Most bands with the success and longevity of The Slip would be stacking tour dates on top of tour dates to capitalize on the accumulated good will of the fans and recognition of its catalog. But as fans of the Montreal-based trio have come to understand, the group picks its spots, going off in different directions to work on other music and occasionally reconvening, like it’s doing now for a short run of dates that will bring it to the new Brooklyn Bowl Philadelphia on Wednesday, Nov. 17, the original Brooklyn Bowl on Thursday, Nov. 18 and Friday Nov. 19, and Levon Helm Studios in Woodstock on Saturday, Nov. 2o.
“It’s nothing that strategic. It’s really kind of an instinctual thing and kind of goes on a feeling,” says guitarist and vocalist Brad Barr, who is joined in The Slip by his brother Andrew Barr on drums and bassist Marc Friedman. “In this case, I want to say because of the pandemic and what that did to create space in our schedules. Hypothetically, if the pandemic hadn’t happened, maybe The Barr Brothers would have been touring now and would have put a record out.
“So we were not in any kind of touring cycle. It just kind of opened up this space for us to fill, and that coincided with the (festival at Lockn’ Farm in Virginia) that Joe Russo invited us to play with him. And after that, all these offers came in. Sometimes I feel like that feather at the end of ‘Forrest Gump.’ It’s kind of a combination of that and a certain amount of self-will. I tend to let situations unfold at their own pace and then see how I can make the most of them.”
In time for the fall dates, The Slip last week released a new song, “Superterranean Onlyness,” its first new music since the 2006 album “Eisenhower.” The new track comes from a batch of songs the band recorded with engineer Steve Albini, known for his work on Nirvana’s 1993 album “In Utero” as well as artists like The Pixies and The Breeders. The Slip tracked with Albini for three days when he was in town in 2018 to conduct a production seminar at a friend of the band’s studio.
Barr said he and his brother spent the last few weeks finishing the track.
“It had placeholder lyrics,” he says. “For me, for a song, to kind of push it forward to the point where I would record it in a session, it’s got to have at least one or two phrases that I can ground the thing lyrically. This one had that, it had the title, the refrain, ‘Superterranean onlyness will really do it to you,’ and this was prepandemic, actually, that I had that lyric. Everything else I sang with scratch vocals and filler that didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. It was just a matter of sitting with something, just me going to the studio for a couple weeks singing it (last week) and I’d leave everyday with a version of lyrics and listen and decide what’s good and what didn’t work. That’s kind of how I operate. If I have one catchphrase that I can gravitate toward and write around, then I can try things out. So what I ended up was a whole new set of lyrics.”
Barr said the band has three songs from the Albini sessions “and all this stuff from 10 years ago that probably should come out in some way.”
Like any band, The Slip has songs that are more beloved than others by fans, but the trio doesn’t feel any pressure to include them in its setlists.
“That’s freeing, feeling that there’s nothing we feel we have to do,” Barr says. “I think the only criteria is, let’s pick music where the arrangement has room to improvise and the right amount of composition that we feel strongly about. We just kind of stand back and make suggestions (about what to play). We had some rehearsals before Lockn’, and I want to say we had about 30 songs on the list. Sometimes you think it might be cool to try reworking this song or try this one this way and change the key, or Marc has a new bassline, what if we put that at the beginning and made it an intro? … ‘Even Rats’ or ‘Children of December,’ something that we played every single show for the last tour, even those tunes, I think I can appreciate them completely fresh, like they’re new.
“That’s one of the advantages of taking 10 years off. Nothing feels like a redundant thing.”
While The Slip has its aforementioned songs in the works, Barr said the priority at the moment is finishing up new material for The Barr Brothers as a follow-up to 2017’s “Queens of the Breakers.”
“We’ve got about 20 demos,” Barr says. “Half are done, the other half have little gaps in them. … It’s possible a lot of the tunes that we have been writing could end up on a Slip record. I’m not ruling that out, but it hasn’t really been a discussion. There were Slip tunes that became Barr Brothers tunes, like ‘Love Ain’t Enough’ and even ‘Belle’ and ‘Give The Devil Back His Heart.’ At this point, it’s certainly possible that tunes that started out in the Barr Brothers kind of tenure could become Slip tunes. I never really make that distinction until a song is done.”
The Slip started in 1995 in Massachusetts and became a popular part of the jam band scene in the Northeast.
“We liked the people who had done the work on their instruments and were clearly proficient but were not resting on like virtuosos,” Barr says. “Taking all that knowledge and finding a visceral way of channeling it into the music.” Kindred spirits, he says, included Lettuce, Schleigho and Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey.
In 2005, after Andrew had moved to Montreal to be with his now-wife, Brad followed.
“Initially, The Slip was coming to Montreal about once a year, almost always in May,” he recalls. “So May in Montreal is beautiful. I was walking around thinking, ‘Oh my God, these people are happy and beautiful and the sun is shining,’ not really realizing you have to go through this grueling winter, but once May hits, Montreal is so beautiful. … I just remember walking around, saying, ‘This city really agrees with me,’ something about the quality of life, the way the people are, it’s liberal, it’s nonpretentious, it kind of reminded me of Providence in a do-it-yourself way,” he adds, referring to his hometown in Rhode Island.
The inclusiveness of the music scene in Montreal has led to collaborations with people like Richard Reed Parry of Arcade Fire.
“Up here in Montreal, he’s just super tapped into the music scene, to all of the music coming out of Montreal and elsewhere,” Barr says of Parry. “He’s always psyched to learn a new thing and always feels like whatever’s going on, he wats to understand it, so he’s part of many groups of friends we know. It’s not that big of a music community here, especially the anglophone community. I play on a baseball team with Tim from Arcade Fire and Efrim from Godspeed. It’s very amazing, it’s why I love this city. … (Parry) has connected us with some people all around the world that are just great connections to have. And he’s super eager at any chance to play. Richie is one of those guys that you just call him up and say, ‘You want to come to the studio and play some upright with us?’ … I hope my son grows up to be something like that.”
Last week, Barr announced the Jan. 21, 2022, release of a solo instrumental guitar album, “Winter Mission.”
“I finished it about eight months to a year ago,” he says, “although I haven’t really listened to it or thought about it in about eight months. At no point is there more than one person playing. It’s a single performance, no overdubs, no guest musicians. It’s truly solo guitar, it’s electric guitar and acoustic guitar. … They’re all improvisations, I think only one of the songs is a composition. Every other one is just sounds or motifs that I improvised on. It’s really open-feeling.
“A friend of mine, the only guy I played it for, said it’s his favorite record the year,” Barr says with a laugh.