Q&A: Orthrelm And Krallice's Mick Barr On Free Improv & Jazz, Working With "Klassikill" Music Sage Nondor Nevai, And Not Being In Hella

For starters, Mick Barr is not in Hella. Never was. Sure, the diminutive, scraggly-haired, baseball-capped experi-metal guitarist overlord has collabbed with the San Franisco spazz-proggers' drummer, Zach Hill, on a slew of intense and brain-scorching shredders. But those were just one-offs. "I'm not a member of Hella," volunteers Barr. "I just wanted to make sure, as more than a few times I've heard that I was a member of Hella."

With that minutia aside, beardo Barr—whose dizzyingly gnarly six-string fingerfucks earned him an unrestricted grant from the Foundation for Contemporary Arts a few years back—is indeed in Brooklyn black metal wizards Krallice, and he's also half of Orthrelm, the sole mastermind behind Octis and Ocrilim, and a veteran of stints with Weasel Walter's brilliant "brutal prog" freaks the Flying Luttenbachers. Among others.

As of late, Barr has been ridiculously busy. In September, he released an LP under his own name for the first time (the overlooked Coiled Malescence (Safety Meeting), a 40-minute butchery of precisely constructed solo guitar mastery. He's played gigs with Krallice and is now undertaking a hefty schedule of solo and collaborative sets with some of New York's finest composers and improvisers, including drummer Mike Pride, Weasel Walter co-conspirator-slash-Cecil Taylor vet Marc Edwards and saxophonist Jon Irabagon. Sound of the City got the lowdown from Barr via email.

You've played with Mike Pride and Jon Irabagon several times. How did you originally meet Mike and Jon?

[Tuesday night's show at Death by Audio] will actually be the third time we've played together. I met Mike many years ago, in 2003 or so, when Orthrelm played with an early duo version of his band Period. Me and him had been trying to organize a time to jam ever since but both kept dropping the ball. I met Jon just last year at moers festival in Germany, where Orthrelm played, as well as Jon's trio. We hit it off and made plans to play together when we returned to NYC.

Are you now an "official" member of their I Don't Hear Nothin' but the Blues project or is this a new venture for the three of you? I've read you are working on an LP.

It is still Nothin' but the Blues. What does official mean again? Yes, I think we are planning on releasing a CD of some sort next year. But "permanent" and "official" are kind of meaningless terms to me in the greater scheme of music. Nothing is ever permanent or official.

When you collaborate with two players like Mike and Jon (winner of 2008's Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition), who have serious jazz roots, what is your approach to playing with them? Do you play differently? Is it prepared sets or purely improvised? What do you bring to the table?

The sets are purely improvised so far. I don't have much of a different approach so much as I have to focus on the moment a bit more, as opposed to playing written and rehearsed material where I am focused on what's coming next. I like playing with Mike and Jon as the vibe is to never stop going. I get uncomfortable with a lot of dead air in improvised music.

Do you get any flack from black metal fanatics who don't "get" that you play with jazz figures?

No more than the usual Krallice shit-talk.

How much of a role does jazz/free jazz contribute to your own playing?

I think a lot. I've always been interested in trying to write music that sounded improvised but wasn't.

Which are you more comfortable with: playing a solo set, playing with, say Jon and Mike or with [Talibam! drummer[ Kevin Shea or gigging with Krallice?

There is no one comfortable musical setting. Sometimes I want to play entirely composed music; other times I want to show up and wing it. Solo sets are great as I don't have to coordinate gear or anything. I hate gear.

I read that your favorite jazz record is John Coltrane and Rashied Ali's Interstellar Space. Have you heard Nels Cline and Greg Bendian's interpretation of that album? Are there avant-garde/jazz guitarists that helped shape your own style?

I have not listened to the Nels Cline record yet; been meaning to for a long time. There's not too many jazz guitarists I listen to other than a little Sonny Sharrock. In general, I'm not overly focused on guitarists and technique. Mike Eber from Zevious rules, though. I listen to a bit of oud and tar music, which are kind of like guitars. But I usually tend to focus a bit too much on metal.

You've played with some exceptional drummers: Pride, Shea, Nevai, Hill, Walter and Lev Weinstein [in Krallice].

Yes, I feel fortunate to have played with so many amazing drummers.

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