Boston’s Gem Club will be playing this Thursday at Bowery Ballroom with Agnes Obel. The Ballroom is a perfect venue for their brand moody, ambient music. The classically orchestrated three-piece is comprised of lead singer and pianist Christopher Barnes, cellist Kristen Drymala, and vocalist Ieva Berberian. Barnes has said in the past that he attempts to recreate landscapes through music. We caught up with Barnes—who once lived in a piano factory in Boston—to find out how the urban spaces in his hometown affect the music that he writes.
1. How does your city influence your music?
The weather in Boston can be intense. It seems like the most difficult seasons—summer and winter—bleed well into fall and spring. Exceptionally long and cold winters these past couple of years have meant a lot of time at the piano. I did the majority of my writing for this record during the fall and winter months. This has probably translated directly into the music in someway.
2. What songs of yours best reflect your city and why?
I don’t have any songs that are about Boston specifically. I worked for a long time as a bar back at two clubs—once staples of Boston nightlife, sadly now extinct —Axis and Avalon. I wrote the song Marathon about a guy I met while working there. We developed a close friendship that only existed within those walls on Landsdowne Street—that’s to say I never saw him outside of the club. Week after week he would be there mostly hanging out at the end of the bar. He was in some sort of trouble. Then he stopped coming, just sort of disappeared. I think that Boston is like that. It’s small enough where you can see the same people over and over again if you’re looking in the right places, but large enough where you can still disappear if you’d like to. Marathon speaks to that.
3. What songs of other artists you like best reflect your city and why?
For me it’s the song Blue Thunder by Galaxie 500—That song reminds me of Boston.
4. If your band designed a building or urban space, what would it be and what would you put in it?
I’d like a gigantic, quiet room in the middle of the city where you could go and just be silent for a period of time. I would like it to be beautifully reverberant as well.
5. What’s an Untapped City Secret for your city?
A few blocks from where I live in Somerville, which is a couple miles north of Boston proper, is a small university building. Inside there’s typical student union type amenities like a coffee shop, a bookstore, a gym, etc. but there’s also a sort of indoor alleyway of Japanese restaurants. In the cluster of places to eat is a small ramen place that makes a great spicy miso broth. They cook it for hours before serving it, and after you’re done you can walk around the corner to this little shop to buy some unique Japanese incense. Every time I go I make sure to stop in. My current favorite is this strange frankincense and citrus blend that has a sandalwood base.
6. Any Untapped Secrets you know of in New York?
Yes, we’re relatively close to New York so we get down there often. One of my favorite places to visit in is the East Village. Its called Flower Power. Its all herbs and roots and all the wise women; green witches there are well versed at practicing healing magic.