Around February 2017 encore spoke with local singer-songwriter Hank Barbee about his solo album “Son Royale.” He told us of his process of finding what makes a song come alive. “To me, it’s always about the song and the question: Where does this song want to go?” he noted.
“Son Royale” already was carrying more meaning than anticipated. The name “The Dust Parade,” as referenced on the album, soon became a moniker for an ever-changing roster of players who started to join Barbee for live performances. Though, very few of them actually played on the album itself.
“The name [‘The Dust Parade’] was a cryptic reference that came about to formalize the fact I now have a band behind me,” Barbee says today, “an evolutionary step of the solo artist.”
While playing informal one-off shows with players Matt Henderson (bassist) and Jim Durham (saxophonist), Barbee’s cousin and drummer Mykel Barbee (L Shape Lot) stepped in for a while. They played their first Dust Parade show on Feb. 17, 2017, at The Brown Pelican in New Bern. The next night they played a dive bar, Royal James Cafe, in Beaufort.
“It was obvious something magical was happening,” Barbee continues. “We played music like we were flying. I don’t think we’ve looked back since that weekend. It’s why I wanted to celebrate our one-year band-versary. It is a very special group of guys we have. . . . We all play an equal part in the musical magic happening here. It’s no longer just [me] with guys backing me up; this is far more than that.”
The Dust Parade has come full circle now as a blues-surf-jam outfit, made up of Barbee and permanent fixtures Henderson, Durham and drummer Logan Watson (formerly of the David Dixon Trio). They’ll celebrate their first year together on Saturday at Duck and Dive.
encore caught up with Barbee and company to chat about the band’s milestone and latest original songs, including “Nevermind.”
encore (e): Tell us more about your collective influences and this first year’s worth of work.
Matt Henderson (MH): It is the first professional band I’ve ever been in! While playing stand-up bass in middle school orchestra, I picked up electric bass and fell in love. Years went by without an outlet for expression—until I met Hank! He has given me the chance to be a part of something great, and I have learned what a band is really about: discipline, diligence and most importantly teamwork. At the moment, I am really just trying to develop my own style and feel, with very little regard to the actual genre of music I am playing.
Jim Durham (JD): Each of us have been shaped and influenced as musicians by the people we have grown up listening to and playing with. There is some crossover in our past influences, but we are all coming at the music with a slightly different “lean” on it. It would be hard to list all of our influences as a band, but I think the short list of what comes out in our music is rock, Americana, roots country, jazz, blues, surf, swing, jam band, bluegrass, and so more. It creates really interesting and fantastic genre blends when we start to work on a song together.
I have a hard time putting a label on the genre of music we play, but I’ve always loved music that transcends genre and becomes something new entirely. People may not know what to call it, or different people may want to put their own labels on it, but I say let’s forget about what we call it and just enjoy it.
e: How are band dynamics so far, on- and offstage?
MH: Wonderful! I have gotten immensely lucky with landing in this band and having Hank as a band leader. He is a great guy who lets us go. There is never a problem between any of us, and it’s very hard to foresee there ever will be. Jim is an awesome player who is always ready to give some knowledge to me to push me along the way. Logan is newer on the scene, but probably the most laid-back of us all.
JD: It is a fantastic group of guys [who] I feel have become my brothers; we become closer and closer as we make more and more music together. No one is here to be the star, and no one is here to take control. We tend to lean on Hank as a songwriter and leader, but we are all a part of the music process. We are all very busy people in our lives beyond the band, but it makes me look forward to moments at a rehearsal or a gig when we get to play together again.
The practice is very productive—partly because we are all having a great time in the process. I feel like we are learning each other so well and we are starting to anticipate each other as musicians. It makes the jams we get into that much more interesting onstage. We are all listening to each other and having nonverbal musical conversations onstage.
e: What are some “lessons learned”?
Hank Barbee (HB): You can’t force chemistry. All you can do is be grateful when you have it and then get to work as a team to chronicle the season of creativity at hand. There’s been a number of guys, who I loved as players and people, who just didn’t speak the same musical language I did. In the kind of music we are trying to play, there’s no way to move forward without that common thread.
JD: I’ve learned the band is more than the sum of its parts. I think when we first started playing together, I did not know how much Hank wanted us to get involved with the music writing process. I loved his first two albums; I was very concerned with wanting to make sure Hank was happy with what I was doing with his music. Hank put the band together, and I wasn’t sure if he wanted my input in his music, but I realized very quickly he wanted us all to have input on most everything we were doing. That takes the music to a whole other level of depth that could not be there if we weren’t all a part of it.
MH: Everything will be fine! [laughs] I used to get onstage nervous as can be, especially when I barely knew a song and was thrown into the fire onstage! That’s the way I learned, though, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I’m rarely nervous now!
HB: Matt shouldn’t be nervous now [laughs]; he’s killing it! But that’s a true story—I did literally throw him into the fire! He responded like a champ. That’s how I learned to play, too, with dudes who were older and more experienced. Despite being super-scary, the “fire method” has its merits. You begin to rely on musical instincts immediately, and those are skills that serve you well. Your intuition and your ears: That’s all you really need.
e: Hank, in the past you’ve said you tend to be picky about what you play to a live crowd. Can the same be said about The Dust Parade’s work?
HB: I guess the nature of The Dust Parade now is we are very much a live band—not a “super jam-band” band. But we are players, and we definitely travel far from the musical core at times and may not return. If that makes it “jam,” then so be it. Everything that we’ve written and perform together, so far, is material full of energy and perfect for live settings.
I also think we’ve made a conscious effort to focus on positive lyrical messages and give birth to them more so than the angst or downtrodden type of material. This is an upbeat group of socially conscious individuals who understand we have a voice and responsibility that comes along with having this talent.
e: Tell us more about “Nevermind.”
HB: “Nevermind” is actually one of the few songs I had prior to us all getting together. It’s a song related to addiction/recovery/rehab—sort of a topic close to home for me. I recorded it several years ago in Atlanta for a compilation album to benefit addiction, recovery and awareness. It’s a fun song to play and this lineup just kills it. We all agree it needs to be recorded on our first album as The Dust Parade.
MH: “Nevermind” is a fantastic song to play; it covers content that is very entwined with my past, as well as Hank’s. The bass line is singular yet solid. It’s a song I rarely improvise much on; though, it gets more fun to play each time I nail that specific bass part.
JD: “Nevermind” seemed set when I first started playing with Hank. I did not try to change it, and I don’t think Hank, Matt or Logan did either, but it became something different over the course of all of us coming together. I think it changed gradually. Then it kind of struck us [after] we played it a while, that it was still the same song in message and basic form, but it had grown into a piece of music that was somehow 100 percent Hank’s original song [yet] 100 percent The Dust Parade’s mixing bowl of magic.
e: Where are you on recording?
HB: I’d say we are still in the writing and rehearsing phase. We’ve got enough material to go in right now, but we wanna find a studio that’s able to capture us live, when we’re in the moment and at our very best. That being said, we’ll probably take a few more months and really tighten up stuff. I’m certain once we find a comfortable and workable space where we can lay down songs, the band is going to make a breakout record. It’s the best thing I have ever been a part of, beyond a doubt.
It’s genre-bending, genuine and original. The songs are great. The players are great. The personalities come through in the writing and the music. That’s about the most one can ask for. I’d love to say we can get it recorded and released this year.
e: Tell us about your process of writing lyrics and music.
JD: As for the most recent music we are working on, Hank has fantastic songs that are fleshed out, or mostly fleshed out, in his head—or as a demo he sends to us to listen to. We all take some time to absorb what we hear, and we all come together to practice it with our own ideas.
Everybody has ideas; we try lots of things until the song comes out the other end, with pieces of all of us in there. I am so grateful to play with this group of musicians that leaves the ego at the door and just wants to create fantastic music. Hank is a wonderful songwriter, but is very open to our ideas . . . I feel like we all have our own “presence” in the music.
HB: Jim has a vast background in formal music, so he is never out of ideas or melodies, and Logan and Matt are great at coming up with lively rhythms to grow music from. Seems like all I have to do anymore is write a little guitar lick and a verse and chorus. The rest tends to write itself.
e: As a singer, Hank, how does the band and project change your approach to performing a song versus what you’ve released in the past?
HB: Having their strong rhythm section at the foundation allows me to do different things on the guitar than I normally would, and that, in turn, affects how much I’m freed up to experiment vocally. Being a solo player/artist for so long, that’s not a luxury I’ve ever had. I love the freedom to expand.
e: How are you planning to celebrate your band’s one-year anniversary?
HB: Our goal is to have fun bringing people some joy with the sounds and feels of great music! Folks will be able to hear brand-spanking-new songs. They can witness us playing energetic surfy-island jams. They can visit pretty girls at our merch table and check out special deals on T-shirts, CDs, limited-edition vinyl pressings of “Son Royale,” my mom’s handmade guitar string bracelets—made from my recycled strings—and take home some free stickers and stuff we’ll be giving away!
e: Is there anything else you want to add about working together, latest music or anniversary show?
Logan Watson (LW): The Dust Parade has been working very hard to incorporate new songs at every show. It keeps the gears grinding for the band and the material fresh for the listeners. The lineup we have right now is unstoppable, and 2018 is lining up to be a big year for this band!