ABOVE: BARS OF GOLD. PHOTO COURTESY OF ANDREA MOSS
As second albums go, Detroit-based outfit Bars of Gold had their share of challenges. Geographically separated, but undeterred, they put together their upcoming LP Wheels through Skype practice sessions and pondering the tapes of nascent riffs. What’s so impressive is that it suffers for none of these setbacks.
Formed by members of the raucous jazz freak-out band Wildcatting and post-hardcore favorites Bear vs. Shark, Bars of Gold sustain the ramshackle riot of energy they’ve become known for among their fans, with more style and funkier bass lines than anyone else. We caught up with singer Marc Paffi and drummer Brandon Moss to learn a little more about the album that almost never was. You can stream Wheels in full, below.
DOMINIC MAXWELL-LEWIS: So you finished your first record in 2010, you’re about to tour and your drummer moves four states away. Tell me how that worked.
MARC PAFFI: It’s a lot of planning. And in our case a lot of willingness on Brandon’s side to fly and drive back home… quite a bit.
BRANDON MOSS: [laughs] It was definitely something. Being the guy that had to move, I felt like it was only going to be a temporary thing, but having said that, I had no idea when or if I was going to make it back to Detroit. The thing is when you have a good thing and the drive to keep it going, you make things work.
MAXWELL-LEWIS: What was it that kept the drive going?
MOSS: Well, I was pretty vocal about it. I had known Marc for many years, and I’ve been through as many ups and downs in bands with him in the past.
PAFFI: We’ve been friends since childhood.
MOSS: Yeah. We’ve all played with a lot of people and been in a multitude of bands, and I’ve really enjoyed all the stuff we have done together. So for me with this, it’s an issue of pushing that along. I mean, you don’t really stop something if it feels right.
PAFFI: Not to mention that we had probably four or five songs done for the new record when Brandon got the news that he had to move. It was obviously something that was very difficult at the time and lasted longer than any of us would have liked, but we got through it and it’s going really well now.
MAXWELL-LEWIS: There’s a real urgency to some of the songs on Wheels, like on a hardcore record. How did you keep the immediacy of the sound up when the actual recording process was taking months?
PAFFI: Oh, dude.
PAFFI: It was very difficult. I mean. What do you think?
MOSS: Well, it’s funny because we’ve all talked about it and had some laughs about it. But a lot of the record was written really quickly. And it wasn’t because we had the determination to write it quickly. It was out of pure necessity. Shit, we didn’t even have a practice space. Right before I moved, we lost our space, so we were hopping around.
PAFFI: Just hopping basements.
MOSS: Yeah. It was imperative that we write songs quickly. Not necessarily come up with ideas, but try and finish ideas as quickly as possible. Which is something I’m definitely not used to and is the opposite of things I’ve done in the past. We were used to just jamming it out and playing for hours. This time it was like, “I’ve flown home, let’s write a song.”
PAFFI: And I think that’s what it was. We’d record every single practice and have hours of shit on tape. Everybody would take it home, and we’d have enough time to sit separately and digest it, and by the time we got back together everybody would have ideas about it. So it was a matter of just hashing out individual ideas to make the song. And usually they’d come together pretty quickly after that.
MOSS: And then we decided to record with our friend Chris, who is a busy man. We went in and stayed at his house for about four days, and that was the initial recording session. And we tried to replicate that hunkering down in basements, or one time we went out to a cabin in northern Pennsylvania and ended up running a generator just to power our amps and basically locked ourselves out from the world and recorded music.
PAFFI: The generator was actually in a shed out in the back so you couldn’t really hear it. [laughs] Maybe a nice hum…
MAXWELL-LEWIS: Are you from similar musical backgrounds?
PAFFI: I’d say growing up we pretty much discovered music together, and that’s not an exaggeration. We’ve found our instruments together, formed bands together, everything. For us, when we really started to get into music aged, like, 13 or 14 you start to buy records and really explore things. And this was in ’92 or ’91, so there wasn’t the luxury of the Internet to hop on and discover things, you had to discover them on your own. So if you had a friend, like I had Brandon, then you had someone to bounce things off of.
MOSS: Jeez, I remember when you bought your first Black Flag record.
PAFFI: Yeah, that was mind-blowing.
MOSS: It was at the same time I bought my first Bad Brains record. And then we went our separate ways, it was a Saturday or something, our parents had to drive us home. But when we met each other on Monday we were psyching each other up about the records we just bought, you know.
PAFFI: Only they probably weren’t records, they were more likely cassettes or CDs. [laughs]
MAXWELL-LEWIS: Let’s talk about the Bars of Gold sound for a second. There’s a lot of really interesting stuff going on. For me at least I could hear elements of At The Drive-In and Fugazi, but trenched with really rich bass melodies.
MOSS: Well, I’m really happy that you said that about the bass. Nick, our bass player, is really like our anchor. Figuratively, literally and everything. And I don’t really know if he even considers himself a bass player per se. He grew up being a guitar player and has always been super, super rhythmic and melodic. And the pre-Bars of Gold band, which was Wildcatting, Nick was the one who chose to play bass. The two guitar players in the band grew up together too, similar to Marc and I. Only they grew up playing guitar together. I feel really lucky that we have these guys who play so well together. They’ve gotten to the point where they just play off each other; they bounce ideas off each other really naturally. But Nick has always been this anchor. He would be pretty modest about it, but I don’t mind trumping him up a bit. But the Fugazi thing is definitely there. I mean, we worshipped them.
PAFFI: You know, when you’re growing up in the Midwest… in Detroit, or southeast, or Michigan, your parents just listen to classic rock or Motown. So then if you combine Fugazi, At The Drive-In, The Murder City Devils with… Bob Seger….
PAFFI: …Well, that gets to you as a kid, because you’ve got The Temptations in one ear and then you discover At The Drive-In. I think the combination of those elements comes out pretty naturally when we write songs. I mean, Scotty…
MOSS: Our guitar player.
PAFFI: Yeah, I mean grand funk at its finest.
MOSS: A lot of MC5 in that gentleman.
MAXWELL-LEWIS: Speaking of the MC5, let’s bring it back to Detroit. I think it’s safe to say that it’s seen better days. Has the economic downturn colored your outlook? Are the songs coming from the same place they were when you started out in bands?
PAFFI: Wow. I mean it’s certainly not easy to live in Michigan or the Detroit area here, but I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else right now. I have to say that artistically, things are really fun and interesting here. And I say that artistically and not just musically. People don’t take themselves that seriously here. The East Coast is a very serious musical and artistic scene. Detroit is harder to get to, and I can see why bands don’t come here. You don’t “pass through” Detroit, you have to come here.
MOSS: When you go on a peninsula, there’s no way to go but back the way you came up. [laughs] But obviously with everything that’s been happening with Detroit, and if you’re not from here and you don’t see it anyplace other than the news; and you just hear the statistics and you just hear all that bullshit, then you’re going to think that that’s what it is, but it’s so much more than that. Of course, there’s areas of this city that you probably wouldn’t want to go to, but they’re in every city… They’re just a little bigger in our city.
MOSS: But I have no plans to leave the area. There’s some really great people, and bars, and music.
MAXWELL-LEWIS: So there’s a strong music scene in Detroit right now?
PAFFI: I would say that the scene is very strong, really diverse, accepting, and world class because of that diversity. I feel like I’m bragging almost, but I feel that what you can take from Detroit right now… we’re really proud of. And I think if more people came and saw it, then it could do really, really well. Because growing up, you played music or you played video games.
MOSS: Especially when it gets cold.
PAFFI: It’s just what you did. You never had to have that strong a thought process about it.
MAXWELL-LEWIS: What about the track “Coffee With Pele”? What was the thought process behind that? Are you big soccer fans?
MOSS: We are. [laughs] But that song was about a cat who’d come visit us while we were recording in that shed. We named it Pele, and it’d come out of the woods each day and we’d feed it hot dogs. Usually around breakfast time, when we were having some coffee. [laughs]
PAFFI: He was definitely a trooper.
MOSS: He was. But he did not look like a world-class soccer player by any means.
WHEELS IS OUT NOW ON BELLYACHE RECORDS. FOR MORE ON BARS OF GOLD, VISIT THEIR FACEBOOK PAGE.