HT Interview: A Post-Rubblebucket Craig Myers on Barika’s Rise

Craig Myers, percussionist and kamel n’goni player, has had an extremely full plate the last several years. However, touring and performing as a member of both Mike Gordon’s band and Rubblebucket left less time to devote to his own two bands, Barika and N’goni Trio.

2013 brings a bit of a change as Myers left Rubblebucket in September to focus on Barika.  The band fuses West African influences with a poly-rhythmic, funk laden sound that has doses of psychedelia and R&B with complex rhythms and infectious grooves. The band is getting ready to release their second album, Rise, and has asked fans to contribute to the process. We recently spoke with Myers to ask about the new album and his plans for 2013.

Parker Harrington: Great to talk to you today, Craig. Thanks for taking the time out of your schedule. We talked to you a couple years ago on the heels of the release of Barika’s debut album, Remember. Now, you are getting ready to release another album, Rise. Can you tell us a little bit about the evolution of the band’s sound and what might have changed since Remember as well as give us a little background on this new album?

Craig Myers: Remember was our first album of course and we had been a band together at that point for two-plus years. Rise I feel is both a deepening and a continuation. But also there’s lots of evolution that happens the more any musicians play together. The more shows you do, the deeper you connect with each other and the deeper the music can get. So at this point, there are some things that are similar to Remember but there’s a lot more richness and more deep harmonies in the music, especially with the horns. There’s also a lot surprises that I want to keep from people and let them hear it for themselves.

PH: Has the album all been recorded at this point?

CM: Pretty much everything has been recorded. There’s some horn over-dubs and some finishing touches to be done. We started doing the recording on our own and then have been finishing it up at a place in Burlington (VT) called Signal Kitchen Studios.

PH: And you are using Kickstarter this time as well?

CM: Yes, we have a Kickstarter going right now and are about a week into it. We have about 25% funding so far and it is going pretty well. We are hoping to meet that goal, so we have a lot more potential left for the mixing and mastering process.

PH: Good luck with that and I assume you have a contingency plan in place if you don’t meet the goal? Can we still expect an album sometime this year regardless of the Kickstarter campaign?

CM: Yeah, you can definitely still expect an album, but it might not come out in the beginning of May. It might have to wait until late spring or even summer. It would just take a little longer to finish it up, but everyone is going to get it one way or another.

PH: As far as the evolution of the band, has the band itself had any changes since the last album or has the lineup been totally static?

CM: Yes, it has been the same members the last couple years and we’ve been going strong and enjoy working with each other. The music is getting deeper and everyone has a good idea now of what Barika is. What the sound is and how we want to evolve it and move forward. We’ve also been working with my buddy Adam Dotson who I used to play in Rubblebucket with. Whenever he is not on tour, he comes and plays with us as well. It is nice having him around since he’s such a musical person with such a great ear and sensitivity.

PH: Obviously without the time commitment of travel and touring now that you have left Rubblebucket, does that mean you’ll be able to have more time for Barika?

CM: That’s a big part of why I left Rubblebucket sometime in September [2012], so I could invest all my energy into this project and push it forward and make it a nationally touring act.

PH: Do you think you are on the cusp of that? It seems like Rubblebucket was just about getting there…I’m not going to say ‘take a step back,’ but that must have made it a really difficult decision.

CM: It was very difficult, yes. There were a lot of things that went into it that I don’t necessarily want to get into but I love those guys and have tons of respect for them. I certainly wish them the best. It was definitely difficult to leave something that I had invested five years of my life into and watched it grow and been there all along. Then, to take a step back and realize that I would have to do the same thing with my project for the next five years…

Taking a step back is never easy but I feel like this music is my heart. This is my creative energy that I am putting in this and it is worth it. It is worth the adventure and it is worth the slow climb. The process itself is what it is. To me, being successful is not necessarily reaching a certain financial tier or some sense of stardom. It really is about the process and if all along the vibes are good in the band and the music is equally as good, and we just enjoy the process.

PH: What are the pieces of the goal this year that you hope to achieve? Any particular dates, venues and/or festivals you’d like to play? Others you’d like to collaborate with?

CM: Right now we are just revisiting markets in New England. The target markets we’d like to expand upon are Boston, Portland, New York, Providence and those within a six hour radius. We’d really like to make these markets strong and then we can make the crawl outside of New England and expand further South and out West. We’d love to go play in Colorado. As far as festivals go, yeah, we are really pushing to get on the bill for as many festivals as we can, especially in the New England area: The Wormtown stuff, Camp Creek, Gathering of the Vibes and these types of things. We’re hoping to play lots of festivals this summer.

PH: For someone that doesn’t know your music, whether it’s a festival booker, club promoter or even a fan, how do you pitch your sound? Do you speak to the World aspect, the jamband leanings, the funk, the psychedelic edge or do you skip labels altogether?

CM: That’s a good question and a really difficult thing with this band to come up with just one catch-phrase since it is culmination of so many different styles. There’s the base of the entire thing which is the n’goni from Mali with its African based influence. But everything that surrounds it, I have a lot of outside influences whether it be like hip-hop, R&B type production stuff or reggae. But we really don’t play any reggae in the band. There’s just sonic qualities of these types things that I really resonate with.

I tend to use the word “future-shock” a lot. It’s like a future-shock contemporary sound and mixing that with traditional elements of West African music. So I don’t like to use the word “World” so much because sometimes that gives people the wrong idea as they think it always sounds a certain way. The music is very accessible to a lot of different kinds of people…it caters to a live setting, a festival setting. We try to stay current with what happens around us. The goal is to play homage to the tradition of West African music with the beat of the n’goni but also doing my own thing with it and incorporating influences from other styles.

PH: How about plans for you above and beyond Barika in 2013? Are you still committed to Mike Gordon’s band? Will we hopefully see some Mike Gordon dates this year?

CM: [Yes, I'm] still committed to Mike Gordon, but he’s been pretty busy doing his own thing. He’s been writing a lot of songs and doing the Phish thing. As far as I know, there’s nothing on the books right now, but those things usually come up quick and he’ll just pop it in, “We’ve got a tour in a month…” We always make it happen one way or another.

Beyond that, I am doing a lot of n’goni related stuff. I have another band called the N’Goni Trio and that is kind of a revolving door of musicians. The foundation is the n’goni and the other two members are constantly changing. I like that. Barika is very focused music. There’s a deep groove to it but the arrangements are very specific. Everything keeps moving and layering and stacking. The building and breaking down of the music is very intentional.

With the N’Goni Trio, I like to have a basic form for every song but allow everyone to really improvise and work with each other in the moment and see what we can create with intentional improvisation. So it is pretty cool. The bass player in Barika, Rob Morse, has been playing a lot with me on the upright bass. And sometimes I have this guy Dave Kobrenski show up and he plays the fulani flute which is an African flute. Guitar players, pedal steel players, piano players…it is constantly changing and that is a really fun project also.

PH: And you have a great show coming up this Friday in Boston at Church with Superhuman Happiness. That’s such a great double-bill. How did that show come about? Have you played with them in the past? And is this Barika’s first show back since you left Rubblebucket?

CM: We’ve been playing plenty of shows but this is our first show in Boston as Barika. I’ve played with Superhuman Happiness in the past with Rubblebucket. It is a bunch of such great guys in Superhuman Happiness…some of the Antibalas guys. So we have a great connection for sure. I suggested them since they were looking for a band to fit the bill. They have such great energy and are such a positive bunch of talented musicians. They were really one of my first picks, so I reached out and it ended up working.

PH: Is there anyone else that you are looking forward to collaborating with or performing with this year?

CM: Well, naturally I have a lot of favorite bands that I would love to perform with. We just did a show with John Brown’s Body and that was excellent. Being on tour with Rubblebucket develops such great friendships with so many bands. There’s definitely no shortage of other bands that I’d like to play with. But I’d love to do a lot more with John Brown’s Body. There was a really great connection there and I think both of our sounds are very compatible and accessible to the same crowds. So doing more with them would be great or doing things with Antibalas would be great. There are bands that are doing things with African music like Toubab Krewe – they are good friends of mine. Collaborating with them would be great and I think some of these things are in the works.

PH: Well, good luck in 2013, good luck with Rise and the Kickstarter campaign and I hope you have a packed house in Boston on Friday. Thanks very much for your time.

CM: Thanks so much Parker, I really appreciate it.

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Barika Official Website

Rise Kickstarter Campaign

Barika performs Friday, February 15th at Church of Boston with Superhuman Happiness and Dirty Rascals Brass Band.  $12

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