An Interview with Chris Barron

Chris Barron (front man for the Spin Doctors) recently returned from a trip to the Middle East where he performed for U.S. troops. I sat down with Barron before a solo show in Schenectady, NY to discuss the trip, his future plans with the Spin Doctors, and his newly launched solo career.

Interview by: Tom Miller

HGMN: You've been nominated for a Grammy, appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone Magazine, performed on Saturday Night Live, and shared the stage with the Rolling Stones. Where does your recent trip to Iraq to play for U.S. troops fall on your list of accomplishments?

CB:  You know, people get into music for a lot of reasons and a lot of those reasons are selfish. You want to be rich or you want to be famous or you want to "get the girl". But I think most people that play music want to make other people happy, and there's an impulse to go where people really need you the most, where people really need to be made happy. I don't ever remember playing for a crowd of people that were more... you know, they're lonely over there and they're in a very alien environment. There's hostility going on everywhere and the place itself is hostile. It's like 115 degrees out everyday and the sand is like this talcum powder, so if there's any wind at all the air fills up with this yellow sand that you're always breathing in. You have to walk around with a rag across your mouth. I mean, everybody knows you can die in the desert, but being there and thinking, "if you take all these buildings away, take this water away, take away these people that are guiding me from place to place, I'd be dead in like 12 hours". I'd at least be unconscious with buzzards picking at my bones. So, I've never been good at hierarchies, like "this is number one and this is number two", but for me there's a threshold and when things go beyond that threshold, it's an amazing experience. You know, like meeting Keith Richards was one of the most amazing things that happened to me. Appearing on Saturday Night Live was amazing, being on the cover of Rolling Stone was amazing. I'm doing this show tonight for WEQX and it was on this station that I first heard one of my songs being played on the radio. That was amazing!

HGMN: What song was it?

CB: Two Princes. Yeah, so this experience is up there with any of those. It was a really amazing experience. And it's not like "I'm so glad or so proud I did it". It's more like, "this is the least I can do".

HGMN: Was this something you've wanted to do or were you approached by someone?

CB: Actually, our record label sent another band over, Cowboy Mouth. So when I heard they were going over, I wanted to know how I could go, too. 

HGMN: How many people did you play for at each show? Was it hundreds, thousands?

CB: No, not thousands, it was like hundreds or less. Some shows had more than others. This one place we played in Baghdad was like an R and R area. And the troops are always moving, they come and go, and the night before we got there we heard the place was full. But then when we got there they all had to go and do like "war stuff" so there was nobody there. We had been convoyed in by a detail of soldiers so we basically ended up playing for them that night plus like six other people. There were other gigs though where we played for several hundred people.

HGMN: Did you play indoors or outdoors?

CB: Both, some gigs were outdoors and others were indoors.

HGMN: Besides the hostile physical environment you mentioned, did everything else go off without any problems?

CB: Yeah, it was really great. The soldiers are so appreciative. I'll never play for a more appreciative audience. It's not like they're foaming at the mouth and going nuts during the gig. They're generally pretty reserved and clap after the songs, but they're just very much into it. Like after the show we'd do a "meet and greet" and the first night they were like, "you know a lot of people are probably going to line up to meet you guys". And we were giving out CD's and some posters that we were signing, stuff like that. So they asked us how long we were willing to hang out and sign and I'm like, "Ahhh, 'til everyone who wants to meet us or wants a CD or signature, gets one." So they would sit there and be pretty reserved during the show but afterward everyone of them would line up to meet us. And they would wait.  We would hang out and talk and take pictures or sign autographs, but they would hang out for like an hour and a half. They wouldn't go away. They just waited on line and an hour and a half later there would still be a little line and they would just wait to meet us and get a signature or whatever. It was really cool, very special.

HGMN: Were you ever worried about your safety?

CB: No. We were never in any danger what so ever. I really want to stress that. We didn't do anything heroic at all. My family was worried about me and I reassured them over and over again that everything was fine. Honestly, I'm not in the business of putting myself in danger (laughing). That's just not for me. I was never in any danger. The soldiers over there are the true heroes. They are putting themselves in harm's way and they're to be admired for that.

Do you think you might draw inspiration from this experience to write a song?

CB: Um, well I am writing about it. Not a song but I am writing a blog about it. You know, I never know what might become a song. Sometimes momentous things don't make very good songs. It's kind of like the good stuff doesn't make a good story. So I don't know if I'll write a song about it, but like I said I am writing about my experiences there. I'm trying to go to a lot more interesting places and meet more interesting people. I'm trying to be more disciplined about writing this stuff down and I think I would eventually like to do some kind of a book, like a travel log. I've never really seen myself as a prose writer. I kind of think I suck at it but I'm actually pretty good at it. When I sit down and write these accounts of things, I um... well for example, there were things that happened over there (Iraq) that I thought I would never be able to describe or put into words, but I've sat down and made myself do it and it somehow comes out OK. Somehow I manage to get the vibe of what was going on. So I'll tell ya, I don't know if any songs will come out of it. I'm going to write the experience down and you know... it really changed me personally. When I got home, first of all I don't know how these guys adjust when they get home. I don't know how they do it. I was dreaming about barbed-wire and guns and concrete barriers for days after I got back. I was walking in the streets and I was amazed by something simple like our law and order. Law and order is not the order of the day in that world. Our system, the United States, is a country or a system that is certainly flawed. Our system is by no means perfect as far as everyone not getting the same deal as everyone else. But, it's a lot better... so much better than like, Iraq for example. Comparatively, here in the U.S., people get a pretty fair shake and for the most part there's law and order. People aren't just running around killing each other. So I've just been feeling very lucky since I got back. It put a lot into perspective. We all have our problems, you know, and they're real problems. But in comparison, when put into perspective, a lot of our problems are petty. There are much bigger problems in this world.

HGMN: Getting away from Iraq now, I'd like to know what you see in your future and if it includes the Spin Doctors?

CB: Oh, yeah. I always think of the Spin Doctors like a Ferrari. You know, you have this Ferrari in your garage and just because you don't drive it to work everyday doesn't mean you're going to take a sledge hammer to it. I love those guys. We have this love/hate sort of thing. I been places, done things with those guys. We share this collective experience that no one else was able to share with us. We did a lot of amazing things and everything I have now, I owe to those guys. I owe them my success. Well, I guess we helped each other. The reason I'm playing for this room full of people tonight is in part due to the success I had with those guys. We're still doing some gigs and stuff, putting food on the table, and that may extend into making another record. I really don't know. But there's certainly no plan to break up the band or anything like that.

HGMN: One last follow question to that. You've been through a lot of ups and downs; your well publicized health issues, chemistry issues with the Spin Doctors, etc. Are you happy where you're at right now? Are you at peace?

Yeah, I'm having a really good time. I really enjoy doing this solo thing. It's a really cool vehicle for my song writing. I really enjoyed doing Pancho and the Kid, I've been writing a lot with the Time Bandits and I've been writing on my own. I'm really looking forward to making another record. I'm really just trying to get the word out and I'd like to keep doing this but on a larger scale. Obviously, I'd love to be filling stadiums some day but I really just feel like I'm starting out as a solo artist. I'm just learning now, how to play the electric guitar. I've always played an acoustic and now I'm learning a lot more about music by learning the electric guitar 'cause it's so much more unforgiving, so much more precise. So what I'm trying to say is that I'm really enjoying myself but I'll never know everything I want to know about music. I'm really enjoying going out on my own. Like, when you're in a band for 20 years, there's stuff you automatically fall back on. Certain patterns, guys playing or acting a certain way, stuff like that. It's sort of this big safety net. On my own, there's a much smaller safety net. I'm just out there, working with the crowd. There's nobody to hide behind, it's just me. I'm really enjoying that, I like the higher standard I'm being held to. So I am happy but I want to keep growing and keep writing. I'm really hungry for tomorrow.

HGMN: Thank you, Chris.