Interview: Mick Barr

Over the past decade, guitarist and composer Mick Barr has released countless recordings under the names Ocrilim, Orthrelm, and Octis, and has worked with Krallice, The Flying Luttenbachers, Zach Hill, Weasel Walter and Sam Hillmer of Zs.  His lightning fast guitar style and singular approach to the instrument goes unrivaled among his contemporaries, leading Ian MacKaye (Minor Threat/Fugazi) to claim that “He is our Coltrane.”  In preparation for Barr’s concert at Kung Fu Necktie on Thursday, November 4, where he’ll be sharing the bill with the Phillip Greenlief-Trevor Dunn Duo, ANW managed to pull the prolific guitarist away from his axe long enough to answer a few questions.

You’re putting out tapes, CDs, CDRs, LPs, and 7”s at an alarming rate under your various monikers. Tell me about some of your most recent releases.

Yes, this year has been a bit overly busy for releases, but mainly because I'm sick of sitting on old recordings and I needed some food money. The first thing I released this year was a triple CDR set under the Ocrilim moniker. I hand made these to order.  It contained three separate albums recorded in 2007. The albums were Ixoltion, Sacreth and Hymns. Then there was the Brave Grave #2 cassette. This is a series of tapes curated by 905 Tapes based in Wilmington, DE. The concept is to have one performer play his/her instrument for as long as they can and then release the entire, most likely flawed, performance. Mine came out to be about 80 minutes of solo guitar shredding. I also self-released a CDR of this once the tapes sold out. Next was the Neerdeth CDR reissue, and Neerdeth Version 1. Neerdeth was a solo guitar album I recorded in 2006 and originally released in 2007. Neerdeth Version 1 was the original recordings that were never fully released. There was also an Octis CDR reissue of a 2003 recording Diemos Extractions. And there was an Orthrelm retrospective CD released by Weasel Walter's ugEXPLODE label. This CD contains the classic 2001/2002 recordings in our first phase of the band where we vehemently opposed repetition. Then came another release from the Ocrilim moniker, Absolve, which is a droney black metal raga of sorts. Also my new band Oldest released our debut CD. Me and Nondor Nevai released an album of improv war metal as well called Labyrintha under the moniker of Barr-Nevai, also on ugEXPLODE.  Way too much.

Where do you do most of your recording and what’s the process like?

Almost everything I do is composed in advance, but occasionally I do a little improvising. Not much, and not much on my own. I do most of my solo recording at home on my laptop or 4-track. For the most part I record everything plugged in direct, as I don't have any amps to play through, or space to play loud. I try to do as little editing as possible, although I usually like to double track everything. Then, if I can afford it,
 I'll take my primitive recordings to Colin Marston's Menegroth, The Thousand Caves studio in Queens and have him re-amp the signals and work his studio magic on them. I don't have the best ears for mixing and mastering, so I entrust these things with him.  

Elliott Sharp recently asked you to contribute a song to hisI Never Meta Guitar compilation alongside guitarists like Mary Halvorson, Nels Cline, and Raoul Björkenheim.  How do you think your style of guitar playing and sound fit in with these players?

Yes, I was very excited to be a part of this compilation. It was strange to listen to the entire compilation in its sequence and then to hear how my piece fit with everything. I kind of felt like it stood out like a sore thumb, to be honest. It seemed really jagged and harsh compared to everything else, but I guess not in a bad way. One of the best compilations I’ve ever been included on. 

I read on your blog that you recently put out a collaborative record with drummer Brooks Headly, and you’ve also worked on several other collaborative projects over the years, including with Sam Hillmer of Zs and Weasel Walter. Do you have any collaborations planned for the near future?

There are a few possible collaborations on the horizon. Me and Nondor Nevai plan to make an all out assault of a recording at some point. Been talking, planning, and jamming with drummer Dave Witte. I’m in an improv trio with Tim Dahl of Child Abuse and Kevin Shea of Talibam!. We did a bunch of recording earlier this year that will probably be released at some point. Krallice just finished recording our third album and we will probably make another record at some point. Might do a show and recording with Chuck Bettis soon. Then there's an old recording I did with James Plotkin and Tim Wyskida that is very slowly coming together. A bunch of others are still just in the talking/thinking stages. I’m also working on finishing a string quartet. I would really like to get more into composing for other instruments as I've been feeling less enthused about performing much these days. I like playing shows, but just not that often right now.

What should we expect for the Philadelphia show?

A newer solo guitar set that's about 35 minutes long, part of which is the track from the I Never Meta Guitar compilation. 

Do you have a favorite jazz musician or album?

When it comes to jazz, I mainly stick to the original free jazz heavyweights and Weasel Walter. Interstellar Space by Coltrane and Rashied Ali is probably my all time favorite jazz album.

Mick Barr will be performing on Thursday, November 4 at Kung Fu Necktie (1248 N. Front Street) with the Phillip Greenlief-Trevor Dunn Duo.