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A slice of hippie jam from the Athabasca Barnburner

The home team had their day last week as the Athabasca Barnburner played a release party for their first LP, I Hope You’re Happy, at the Jasper Legion. Before sound check principal lyricist Liam Cullen, Michelle Beauregard and Michael Gervais sat down with the Fitzhugh’s Craig Gilbert, who was indeed happy, as they had hoped.

Fitzhugh: I mentioned to a fellow Alberta newspaper publisher that I was going to talk to you and she “noiced” it. This is the second show of your –

Liam Cullen: Year-long CD release tour.

Fitz: We were talking earlier about how much work goes into the album. What am I going to hear when I plug it in? When I find a computer with an optical drive and plug it in?

Liam: We’re charging twenty bucks for the album. Every second of that album is worth listening to, front-to-back. We’ve been in tears, in yelling matches, in a happy cuddle-puddle on the floor. It’s not just music. There’s f—ups in there, there’s talking … We are so proud we captured our essence on a live CD.

Michelle Beauregard: You’re going to hear three friends playing string instruments like they mean it. I think mainly what we were trying to capture was the feeling like we weren’t trying to professionally record something. We were trying to capture the same essence we would get playing around the fireplace or playing at someone’s house, or playing here at the Legion. We didn’t want to sound too polished or pretentious. We wanted to sound like Liam and Mark and Michelle.

Michael Gervais: The recordings were done with all three of us playing together in one room.

Liam: It was done over six days, three weekends. We were so nervous, half the songs, we didn’t even know how we were going to play them, but it came together so naturally and our sound engineer, Rick Irving, has trembles, but is a genius. So we recorded digitally then bounced it to analog on one-inch tape so it kind of warms it up and mellows it out. So we merged new technology with the old-time stuff, since we’re playing old-time speed gospel, as they’re calling it.

Michelle: It’s the story of the last couple of years, at least. We’ve been doing this for a couple of years, and we’re working on season three.

Liam: We’ve come to realize what our name means. Why Barnburner? Because we play so fast. We’re the fastest band in the world.

Michelle: Don’t put that in the paper.

Liam: Ever hear of Del Barber? Pretty fast. We’re faster! Honestly though, we’ve applied to 12 music festivals this year and we almost got into a few. We got some other ones.

The places music takes you. It brought us together, up the ski hill, to Valemount, out to the Coast.

Michael: What we do as performance varies very little between playing on a mic’d stage in a full house to the living room, or campfire, or busking on the street. We’re hard at it on the busking, it’s been awesome.

Liam: That’s what paid for our album, was busking. Every time we went busking, we took the paper money and put it in the Barnburner fund. After $100 for the licence, we brought in thousands of dollars from busking.

Fitz: Just here?

Cast: Just here.

Michelle: The pilot project has been so good.

Michael: It’s so amazing. The thing with the busking is the people that are stopping and eating their ice cream cones and watching us are not bar-goers. They’re family people, vacationing from nations all over the world. We want to appeal to, and we’re working to appeal to, that kind of audience. Playing funeral homes and coffee houses.

Michelle: It brings the music to a different demographic.

Michael: Little kids just dancing their hearts out, and especially the families from other countries (who) may have not heard this style of music before, on these instruments, or even seen live music before.

Liam: So for us, people have said to me ‘I’ve never seen you happier than when you guys are playing music together.’ Either we’re a mirror, or the crowd’s a mirror, and we’re throwing this energy out there and they just throw it back. It just possesses you.

Michael: Monkeyshines.

Liam: Monkeyshines! If something happens on stage, just let it happen. And that’s how we structure a lot of the songs.

Michael: Liam wrote all of the songs and the three of us together arranged them and made changes.

Liam: We together made them songs. It wouldn’t be anything without all of us.

Fitz: So what can we expect this year?

Michelle: This year we’ve applied for festivals and we’re waiting to hear back, we’ve been asked to play a few festivals already. We’re sort of sculpting our summer right now, deciding on festivals and playing a bunch of gigs to get there so we can pay for our gas and our food and lodging. It felt like when our album came out, ‘Oh, it’s over!’ But at the same time, it’s just begun.

Liam: Album two is already written. We’re constantly trying to stay interested ourselves. We play a lot of music, it’s not just the shows. If we’re hanging around at Mark’s, we’re playing. If it’s the summer, we’re playing on the street or at a festival. We went on the road last summer, we were looking for something and we ended up finding ourselves on the way.

Fitz: I’m not writing that, that’s ridiculous.

Liam: We just want to share it. And the people are flocking to it, and they’re sharing it too. We bring the hippie jam.

Michelle: A lot of the festivals we went to were looking for jams actively around the campsites at night and during the day and everyone was in camp going ‘What is going on? This is a music festival. Where are the musicians?’ Turns out, that was our job. We would have these jams at our campsite thinking that’s something that happens everywhere, but it wasn’t. All the musicians who were looking to jam would show up, so it ended up as one big jamming campsite with nothing else around it.

Liam: We were having a really good time. Some of the performers had played and were done and they didn’t really want to jam – even at Robson Valley, we played on the stages twice but, man, we played all night and pretty much all day just jamming.

Michael: All night until the sun comes up and you’re wiping dew off your instruments.

Michelle: And all the ash from the forest fires.

Liam: We’ve just taken the opportunities to play here and there. We’re super happy to have the support we have. The album is all over Western Canada, in Toronto and Ottawa, in Manitoba. In 2018, we’re building our clientele.

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