Don't hold Adrian Barrera's past against him.
When his former band the Hiss called it quits shortly after releasing its 2007 full-length Chocolate Hearts, it was the rock and roll band Atlanta loved to hate. Even the four members of the group's final lineup — Barrera (vocals/guitar), Todd Galpin (drums), Milton Chapman (keyboard) and George Reese (bass) — were sick of the Hiss.
Rather than make a clean break, however, they retooled everything from the ground up. "The Hiss' whole approach became more and more unfocused," says Barrera. "As it grew further away from the original idea, we all started losing interest in it. We didn't want to reinvent the whole wheel, but we definitely needed to do something different."
The fruit of their rebranding campaign culminates in the Barreracudas. The new group features the same players as the Hiss' final lineup — with the addition of guitarist Warren Bailey (Beat Beat Beat, Gentleman Jesse) — but takes a back-to-basics approach.
The arrival of the Barreracudas' debut 7-inch, released in April on Douchemaster Records, shows a substantial twist in everything from songwriting dynamics to fidelity to overall personality. Rather than function as a democratic songwriting unit, the two cuts on the single — "New York Honeys" and "Don't Get Me Wrong" — were both penned by Barrera. When placed back-to-back, they exude an air of consistency and spontaneity that gels with a solid sense of identity.
In the summer of 2008, Barrera began playing as a sideman with Gentleman Jesse and His Men. Apparently, his exposure to a band that approached the art of songwriting from an individual point-of-view rubbed off on him.
"New York Honeys" is bound by a glam-trash strut of fuzzed-out tones and primitive inflections that are a blatant nod to the trampy punk of downtown New York circa '79. Barrera even embraces the homage with a sheepish laugh when milling over the song's riffs. "I guess the New York Dolls did kind of write the song before I wrote it!"
Besides the accidental Dolls-sounding riff he stumbled upon, "New York Honeys" was also inspired by the world of behind-the-counter hip-hop porno magazines that populate gas stations and convenience stores. "I'm kind of fascinated with people's fascination with pornography and things that they can never have," Barrera admits. "It seemed like a nice, trashy thing to write about with such a nice, trashy riff."
Similarly, "Don't Get Me Wrong" was born out of too many misunderstandings. "Sometimes I feel like my life is like an episode of 'Curb Your Enthusiasm,'" he says. "I have to take three steps backward whenever I try to do something good and nice, but my intentions are perceived the wrong way."
Barrera's' street-level grit and personal narrative approach is a far cry from the oft-cited surrealism and psychedelic leanings that dominated the Hiss. It elevates the Barreracudas to a different plane. "I want to place more of an emphasis on the mythology of rock and roll and storytelling," Barrera says. "In the Hiss, I thought I had to write songs about wizards in the desert and wolves and things like that. The songs that I'm writing now are more about people at parties and boy-girl dynamics and things like that. I think people can relate to that much more ... I know I do."
The push to simplify ideas and keep them coming from a singular mind-set is a defining trait of the Barreracudas. "We used to batter our ideas around so much, it got to the point to where everything was really complicated," says drummer Galpin. "We would keep working on songs until everyone just got frustrated, and we never accomplished what we set out to do."
The shift from groupthink bestows the music with a sense of direction and cohesiveness that was stifled before the newly incarnated Barreracudas. "The Lennon-McCartney thing is such a myth," Galpin says. "They didn't write songs by sitting around and looking at each other. They came to each other with finished songs, and [they] didn't say, 'Hey, can you finish this line for me?' They brought their own material to each other and the other one would say, 'Damn, that's good, what can I do to top this?'"
Barrera concurs. "It makes all the difference in the world to finish writing your own songs," he says, "because if you bring something to the rest of the group to worry about it, suddenly [it] becomes everyone's problem. And when everyone gets their hands on it, it chokes the life out of it," he says. "If you don't know what a song is supposed to be about, how can you show it to the rest of the group and ask them to finish it?"
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