The Barreracudas

Promises, Promises:
No More Waiting – The Barreracudas Deliver

Hearing the Barreracudas for the first time is like hearing rock ‘n’ roll for the first time. Which is an audacious statement to make, but it’s nonetheless true. That’s the sort of fresh rush their music sends in a flash from the soles of your feet to the outer limits of your skull, culminating in a grin on your face a half-mile wide. Without seeming retro, they bring it back to the core. Without being dimwitted, they are undeniably funny. Without getting cheesy, their lyrics are often quite sentimental and very human. Their music is jump-up-and-down fun, their songs are quick and catchy and simple, but they don’t take their fans for fools. Instead, they reassure you, like the best rock ‘n’ roll bands do, that it’s alright to feel like a misfit. Because they are misfits and oddballs themselves. At least, that’s the way they come across to me.

Adrian Barrera laughs when I say as much to him. “We certainly feel like that! I kinda think it just says more about the way things are now – you’re used to seeing a band of four or five guys that all look exactly alike, and all fit a little template. And that’s not the way a cool band needs to be. New York Dolls, Dictators, any kind of real classic old band, they’re just a gang. I think that kind of thing’s missing in music. Not a gang like that commits crimes to be cool, but a gang, like, these teenage guys – what are these guys up to? Why are these guys hanging out together? Like, I grew up with Milton and Jorge in Tampa, and I’ve known them, I would say, since I was a kid. So, I don’t think you could be any more similar…or different, ha ha ha!. We grew up in a very similar way…”

That would be Milton Chapman and Jorge Reese, the Barreracudas’ guitarist and bassist, respectively. If you want to know the history of this Atlanta band, you have to start in Florida. And you should know a bit about their history if you care to fully understand what they’re about today.

Post-high school, Adrian found himself in college in Gainesville, along with future Barreracudas drummer Todd Galpin. Todd had a band there called Young Americans, but then “everything in Gainesville kinda sucked, started closing down, and there was nowhere to play, and everybody was sort of graduating, and we were like, ‘Well, we’re gonna move somewhere.’ So we just kind of randomly picked Atlanta. My best friend was going to Emory, and it seemed like a place we could go,” recalls Barrera.

Once in Atlanta, after a number of false starts and detours, they assembled what would become the Hiss, a band that somehow got swept up in that whole Strokes/Hives/Vines “rock is back!” crap of the early 2000s. There were certain individuals, both in Atlanta and eventually in England, who latched onto the Hiss as a “next big thing.” Through no real effort of their own, Barrera and Galpin’s band swiftly became the subject of colossal hype. What ensued were several years of incredible highs and lows for the boys.

“We got all these opportunities to do all this cool stuff, and for a while you’re fielding these wild requests, and you try to get used to it. You think you can handle it, but then when it gets to a certain point, you’re not really…well, I was just too young and immature to make any of these kind of decisions. We moved on so quickly – we were at the EARL playing in front of 20 people, and then a month later we’d be at the EARL playing in front of a hundred people, and then we’d sell out the EARL, and then a month later we’re playing at the NME Awards…”

A couple of singles did alright on the British charts, and the Hiss played shows with Jet, Oasis and the Sights, among other bands. But they had little focus, and being young and inexperienced, they made some concessions they likely regret now.

“You had to record things a certain way to be played on college radio,” recalls Barrera. “There were a lot of weird lines drawn in the sand. And you know, when you’re 22 years old, being thrown into a different country and this whole different weird world…you get used to saying yes to all these things that you end up looking back and are like, ‘Man, I kind of said yes to a lot of dumb shit without even realizing what I was giving up by doing that.’ And in the middle of all that, we had to deal with all kinds of weird chaos thrown into the mix too.” In the midst and aftermath of recording their debut album, original bassist Mahjula Bah-Kamara had a bit of a meltdown, setting in motion a series of rhythm section changes that eventually resulted in Barrera’s old Tampa buddies Chapman and Reese entering the picture.

By that point, the band’s momentum had begun to wane anyway, and their music was shifting in a less serious direction as well. Eventually, with ex-Beat Beat Beat guitarist Warren Bailey on board (whom Barrera was by then playing with in Gentleman Jesse & His Men), the Hiss were history and the Barreracudas simply shrugged into existence. But the contrast couldn’t be any sharper.

“The Hiss was an exercise in being a democratic band. I’ve seen first-hand what it’s like to have everything go the opposite direction of what you’re trying to do. So I wanted to do something fresh for a start where I’m deciding what’s going on,” Barrera stresses. “There’s more of a conscious effort [now] to write more about real things. Switch gears from whatever the Hiss were writing about – I don’t know what the hell those songs are about. And that saddens me – they’re not real things anyone can relate to.”

Certainly I would maintain that most anyone will relate to the dozen delightful pop-punk gems on the Barreracudas’ debut album, Nocturnal Missions, finally out this month through Douchemaster after being recorded in the spring of 2010. The long wait proves worth it. These are some of the catchiest, funnest things I’ve heard in some time – song after song that just stick in your head for weeks, songs full of desire and frustration, confusion and betrayal, ecstasy and loneliness, capped off by a straightforward but appropriate cover of Cheap Trick’s “Come On, Come On,” as if to emphasize what this band’s about in case you hadn’t figured it out by now. The thing about it is, you take a line like “I’m marking numbers on my calendar, ‘cuz I know I’m gonna see you soon,” and in a different context that could totally be the key line in a Taylor Swift smash. It’s pop music at its nucleus. Here, in the grubby hands of the Barreracudas, it rides on a rock ‘n’ roll hook that does everything right. The album’s loaded with such ammo. “Baby Baby Baby.” “I Won’t Wait.” “Don’t Roll Your Eyes.” Amazing stuff. So where’s the fucking NME Awards now?

I also like the humor in Adrian’s songs. It’s a quality too often lacking in rock ‘n’ roll music, for reasons I don’t comprehend.

“It’s our personality. I’m not a super serious person. And I felt like a lot of the stuff I did in the past when I was younger was steeped in this weird, unnatural, really serious tone. My main goal in life, since I was a little kid, was to be a comedian.”

That’s funny, because for a while now Adrian has done amateur stand-up, although when pressed to reveal where, he’ll only name the Star Bar (on Monday nights) and Jesse Smith’s basement. “I slay there,” he laughs.

In other Barreracudas extracurricular activities, Milton and Jorge do some pretty fascinating work restoring Hammond organs. Being that they’re not made anymore, it’s a skill few people possess, and thus their services have been tapped by everyone from old school gospel churches to Tina Turner and Bruce Springsteen.

“It’s mind boggling,” underscores Barrera. “It combines so many different aspects of [being a] craftsman, and art and… I mean, these things are not only musical instruments, but they’re mechanical, electrical, and they’re furniture, so you have to have a knowledge of woodworking…you have to know a broad range of all these different abilities in order to restore a Hammond organ to the quality that they have to do. To see them in action, doing all of this stuff, it’s really crazy. Just the physical strength to move one of those things would be confusing to a person that’s never tried to do it. Not only that, but Milton is like a master of every instrument, pretty much, so to see him…sit in church and talk to the minister about what’s wrong with their organ, and while they’re sitting there, they’re all just jamming. It’s pretty badass.”

In recent months, the Barreracudas’ gang has begun to splinter slightly, with drummer Galpin moving to Chicago and Bailey to Brooklyn. Both are expected to be on board for the band’s imminent tour with Davila 666, but after that things aren’t as clear-cut. Of late, the band has been using other local musician friends on drums and second guitar, sometimes playing as a quartet, sometime a quintet. I have no doubt that Adrian, Milton and Jorge will forge forward with whomever they decide will permanently fill those positions. For fans who just can’t get enough of the ‘Cudas, there’s also the nearly identical Barreradactyls, who’ve been playing almost as often recently.

Then there are those nebulous ventures that may or may not actually come to fruition, such as Barrera’s Adrian vs. Predator collaboration (see last month’s issue for a story on Atlanta minimalist punkers Predator), which he calls “too good of a joke not to do it!” More likely to see daylight in the near future is the Barreracudas’ split 7-inch with Davila 666, with Davila singing in English (a first) and the ‘Cudas in Spanish. You know, it’s the little things that excite us…

“I mean, the Ramones definitely are the template of this idea,” concludes Barrera. “But I always liked the idea of having the Barreracudas be like a band that’s not afraid, even though they’re smart, to be seen as fools. Almost on a cartoon kind of level. The Barreracudas are just like a cartoon. If I looked at a picture of us, I don’t even see real life people – I see a cartoon.”

 I tell him I thought that exact same thing the first time I saw them – this band’s a cartoon!

“So it’s working!”

It is. But cartoons can speak profound truths about ourselves, too.

Photo by Tim Song.