Provo, Utah’s up and coming folk rock group “Michael Barrow and the Tourists” talk about their latest release “Juneau” and their musical journey in general. Enjoy the interview and check out their music!
Artful Axolotl: I gather that Michael Barrow is the singer of your band, but who are the “Tourists” and what is the origin of that moniker? How long has the current lineup been together?
Michael Barrow: Bingo. Michael Barrow is the singer. Hi there. The Tourists consist of Trevor Harmon on lead guitar, Zach Collier on keys, Alessandro Improta on bass, and Reed Perkins on drums. After deciding to be in a band together in February of 2016, we spent about a year sending different band name options back and forth in our group chat. And we couldn’t come to a consensus on one. When Sandro suggested “The Tourists,” we decided that none of us hated it. It was fun and unique, and I (Michael) go to Alaska to drive tour buses in the summer, so it made sense to call my bandmates “Tourists.” After Trevor sent us some examples of potential album artwork and t-shirt designs, we were sold.
AA: Am I correct in assuming your debut album is self released? Where was your album “Juneau” recorded? Why did you choose “Juneau” as the title of your debut album?
Michael Barrow: The album is self-released. We recorded it all over the Provo/Orem area in Utah. We were privileged to be able to use a vocal booth owned by Trevor’s aunt to record vocals and acoustic guitar. Drums were recorded in the green room of Muse Music in Provo, and the rest of the instrumentation was recorded in different bedrooms and storage units in the area. The finished recordings were then sent to Brian Zieske of Off Axis Studios for mixing and mastering. Eventually Alex Rainbird heard our stuff and signed us to his label, and he’s been pushing it over in Europe.
Trevor Harmon: We named the Album “Juneau” because that city was a huge influence on how this album was shaped. Michael is a tour bus driver in Juneau during the summers, and much of the inspiration for the album was found there.
AA: How long did the recording process take and how long had you been writing the material that makes up your debut album?
Michael Barrow: I’m pretty sure the recording process took roughly 1 billion years. It’s the biggest project I’ve ever been a part of. We officially started recording in October of 2016 and finished in April of the following year. After writing that down it honestly doesn’t seem like a lot, but so many hours were put into it (and subsequently subtracted from our sleep). The first few songs on this album were written in summer of 2014, before I’d met anybody in the band. I kept writing through the years until I eventually met The Tourists. Then the real magic happened.
AA: I was duly impressed by the lead guitar efforts throughout the album, were these solos largely improvised or more structured?
Trevor Harmon: The songs that lend themselves to more of a “jam” (Sad Song, The Mountain & The Sea) were more improvised while other songs (Hey Hey Hey, The List) were more structured. For example, for the guitar solo during the last chorus of Mountain and the Sea, I improvised that solo over the course of the year, and then for recording time, I played through it probably 20-30 times and then chose the best takes. However, the solo during Hey Hey Hey (after the 1st chorus) was written once for a demo and remained almost exactly same after a year of playing it.
AA: Your songs tell powerful stories of self doubt, lost love, heartbreak, and regret. Are these lyrics based off personal experiences? If so, how did you channel these formative experiences into such well written lyrical passages for your music? Were these lyrics largely written before the musical complement?
Michael Barrow: Unfortunately, most of these lyrics are indeed based off personal experiences. I’ve been through some stuff. But I figure everybody else has as well, and instead of going around and complaining to other people about my problems, I can instead put them into a more enjoyable and relatable format. Basically, any time I think of a lyric, or even an idea that I think could work in a song, I write it down. I have an app in my phone that’s full of unused song ideas. Then, when I decide it’s time to write another song, I sit down and open up that app and see what all I can string together. I do this with my guitar in hand, and usually write basic musical components to the songs at the same time as I’m writing the first draft of the lyrics. Then, when it’s at some level of completeness, I take it to The Tourists and we jam on it. As a side note, I would like to mention that, while I wrote the majority of the songs, “The Reason” was written by Trevor. He’s been through some stuff too.
AA: Who are some of your primary musical influences? Which genre label(s) would you use to describe your music?
John Mayer and The Paper Kites were really the driving influences on this album. We wanted some anthemic folk with some soulful vocals and guitar solos, and hopefully that’s what we ended up with. People have described us as folk rock, end we feel that comes pretty close to what we are.
AA: Do you have any shows set up in the near future? Any eventual tour plans?
Michael Barrow: We’re playing Velour Live Music Gallery in Provo, Utah on October 21st. We’ll be touring the state during the end of this year, and then in 2018 we’re planning on touring the west coast.
AA: What have been some of the challenges of/what has been your approach to creating a widespread following as a new band in today’s saturated music market?
Zach Collier: I work pretty closely with our band manager Grant Fry to get our stuff out there. I think the challenges most musicians face are 1) figuring out a way to convince people you know to give your music a serious listen and 2) figuring out a way to get your music in front of strangers.
The way to get your friends and family to take your music seriously is to be humble and down to earth while being the best musician you can be. If you try to come across as this hyper serious artist, you’ll be seen as pretentious and nobody will want to listen, regardless of how good you are. On the other hand, if you’re a likeable person but a poor musician, people will humor you and listen to your tunes once or twice, but they won’t recommend them to a friend. Juneau is a pretty serious album as far as subject matter is concerned, but if you spend time with us in person you’ll quickly see that 90% of our communication with each other is bad puns and dad jokes. We try to have a good time and are generally pretty silly outside of our music. But we take practice seriously and try to put on a good show whenever we play.
When it comes to getting your tunes in front of strangers, you need to be willing to believe in yourself, even when no one else does. Jay-Z got big by selling CDs out of his car after being shut down by local labels. You’ve gotta be willing to do weird stuff like that, and you can’t be afraid of rejection, because rejection is inevitable. We’ve landed some wonderful placements in some big playlists, but for every blogger or playlister that falls in love with us, there were probably 20 or so who didn’t accept us, you know? Put your heart into promotion. Write thoughtful letters – don’t spam. Get to know the people behind the blogs – don’t just use them to get noticed. Put up flyers and posters in your city, talk to local shops to see if they’ll spin your record, set up a scavenger hunt. I dunno, just think outside the box and try to provide value to people.
AA: Other than making memorable and meaningful music (which Juneau more than accomplishes) what is the ultimate goal of your band?
Zach Collier: We want to touch as many hearts as possible with good music. Life is beautiful and worth living – even the sad parts. Hopefully our music can help people see that and keep going.