use so often to help us navigate relationships and distance and that it’s so ambiguous.
I ran it by a friend as well and she told me it works well because it captures my aloofness. She told me that with a smile and a jab.
tm: As far as I know, Nearby is your first venture into having a solo project. How long has this project been floating around your head?
IB: I’ve been asked this question before, and I think my answer was something like “it all began back in 2013 or early 2014. I just went through my email — I send myself ideas and take notes via email — and the first song idea for Nearby happened in March 2014.” It’s a scratch track for what would become Nearer Still. Dang, the vocal melody was so different!
tm: Working solo, what are some unique challenges that popped up and took you completely by surprise that you may not have experienced while collaborating?
IB: I think about working in a band setting. I think back to when Vox Mod first asked me to contribute to his music… I think back to when I started working with Erik… I was creatively shy and worried about what others would think of my contributions. I now understand that they asked me to collaborate for a reason, and I should not be afraid to present my unbridled ideas. That’s what I want from others when I’m the one steering the ship.
tm: What inspired the music video for your song, “Breakers”?
IB: My dog, Peaches. She is blind (and the bestest) and the video is my attempt to visually capture her non-visual experience. I knew I wanted to do something abstract for the song. What I ended up with is a music video that also serves as a family memento.
tm: Can you explain what “Luxury Bedroom” means?
IB: It’s a mixture of bedroom and studio recordings. With the exception of the guitars, most of Garden Exercise was recorded DIY at home and in my friend’s basement. I used two ‘80s synths and Garageband to get it down. Erik took those home recordings and worked his magic in the studio, adding all the luxurious textures along the way.
tm: No Genre is a growing tape collection that you, Irene F. Barber, are curator of. What was your original inspiration to start this collection?
IB: I wanted to create a home for some of the projects I’d been fortunate enough to be a part of, and then let the family grow from there. Cassettes are a great way to have physical art accompany your digital downloads. I originally wanted to do the graphic design for all the tapes, but the Nearby tape is the first one I actually followed through with that on.
tm: Do you have fond memories of making mixtapes when you were young? If so, does one stand out that either you made or someone made for you?
IB: I think the first song I ever recorded was to tape. I can’t remember if it was on a regular- or a micro-cassette. It was a love song on acoustic that I gave first girlfriend. She worked at a miniature golf place, and this one time I went in to visit she had it playing all throughout the arcade there. I was embarrassed at the time, but thinking back now, how sweet was that?
tm: When you’re not being all creative and talented, what do you do in any free time you might have?
IB: Aw, well thank you. I hang out with my wife and Peaches mostly. Just being with them is my favorite thing. And honestly, we just like to veg out. There are chores though. Tonight I’m going to blow the leaves out of our driveway.
tm: If Nearby was an action figure, what accessories would you have?
IB: I’d come sitting on an old Honda CB400F with a skateboard bungeed to the back. In my backpack there would be car keys, a bus pass, a couple of car share cards, and all the ride share apps — all the things to get you from one place to another.
Sean De Tore keeps Dori Monson and The Ron and Don Show on the air for KIRO radio. He also hosts and produces his own radio show and podcast, writes a local music blog called themixtape and likes making terrariums and playing pinball.