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Before Derek Barber Could Work on His Second Perhapsy Album, He Had To Overcome His Fear of Singing 

Wednesday, Feb 24 2016
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On a recent Tuesday afternoon, musician Derek Barber biked with his equally musical girlfriend Madeline Kenney from their home in West Oakland to the new East Bay location of John Vanderslice's analog recording studio, Tiny Telephone.

There, they met up with the drummer and vocalist of the Oakland band Astronauts, etc., for which Barber plays guitar. Because the members of Astronauts, etc. already knew Vanderslice — they recorded their 2015 album, Mind Out Wandering, at the Tiny Telephone studio in San Francisco — they were able to get a private tour of the place. Vanderslice showed them around and a musician by the name of Raj, who had rented out one of the studios for the month of February in order to achieve his goal of recording 100 tracks, played them one of his songs.

"It was neat," says Barber, who is 30 years old and has a cherubic, young face framed by brown curly hair. "They did a hell of a job bringing some really cool stuff into the studio."

A couple of months ago, Barber had met with Vanderslice for another reason: He wanted to talk about his solo music. In addition to playing guitar in Astronauts, etc and the Oakland eclectic-fusion band Bells Atlas, Barber also has a side-project called Perhapsy.

Though he started Perhapsy while in college, Barber has only released one album under the name, back in 2009. But in December 2015, after years of delays, Perhapsy's followup was finally complete, and Barber wanted Vanderslice's advice on what to do with it.

"I was kind of holding onto the album," he says. "I wasn't sure if I should self-release it or wait for a record label to pick it up."

Vanderslice told Barber to go ahead and release the album online himself — that way, he'd have complete control over the project, could move onto something new, and wouldn't have to wait for a label to release it (which could potentially take up to a year).

"I realized that holding onto a project like that was something that contributes to making you feel creatively stagnant and not able to move onto the next thing," says Barber, who will unveil the album on March 3 through Bandcamp. "Setting the release date is my way of being done with it and moving onto the next thing."

Me Tie Dough-ty Walker, as the album is called, differs from Barber's self-titled Perhapsy in one major way: It has vocals.

Barber started Perhapsy while studying jazz guitar at the University of Michigan, out of frustration with the monotony of practicing the same style of guitar every day. He started writing instrumental songs and cajoled some of his friends to play in the band, which sounded decidedly more rock and indie than what he was studying in school.

For the next few years, Barber played shows around Michigan and eventually recorded an instrumental-only album. Why no vocals? Barber was too embarrassed to sing. "I was really scared about it," he says. "It's a hard thing to get over."

After joining his first band in high school, Barber was informed by his friends and fellow bandmates that he couldn't hold a tune. This led to Barber having a "hangup" about hearing his voice, which is why the original Perhapsy record lacks lyrics and "doesn't really feel like a first album."

Only in the last four or five years, after Barber relocated to Oakland to be near his friends and family, did he attempt to sing.

"I just didn't care as much at that point," he says, explaining that he went to open mic nights and did solo sets at house shows in order to develop his vocal chops. "I developed a sort of 'fuck it' attitude, which helped a lot."

In Me Tie Dough-ty Walker, the songs range from introspective, acoustic ballads to loud, intense rock headbangers. Barber discusses a litany of topics in each of them, covering such things as theoretical Biblical stories, the loss of a friendship, and secret tattoos that one only discovers during times of intimacy. Though Barber covers the vocals and plays the guitar, bass, mandolin, and keyboard in the album, he enlisted the help of friends to fill in the other instruments, which include bass, drums, and lap-steel guitar.

Throughout the album, Barber doesn't so much sing as intonate the lines. But it works. His voice, which is soft and breathy, is often doubled or buried beneath the chords of his guitar, tactics used by many artists who don't love their voice. Despite this, Barber claims he's satisfied with the finished product.

"I felt insecure about it at first, but I found a way to make it work," he says. "And I'm pretty happy with it."

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Jessie Schiewe

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