Interview with Berlin Singer/Songwriter Anton Barbeau

by Alex Cosper

Conducted April 28, 2015 on Facebook

Ladies and gentlemen, it's time for another world class interview for my site Playlist Research .. This time we visit indie musician Anton Barbeau in Germany and is part of the Berlin music scene .. Anton, thanks for joining me for this interview.

Anton Barbeau (AB): Howdy Alex, howdy all!

Alex Cosper (AC): Anton, I met you when I programmed KWOD in Sacramento in the 90s. We played your music on the local show. Years later you moved to Germany. Where were you originally from?

AB: I'm very much a Sacramento boy. Lived there forever, give or take a few months in Alameda. Moved to the UK in 2006, then to Berlin in 2011.

AC: What brought you to Europe after being a fixture of the Sacramento music scene for many years?

I met the Bevis Frond in Sacto, played with them there. They invited me to do a gig with them in London a bit later. Next I know, we're making an album together and I'm spending more time in the UK. After going back and forth a while, I met my now wife in Cambridge and moved over properly. With the UK as base, Europe was much more accessible and gigs followed gigs etc.

AC: Anton, when you were making music in Sacramento it seemed like you put out a few CDs. Then since moving to Europe you've released a bunch. I've counted 22 albums on your site. Is that correct?

AB: That sounds like maybe a few more than I remember, but there have been a few reissues and US vs UK versions mixed in. Regardless of the total, I've released many albums! 4 in 2006 was my peak!

AC: Plus you're working on a new one, right?

AB: Yeah... an album called Magic Act. Besides some of the Sacto homies like Allyson Seconds and Larry Tagg, and my UK bandmates from Three Minute Tease, Andy Metcalfe and Morris Windsor, I've got Colin Moulding from XTC playing bass on one song. My mind is blown! Here's the track with Colin. Not quite finished, but close!

Anton Barbeau - "High Noon" on SoundCloud

AC: That's amazing you've worked with many great musicians. How did you become acquainted with members of XTC and Robyn Hitchcock & The Egyptians?

AB: I met Andy and Morris in SF wayyyy back in 1988 after a concert, gave them my current cassette etc. I met Morris again in London at a secret Soft Boys' reunion gig. I shared a Canadian label with Kimberley Rew and this, in a long and winding way, reconnected me with Morris. Meanwhile, Andy did a gig with me and a bit of recording so it made sense to ask him if he'd want to play with Morris. Three Minute Tease was born. Meanwhile, I'm friends with Colin Moulding's daughter-in-law from Swindon, so she got me in touch with Colin about playing on the record. And of course there's the whole KWOD/Andy Partridge moment ...

AC: Yes, I'll never forget you showing up at KWOD when I was about to interview Andy Partridge and you said "go EZ on him." It was more like he took over the interview, ha ha .. One of my best and favorite interviews of all time. He was very intelligent and humorous.

AB: He was wonderful... put everybody at ease. He's one of the greatest songwriters in the galaxy ...

AC: I can sense the XTC influence in your music. Who are some of your other favorite artists?

AB: Well, in the micro-and macro-cosmic scheme, the Beatles, again and again. Julian Cope is a major player in my world. This week I'm listening to Popol Vuh and Gary Numan. All sorts of everything ...

AC: Beatles are my fave as well. I can tell you love melody and unique lyrics - same way with your friend James Cook, who I interviewed earlier this month.

AB: James is brilliant. Wonderful musician and fine human being. I miss him in Berlin - he was the first musician I could really relate to here.

AC: So what's the Berlin music scene like? Here's your video of "Clubbing In Berlin."

AB: That's EXACTLY what the Berlin scene is like! I'm kidding, I think. I've never been clubbing in my life. I don't really know much about the scene here or anywhere, really. I mean, I stumbled upon the most amazing Argentinian band playing in a small bar one night. There are surprises like that all over the city. There's a lot of synth stuff, but also loads of swing and klezmer and Balkan gigs. Anything and everything. But I kinda keep to myself and wouldn't claim to know what constitutes a scene, probably ...

AC: Is it true you live near singer Joe Jackson who had the hit "Steppin' Out" in the 80s?

AB: Ha! I saw him just today, by the canal. He's always wearing his Yankees cap. I was tempted to say hi but he never looks very friendly. I'm a big fan of his ...

AC: So how about the Berlin vibe in general. I know a few other Americans who escaped to Germany and tell me it feels more free there. Yet people who have never been there assume it's a socialist type world. What's your take on the vibe?

AB: I fell in love with Berlin the moment I got here, as most everybody does. I was surprised at how relaxed the city felt. For as energetic as this place is, it always calms me down to be here. You can just get on with your thing, whatever your thing is. Nobody's impressed by much, in a way, which I think adds to the free feeling you mentioned. Whatever you're into, you can get it here, for cheap or for free.

AC: Your video "Third Eye" has some Illuminati imagery in it. A lot of people are paranoid about that kind of stuff. Many Americans don't even know that the original Illuminati of Germany were part of the "Age of Enlightenment" and were nothing like how they're painted by today's conspiracy theorists. Your music has a lot of humor in it. I'm wondering what this song is about? ..

AB: I've never seen this video... not sure where it came from, to be honest. I did have a great day in Amsterdam a few years back where the All Seeing Eye was following me all around the park, but I don't think it knew what the song was about. If I recall, the lyrics are to do with a train ride I took in 1995, but that's the type of thing I'd expect myself to say. Who knows!

AC: Maybe you can tell us more about this video. I understand you use iMovie to make videos, which is incredible .. It looks pretty pro ... It proves you don't have to spend a fortune to make a great video as long as you use creativity.

AB: Oh, nice of you to pull this one up. It was the first video I made myself. iMovie was pretty easy to figure out, and I had fun just gluing various wrong things together. Many sweet memories of my days in Cambridge, plus a couple quick shots from a stone circle in North Wales on a freezing day!

AC: My research shows that the most populated cities in Germany are 1) Berlin, 2) Hamburg, 3) Munich, 4) Cologne and 5) Frankfurt ... Have you performed in all these places?

AB: I was gigging in Hamburg two nights ago. One of my fav cities anywhere. Honestly, Berlin and Hamburg have been my focus in Germany, though I always say I'll branch out! Then a Spanish tour comes along and you know ... what can you do?

AC: Have you played in any places where the Beatles played? Hamburg, of course, was where they played a lot before they became world famous.

AB: I've not gigged in the Indra or such, but my main Hamburg gig is in the St. Pauli district, so there's an abundance of proper rock und roll energy on display. The vibe in that city is powerful. I've played the Cavern in Liverpool a few times, though it's the rebuilt Cavern. Again, that's a city with a heavy energy running through ...

AC: It seems like you're surrounded by all kinds of culture. How much of Europe have you explored?

AB: I don't take for granted how wonderful the world around me is, I can tell you. I've seen a bit of Spain, trying to get in two tours a year there now. Toured Italy last year for the first time. I've played Paris a bunch, but haven't seen anything else of France. Prague is only 4 hours from here by train and Poland is two hours away. Really, I've always been a bit shy about traveling, but when the opportunity came up some years back to do a gig in Istanbul, I had to jump on it. That kinda opened my head and I started looking for bookings in countries I wanted to visit. I mean, getting paid to see amazing places is never the worst thing!

AC: Well, I know the past year you came back to Sacramento to visit, as you've also done in the past, such as this Fox and Goose gig 12/30/2011 ... How often do you plan on visiting your friends in Sacramento?

AB: Yeah, I was back only a few months ago, and ended up staying for three months. My dad was possibly going to have surgery so I extended my stay. Thankfully the operation was called off. Meanwhile I had plenty of bookings in California. Nice to feel wanted! Plus Allyson Seconds and I started work on her second album, much to our surprise! It was a good trip. I'd like to come back after my next record comes out. I've got a band in Sacramento called Kenny that are pretty great. Just add water and rock happens.

AC: Anton, you sure surround yourself with great musicians. Here's you at Kevin and Allyson Seconds' club in Sac, back when they ran True Love.

AB: I've always thought that my great reward as a musician comes in the form of the stunningly talented people I play with.

AC: We're getting close to wrapping this interview up, but tell us about your songwriting philosophy. You've written so many songs - more than perhaps any other indie artist I've known. It's obviously a very big part of your life.

AB: When I was a kid playing around on my grandma's piano, I always tried to make songs. And once I understood that three fingers made a chord, I was off. I started writing and have never stopped. I've slowed down, though. While I'm finishing this album, I'm barely writing at all. I don't know if I have a philosophy ... I just write and try to improve. I keep an ear out for chord twists, I squint to see if I can see my own images and maybe most important, is there real emotion or maybe mystery in this song or that? Many of the songs on Magic Act came really quickly. Often, when I'm not writing so much, I dread the process. You know, 90% self-doubt, 10% coffee or whatever the quote is. Having songs that just show up unannounced is sorta meta-inspiring. It is weirdly amazing that we can make things out of seemingly nothing, right? Sorry - I feel so boring talking about the process. The trick is just do it and decide if it's awful after it's done, not in the middle of the first line ...

AC: Anton, I'm looking forward to your next album as I know your fans back in America and in Europe are as well. Any closing thoughts?

AB: Thanks. I'm looking forward to it as well - it feels like it's a good one. Some records make me anxious and I just want them wrapped up so I can calm down, like album-making is a compulsion. Magic Act comes from a calmer place, though I wouldn't call it a calm record. Anyway, thanks for hanging out and letting me ramble on so much. Nice to re-connect, as we do from time to time. Oh, and thanks for playing my request for Julian Cope's "Try Try Try" on KWOD way back when! I don't think it'd been added yet, but I was desperate to hear it on the radio and you gave it its Sacramento premier play!

AC: Yes, you did have an impact on the music I programmed for KWOD .. because I specifically used musicians as a guide (since I'm one myself) .. That's part of what made KWOD one of the most unique indie stations on earth. Once again, Anton, thank you for this interview.

AB: Cheers, Alex. Take care and see you next time 'round!

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