We interviewed Danny Barnes
The first few times I was discovering and becoming interested in bluegrass, I happened upon a band called Bad Livers. That name caught my attention and I decided to give it a try. It wasn't long before I was completely captivated by the music of that group that had Danny Barnes (banjo), Mark Rubin (bass), and Ralph White (fiddle) in the lineup. The album was “Delusions of Banjer”, which alternated between its own compositions and creative and unique versions of the bluegrass repertoire.
Well, shortly afterwards I had a banjo in my lap, trying to decipher and learn this instrument that was, at that time, weird for me, but also fascinating. At that time, I had already listened other works not only from Bad Livers, but also from Danny Barnes - who now follows a solo career. His latest album "Man on fire" was nominated for a Grammy and brings, once again, much of the creative ability that he can express through the banjo and his compositions. His versatility allows him not only to accompany musicians in acoustic groups like David Grisman, but even to do shows accompanied by his banjo and a computer, in which the layers of the instrument and the synthesized sounds are processed in real time. I must say that his work, whether in Bad Livers or in his solo career, was what pulled me once and for all into the universe of banjo and bluegrass, leading me to a growing interest in other groups and musicians of this style.
Listen to the album Delusions of Banjer here:
After exchanging messages through social media, I felt compelled to propose an interview that he happily accepted and agreed to answer some questions.
1. Was the banjo your first instrument? What caught your attention about the banjo that made you think “I want to play that instrument”? My parents played old school country music around my house since my birth. Something about the sound lured me in. And also the way those hand motions don't seem to line up with the music, like when a piano plays goes up and down it makes sense, but when you see someone play the banjo, it looks off somehow. Also, I saw Flatt and Scruggs on tv in the sixties and John Hartford. they used to have lots of banjo guys on tv. 2. I can't forget to mention your performance at Bad Livers. When I first listened the group, I immediately realized that there was something different there, which was not done in most bluegrass or banjo groups. How did this style of yours developed? Did it come naturally or was it really an attempt to do something different? Well, Mark [Rubin] and I are big music fans so we just listened to a lot of different kinds of records and as well as bluegrass and most of our friends were in punk rock and metal bands and stuff at that time. Mark and I also were both punk rock guys so we listened to lots of different things and we would just play that stuff on gigs.
3. This brings me to this next question. You are a musician with many influences. This is clearly expressed in your music in which you put these diverse contexts in a conversation that results in your sound. You play with acoustic groups but you also do shows accompanied by a computer and synthesized sounds. The banjo seems to me to be a catalyst for all these influences and not simply an instrument for playing bluegrass. How do you think about that in your creative process? I use the banjo as my pencil to get ideas and songs out. It allows me to think slightly differently. It is also a very useful sound orchestrally.
4. You are a musician who until the moment before the pandemic lived on tour and was suddenly forced to stop. Do you think this event can influence your way of making and thinking about music?
Well, yeah, like hitting a brick wall with your head, it will definitely change things up. Yes, and I'm not even sure what to make of the whole deal. Never saw all this coming. Not sure what to make of the whole thing. One thing though is, I never realized in a million years how many mean people there are in the world. I thought maybe ten percent or less. Turns out no, it's WAAAAY higher than that. So, that aspect has me a little confused.
5. What do you think of musicians from other countries who play banjo and bluegrass? Here in Brazil there is a growing movement of people interested in the banjo, although we still don't have a bluegrass scene itself.
Aw man, it's super cool. it brings fresh new stuff to the banjo. And brazil holy cow SO MUCH FANTASTIC MUSIC came out of there. Jacob do bandolim and Sepultura. On and on. What you yourself are doing is fantastic and I love that you do that and are able to do that and have a context to do it in.
6. This is a question from my banjo buddy Wagner: What three pieces of advice do you have for those who are starting to learn banjo?
Earl, Ralph, Don.
7. The last album you released was "Man on fire", a great Grammy-nominated album. What are the plans for upcoming releases?
I have lots of stuff in the works I constantly write and make things. There are about five records already written from me. Bad livers prolly want to do a new release. Grisman has a bunch of new music, I have a bunch of new music.
8. Finally, I would like to thank you for your kindness in being available for this interview. Thank you very much and I would like to leave this space in case you want to say something more.
I just want to say the message in my work is: dignity for poor people. I'm on the side of the poor folks of every race and nation. And the earth. And old people, sick people, kids, and animals. I hope to inspire others to not be some combination of dumb and mean. I love music.