Rob Barbato // Darker My Love

dml

I recently met with Rob Barbato, Darker My Love’s bassist & vocalist, at the Oinkster “Slow Fast Food” in Eagle Rock, CA. To get there, I had to take 101 South to the 110 North to the I-5 North to the CA-2 North Glendale. With LA traffic, it can be a 45 minute drive or 2 hour 45 minute drive. I arrived at the restaurant 30 minutes early and a little anxious because my cell was broken (it was being fixed by a guy name Hooman on Sunset) and I had no way to get in touch with him. I thought he might have bailed, but when Rob arrived 30 minutes late he was very apologetic; he had lost track of time practicing with his friend Cass McCombs.

Rob is a likable guy that his friends describe as an “old soul”; humble, but confident in his ability as a musician. During our interview we discussed a wide range of topics: the release of DML’s new album,“2″, (Out today 8/5-iTunes), touring with The Fall, Life and Death and Lumberjacks.

R&G: It’s been almost two years since the release of your self-titled album. You finished mixing your sophomore record, “2”, in February. Is the anticipation of the release killing you?

Rob:
Yeah…there were a few months there– end of May, early June – I was really starting to go crazy. Now, things are starting to pick up. I’m pretty excited.

R&G: What about the MP3 challenge you set for yourself in May (write and record new song every day until the album comes out).

Rob: It was during that period when I was kind of going insane from waiting for the record to come out. Everyone was doing other stuff and I felt really isolated and unproductive; I was kind of having a bit of writer’s block, over thinking stuff, so I tried to make rules so that it was more like a game and less like writing music. Wake up; you’ve got to get it done. It doesn’t matter what happens. That’s what it is.

R&G: You’d already put out the songs that were on 2. Were you writing material for the next album or just practicing?

Rob: Practicing writing. To totally not hone the skill but get a better idea of what you’re doing unconsciously when you’re writing a song because if you consciously try to write a song, a lot of the time it doesn’t work out. So if you set these parameters, you shut off your mind to the more petty aspects of writing and do it for the fun of writing; basically trying to spark something up. You never know… some of those things could turn into songs later on when you start refining, editing and producing them.

R&G: Speaking of producing, how was working with producer Dave Cooley [Silversun Pickups, J Dilla]?

Rob:
Dave’s a really cool guy. He’s really good at guiding you in the right direction; where to go. He worked with us a lot before we got into the studio.

R&G: Didn’t he recommend you guys to Dangerbird [DML Label)?

Rob:
Yeah. He and Brian [Aubert] from Silversun Pickups were kind of the reason we got signed there. We didn’t really know either of them, but Dave, bless his soul, he got us on the label. He’s a great producer. Really, I think in the next few years, people are going to see him come out as a really big producer. He’s great at letting you be yourself but he also challenges you to challenge yourself in ways you wouldn’t normally.

R&G: How did you feel when he disagreed with your writing or direction?

Rob:
Of course anyone would have their ego kind of bruised. When you write a song and think it’s the greatest song in the world and someone comes in and says, “Well, have you thought about trying it like this?” you’re ego is kind of crushed. But, what’s great about Dave is, with him, you can try it in his direction and if it doesn’t work, and you don’t like it, it’s no sweat. It’s not like he says, “Well, it’s gotta be that way.” It’s like, “Cool. It didn’t work.”

R&G: Do you look at him as a mentor?

Rob:
Yeah, you know…he’s like a buddy now and he has great advice. It’s great because he’s got the perspective of not being in the band but knowing us really well now. He knows how to deal with each of our personalities and dynamics, so he has no problem saying “You should try doing this.”

R&G:
The album was mixed by Tony Hoffer [Beck, Kooks]. Tell me about him.

Rob:
He’s a really funny guy; great sense of humor. He did a great job mixing us, but after we were there, after I met him, I wanted to hang out with him. He’s a cool dude. He’s a part of the Dangerbird family; Jeff [Castelaz] manages him. It’s like a dynamic duo between Dave and Tony.

R&G: You wrote the current single “Two Ways Out” while you were in a Los Angeles hospital with a 105? temperature. Ironically, it’s the most optimistic and bright Darker My Love song to date.

Rob: It was 2006 and I had just gotten back from tour and was wearing moccasins the whole time I was in England. They had holes in the bottom and I got staph infection. I had gone to two other doctors who said it was ringworm. It built up and got in my blood and I got a really bad fever. We were on tour for the first record and we were coming down from Seattle, and I was sick. I just didn’t feel good. I played Portland, got to San Francisco and then went to the hospital there. They misdiagnosed it, and when I got to LA, I went to Cedar Sinai after we played the Troubadour. They were like, You can’t leave.

R&G: Was it a life or death situation?

Rob: (Pause)…Kind of. I didn’t realize the gravity of the moment when I was in it. You don’t think about how the people who are fixing you are just like you (laughs); they’re just human. They might not know what’s up. When you’re little you think doctors know everything, but they can make mistakes. It’s pretty scary.

R&G: The song and your upcoming album are creating quite a buzz. How does the band feel about the success?

Rob: It’s not really happening because we’re not going around playing shows. Really what we want is to be able to go out and headline shows and have people come out and have a good time and then come back and make good records, or the best records we can make. I’m just hoping that… we’ll see what happens as we tour through the rest of this year. I wanna see more people come out to the shows and stuff.

R&G:
Both you and Tim Presley [Guitar, Vocals-Darker My Love] were in Mark E. Smith’s legendary band “The Fall”. Were you stressed or did he make you feel at ease?

Rob:
No. At times it’s stressful. Anything is stressful. Working relationship, you know?

R&G: When did you realize that he accepted you as peers?

Rob:
When he asked us to come over for the Fall’s 30th anniversary show in Manchester, which was the first time I’d ever been to the UK. That was when I realized he really liked us and liked the band and just liked us as people and enjoyed having us around. He’s a really funny guy… really has a great sense of humor.

R&G:
Did you and Tim both mature as musicians?

Rob:
Oh yeah. Some of my greatest experiences have been while I had the opportunity to play with Mark. He helped us by touring and dealing with the music business in general. I had never played in front of more than a thousand people. That had been like the most. And then I played in front of thirty thousand, forty thousand, now…

R&G: What were your biggest/best Fall Shows?

Rob: We played the last night at the Hammersmith Palais; this famous place in London where Bob Marley and the Clash played. They closed it down. It was like The Good, The Bad, The Queen played the night before and then we played the last night on April Fools’ Day; it was insane. Also the last show we played in Barcelona when we were there last year. We played our show and our show went really well; we had the next day off and Orpheo (McCord) and I just sat on the Mediterranean watching Sonic Youth play Daydream Nation with the Band of Horses dudes and some of the guys from Built To Spill. (Smiles) It doesn’t get much better than that.

R&G:
When Andy Granelli [Drummer-Darker My Love] and Tim were the band Nerve Agents, Tim was known as “Timmy Stardust” and Andy was known as “Andy Outbreak”. Your guitarist Jared’s [Everett] handle is “The Sandwich”. What’s yours?

Rob:
I suppose I’m, I don’t know…

R&G:
Lumberjack?

Rob: (Laughs) Yeah, I guess the lumberjack.

Rob:
Andy and I were somewhere and Andy had a beard at the time and we both had on flannel shirts and they’re like, “Oh my god, look at those lumberjacks.” (Laughs) I think we might have been in New York and they thought it was crazy that we’d go out dressed that way.

R&G:
Your hometown Boston is your favorite place to play. In the MTVU interview, you said New York was your second favorite city. But you recently told me that Charleston is one of your favorite cities. Where does it rank against New York? Alright, rank LA, New York, Charleston, Boston, and San Francisco?

Rob: I would go Boston, San Francisco, Charleston, New York, LA.

R&G: You played several shows in Charleston, South Carolina last year. Did you guys stay out at the beach?

Rob: We actually stayed out by the airport… way the hell out there (laughs). So, we were taking cabs into town, but it was real fun.

R&G: You played at the Music Farm.

Rob: Yeah. We played there twice with Cass Mccombs and Band of Horses.

R&G: The (Band of Horses) put out a great album last year (Cease to Begin). The additions of Tyler Ramsey, Bill Reynolds and Ryan Monroe have taken those guys to the next level.

Rob: I think they’re really starting to come into their own. Comfortable… because with any band, you have to become comfortable with who you are, find who you are, and we’re still doing that, you know?

R&G:
Where are you now?

Rob:
We took a giant step with this new record. I think playing this next year and touring will be the other big step. Once you do that, you become comfortable with who you are and it just projects out to the audience and fans and people can really connect with that. I’m so critical of myself; I want to do great stuff.

R&G:
Can you hear it if it’s not great stuff?

Rob: I do, but it all sounds different out front than it does from the stage.

R&G: Can you tell from the audience if they’re feeling it or does it even matter?

Rob:
It doesn’t really matter. I mean, I don’t think necessarily it helps you when the audience is going off, but I don’t think that means you’re having a good or bad show, whether people… because when people go to shows, all their insecurities are there too. Your insecurities onstage are apparent and their insecurities are apparent because they’re in this place with a bunch of people, you’re supposedly trying to be cool, there’s alcohol and stuff going on, and maybe when you’re younger – I remember going to shows when I was younger – and it’s like being scared of older people, people like my age now.

R&G: Best beard in the business: Rob Barbato, Ben Bridwell (Band of Horses), or Sam Beam (Iron and Wine).

Rob: (Laughs) I’ll have to go with Sam Beam on that. I’ve had mine probably as long as I’ve known about him, so it wasn’t like a conscious effort, but he’s got a pretty hefty…