Giles Corey is the long in gestation solo project of one Dan Barrett (half of the duo Have A Nice Life and part owner and purveyor of Enemies List Recordings), and the recently released solo album has been several years in the making. Having seen both live shows from the project (one as a two piece and one with a full live band), hearing these songs recorded opens a world of questions from me for this agent provocateur.
Scene Point Blank: Would you consider this a concept album? Did you set out to make one record from the beginning? Or was it a natural progression?
Dan Barrett: Giles Corey as a project started off very differently from where it ended. Initially, I was just wondering if I could write country and western songs, and sort of turn folk music into something that sounded like it came from me. I put restrictions on the kinds of instruments I could use, and so on. That kind of faded away as the record took on a life of its own, though I think without those early restrictions it probably never would've gotten off the ground. That's the way it is, sometimes.
As for "concept album," I don't know. I don't really like the term "concept album," since it just sounds corny. I didn't set out to make a concept album, I just wanted to make music, and I like writing, and I had certain things going on, and it came out like it came out. There's such a huge swath of potentiality out there for people to create stuff in, I'm not sure why we have to be cornered into just records, or books, etc.
Scene Point Blank: Was the book always a part of the release? Or did writing the book happen along the way? What led you to write the book?
Dan Barrett: The book wasn't always planned, but came in fairly early in the process. I wanted to write something to cap off the Voor story started in "Deathconsciousness." I was writing my way out of depression and wanted to use some of the things I had written. I really enjoy having the text and the music and lyrics play off each other in unexpected ways - it gives another layer to things for people to interact with and discover. Plus, I think it just makes the record more interesting; there are 5 or 10 new albums out every day, it seems... might as well try to stick out a bit.
Scene Point Blank: The book does certainly make things more interesting and draws people further into the whole experience. Having some of the demos available for Giles Corey for several years and seeing some of the excitement and anticipation seems to have generated a great deal of clamor around the release. Do you think that the book draws more people in based off the intellectual curiosity or rather the music gets people more interested into the subject matter that you are discussing?
Dan Barrett: Well, to put things in perspective, we're talking about 200 copies or so sold so far, so by no means is there a ton of hype or anything like that. I think a lot of people who follow Enemies List or Have A Nice Life were naturally curious, and hopefully were pulled in by the songs I was posting. I think some people are interested in the fact that there's a book, as well. Like most things I do, though, there was almost no pre-planning or method to what I did for the release. I just posted songs as I wrote them, because I enjoy sharing music and seeing people's reactions.
Scene Point Blank: Care to explain what the record is about for those who do not have the book or have not even heard the Giles Corey record yet?
Dan Barrett: The record is about a one-year period in which I was trying to decide whether to kill myself or not. At the same time, I was doing a great deal of reading about Robert Voor, a paranormal philosopher from the 80's. The book and music deal with both topics, and hopefully give something like a new view and philosophy of the afterlife and suicide.
Scene Point Blank: Given the exploration of paranormal philosophy, were you exploring possible aspects of the afterlife due to your suicidal quandary? Or did the thoughts of suicide simply push your exploration just out of sheer fascination? Or maybe both combined with your education background?
Dan Barrett: I actually don't believe in ghosts at all or an afterlife, for that matter. I'm a materialist and have been for a long, long time. I'm fascinated by those ideas, though; the concepts and language of religion and the paranormal just resonate with me, artistically. I don't really know why, but I also don't think we pick what speaks to us in art or music. That stuff's decided very early on in our lives, I think.
As for suicide as an idea, I was interested in it because I was thinking about it all the time, and thinking about suicide obviously brings up questions about what death is actually like. For me, I don't believe in an actual afterlife, but I believe that the image and symbolism of the afterlife describes death in a way that speaks to people, myself included. We can't imagine "nothing," we can't imagine "non-existence," because thinking itself is part of existence. We can get around that problem, and get closer to something like truth, through super-natural imagery.
Scene Point Blank: Was simple catharsis the initial impetus behind the record?
Yes. Always, I can only write towards that end, really.
Scene Point Blank: What were your major musical influences on this record?
Dan Barrett: I was listening to a lot of old country music at the time, which was what started me writing these kinds of songs in the first place. I'm not sure you can hear much of that influence in the music now, but it's there. ...A lot of Hank Williams and Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, etc.
Scene Point Blank: No, I certainly heard the country and bluegrass music connection. In my review for Giles Corey I state: “Barrett deftly maneuvers through singer / songwriter craft and dark folk to bluegrass maudlin (minus the modern day Nashville accented warbling as not heard on “Sleeping Heart” or the front porch summer evening choir and bar room drawl of “Spectral Bride”)”.
Dan Barrett: That's good. I mean, that's how the record started, "what would it sound like if I wrote a country record?" I think my personality leaked through so much that the original premise was lost, to a certain extent, but I like that it's still there in some vestigial form.
Scene Point Blank: Do you feel as though you were successful with the country incorporations? I find it refreshing that you incorporated some of the style without resorting to clichés like banjos or a pseudo country accent (though I do like a good auto harp part and lap pedal steel guitar, which I could swear that I heard a smattering of it on the record). Would you have done anything different with the songs in retrospect?
Dan Barrett: I don't know -- the project very quickly turned into something other than me doing a "country" record, which in a lot of ways is the best possible result -- a sort of artificial idea taking on a life of its own, hopefully developing its own unique identity. Now, I don't think in terms of "country," I think in terms of "Giles Corey."
Scene Point Blank: Were you ever a fan of Cursive’s The Ugly Organ?
Dan Barrett: Yes! I loved that record, haven't listened to it in a long time. (editor’s note: read the review here at SPB to see why I asked this question).
Scene Point Blank: How did the writing occur? Did you immediately have aspects like the background vocals or horns in mind, order did you build up from just your guitar and voice?
Dan Barrett: All the songs started with just acoustic guitar and vocals, and built up from there, although a lot of the EVP recordings were in there from early on. I was really fascinated by the idea of EVP and ghosts while I was writing the songs, and that material just naturally found its way into the music.
Scene Point Blank: How did you obtain the EVP recordings?
Dan Barrett: Some came from a record called "The Ghost Orchid," which is a fairly-famous collection of EVP stuff. The Smiths sampled from it, and so on. Others were from various places around the internet, a few I taped off old copies of the show "Sightings," which I used to watch a love. Some I got by simply setting up a microphone, setting the gain fairly high, and sitting in the dark.
Scene Point Blank: How strange is playing such personal material live if at all?
Dan Barrett: It was odd, the one time I did it. To be honest, I still have some trouble even listening to it. I really want to do more live performance of this stuff, though. Over time, it always transforms into something mundane - I used to have trouble listening to "Deathconsciousness," but now that some time has passed and I'm not that person anymore, it's more or less just music. Still more intense than some random record, but not the way it used to be.
Scene Point Blank: Any thoughts of future live performances? The time that I saw you, I thought it worked really well, particularly after hearing the actual record.
Dan Barrett: I really want to do more. I'd love to get more singers and instruments, do something very large-scale. The dream is to do a few performances of the entire record. I'm not sure it's possible, or if I even have time, but it's something I'd love to do. Just need a good excuse, I guess.