Bobby Bare Jr.'s new album Undefeated is a mixed bag stylistically, jumping from power pop to R&B, punk rock to cosmic Krautrock, but at its core the 47-year-old songwriter says it's "all country." Born to Country Hall of Famer Bobby Bare and singer Jeanie Bare, his Western roots make perfect sense: he grew up next to Tammy Wynette and George Jones, and was mentored by Shel "A Boy Named Sue" Silverstein.
Something must have got in there. For all its genre-defying diversity, Bare keeps his lyrical focus steady: Undefeated is implicitly about getting dumped. How's that for country?
Bare is headed to town with Guided By Voices, a prospect that thrills him. "It's like a dream," Bare says. We rang Bare up in Nashville to talk about Undefeated, fatherhood, and an important lesson he picked up from strippers.
Up on the Sun: How far into the process were you when you realized that Undefeated was a break up album?
Bobby Bare Jr.: It's more of a "getting dumped" record than a "break up record." But pretty early on I wrote [a line] "If she cared where I was I wouldn't be with you right now." It just started tumbling from there.
How do you draw the distinction between a "break up album" and a "getting dumped album?"
Well, because I did not want to experience the breakup. The breakup was imposed upon me. It's a real grown up, real life situation.
It seems like your sense of humor really shines through the whole record, though.
Yeah, except that I hoped you sensed there's a real honest sadness underneath most of it. If I can get a room full of people to laugh at the most horrifying, sad moments in my life, it helps me. I jokingly say when I do shows that I've been in Nashville writing the most miserable songs of my life in the hope and dream of coming to your town and bumming everyone the fuck out. And everybody gets it.
That's one of the things about comedy or songwriting -- the truly sad stuff and truly funny stuff blend together. It's hard to tell what's what. When things get bad enough, it's a natural reaction to laugh about them. Cause what else can you do really?
Yeah, it's not fun -- but yes, you're right.
Is it fun playing the songs live?
Yeah you know, it's fun to play them. I enjoy playing the sad songs.
"My Baby Took My Baby Away" is a song that blends that humor in. It sounds like you're singing about a weird roommate at first, not a kid.
I've always said having children is like having the drunkest roommates you've ever had in your life. They don't give a fuck about anything. All they care about is the bottle. They stumble everywhere they go, they just lay around on the couch and don't play rent. They'll grab their mom's boobs like it's normal, just squeezing anybody's. Grandma's boobs, whatever. They're into it.
It's great the way interpolate the melody of the Ramones "KKK Took My Baby Away," but there's some real jealously, too.
I also say that having a baby with a woman is like having the best looking guy ever to live move into your house and steal your woman. You know? There's nothing you can do about it, except love the baby, which is effortless. And fun. But the reality is you've lost your priority in the household. You are no longer number one. Your woman has fallen in love with someone much cuter than you. [Laughs]
Your dad is a songwriter, and you're a songwriter. Do you ever wonder if your son is going to write a response to a song like that?
I hope so. I hope they all find a creative outlet. I have two songs and a daughter, a collection of humans in my life.
This album feels extreme -- songs like "If She Cared" are brutal. The level of honesty you're putting out there is rare. You neither paint yourself as the hero, but you also indulge in a very necessary sort of recognition of what a drag things are.
Songwriting in general, I always think of it as being very similar to a stripper. If you're a stripper and you don't show your ugly parts, people aren't going to be very interested in what you're doing. Nobody really wants to see a stripper who doesn't let the spooky stuff show. You have to do that. Everybody can see it a mile away when someone gets up on stage to just let the pretty stuff shine. You know? That's not interesting. That's really, really boring. My parents were songwriters, my best friends were songwriters, so I learned that pretty early on.
That you had to put that out there for it to work.
You gotta show your ugly parts. You just gotta. And not many songwriters are willing to do that. It also takes a desperate need for attention to show those things. Most people have no desire to do that.
Bobby Bare Jr. is scheduled to perform Sunday, June 15, at Crescent Ballroom.
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