The Kris Barras Band have kicked off 2023 by embarking on their biggest UK tour to date, with a 26-date run through January and February.
The band has had an incredible last 12 months. They released the UK #27 album Death Valley Paradise last year– their highest charting album to date. They toured the UK with Kentucky heavyweights Black Stone Cherry, culminating in a show at the iconic Royal Albert Hall. They supported The Darkness for two nights at London’s Shepherd Bush Empire as well as Thunder at Wembley Arena and a triumphant Download Festival debut on the second stage in the summer.
I caught up with Kris on his tour bus preshow on Sunday, 12 February at Band on the Wall, Manchester.
Antihero Magazine: I was just thinking, the other day, it’s been about a year since we last saw you in Nottingham. Was it Rock City? Just wondering how you’ve been the last year, how has it been for you, both professionally and personally? You seem to be everywhere.
Kris Barras: Yeah.
Antihero Magazine: Playing live constantly.
Kris Barras: Yeah. Yeah, it’s been good. Obviously, the album came out, would’ve been just before we saw you at Rock City, and since then, it’s just been great. Did Wembley with Thunder, that was a really good gig. And Downloaded Festival on the second stage, which was pretty mega too. A few things back in Europe, it was good to get abroad and do some shows. Yeah, it’s been great. And it was just gearing up for this tour really, getting everything ready. Yeah, it’s been awesome so far.
Antihero Magazine: So, would you have revamped the live set as people become more familiar with the latest album, and put more songs in there?
Kris Barras: It’s definitely been noticeable on this tour, everyone knows all the words now and stuff, you can tell that they’ve had almost a year of the album to get stuck into it. Yeah, it’s been awesome.
Antihero Magazine: What about stage production? Still lots of smoke and stuff, or have you changed things up a bit?
Kris Barras: We’ve still got all that kind of stuff. We’ve actually got more, we’ve got more like a lighting show and stuff like that this time.
Antihero Magazine: What came first for you personally? Guitar playing or singing, or did they both just come together?
Kris Barras: Oh, guitar playing, definitely.
Antihero Magazine: Yeah?
Kris Barras: I didn’t start singing until I was probably about 16 or so. I’d always try when I was younger, but I just couldn’t sing, and then it’s been a gradual process. But I didn’t actually sing properly until I was about 16.
Antihero Magazine: Did you see yourself primarily then as a guitarist?
Kris Barras: Yeah, I think so. Yeah.
Antihero Magazine: What was the first music you recall growing up? Something maybe on the radio, maybe a first gig?
Kris Barras: Yeah. So my dad was in the band and stuff, so I grew up around good music, lots of rock, lots of blues, everything from Gary Moore to Rainbow to The Stones, Boston, Deep Purple, all that kind of stuff, Zeplin. And so, I was very fortunate to grow up around good music. Obviously back then, the internet wasn’t in the public domain. These days, kids can just go on an iPad and find whatever they want, can’t they? But back then, I started playing when I was five years old, so massively influenced by what was around me at home.
Antihero Magazine: Sure.
Kris Barras: So, I was very fortunate to grow up in that kind of environment.
Antihero Magazine: What was the first song that you ever played live? Was it a cover version?
Kris Barras: Yeah, it would’ve been because I did my first gig when I was nine, so it would’ve been Smoke on the Water. I did “Smoke on the Water” with dad’s band.
Antihero Magazine: Classic, classic.
Kris Barras: We did a bunch of Deep Purple songs like “Black Night.”
Antihero Magazine: What would you say would be the greatest album of all time?
Kris Barras: Oh, I don’t know.
Antihero Magazine: Apart from your own, obviously.
Kris Barras: I definitely wouldn’t put my own up there.
Antihero Magazine: Or does that change?
Kris Barras: I don’t really… Yeah, I don’t know. I don’t really have a favourite album.
Antihero Magazine: So not something that you maybe grew up with that you still return to later years?
Kris Barras: I always go through stages. I get very obsessive about things, so if I like something, I’ll listen to it nonstop for a period of time, whether that’s a few months or whatever, and then I probably won’t revisit it for a few years. Do you know what I mean? I go all out with things. It’s just my nature, probably with most things in life. But my favourite album growing up was Gary Moore, “Wild Frontier,” “Over the Hills and Far Away,” and stuff like that.
Antihero Magazine: Gary Moore himself, obviously growing up in Northern Ireland, he was a hero for me as well. What about guitarist influences? Or do you just prefer to do your own thing, not take too much from elsewhere?
Kris Barras: From guitar players?
Yeah, lots different really. Gary Moore was probably my first hero early on, and then discovered some of the more bluesy guys through his collaborations, like BB King, Albert Collins
And then, once I got into my teens, I started discovering, I started buying magazines and buying my own albums and stuff with my pocket money and discovered more like the shred world and it blew my mind. People like Satriani, Vai, and Malmsteen. And then, I moved on to more jazz-based guys, like Greg Howe. Yeah, that kind of stuff. Richie Kotzen.
He’s one of my favourite players, just such a versatile guy. You’ll hear, on one album, he’ll do a cover of Giant Steps, one of the most famous bebop tunes. And then, on another album, he’d be doing some metal shred, and then it’s a blues thing, then it’s an acoustic thing. And I like that. Like I said, I got pigeonholed as a blues guitar player, ’cause my first albums were blues.
Antihero Magazine: You won a few blues awards as well?
Kris Barras: Yeah, that’s cool, it’s fine. I like playing the blues, but there’s a lot more to me than just that. It’s just I happened to put some albums out that were mildly bluesy, and then you get… But yeah, I played in metal bands all the way through my teens. So yeah, I think I like lots of different styles and like to bring that all together into whatever I do.
Antihero Magazine: What about your songwriting? Is it something that you’re constantly writing tunes or ideas for songs down, or do they go through a process where you prepare? “Right. It’s time now. Put my songwriting head on and focus.” Or is it just something to dip into all the time? Writing songs on the bus or whatever, constantly creating more music?
Kris Barras: Yeah. I normally like to have a bit of time in between. So we’ve just started writing again whilst we’ve been on tour, actually. And other than a few little riffs and ideas before that, it’s pretty much the first time I’ve been writing since Death Valley Paradise, so I had a good year off. Well, more than, ’cause that’s the release date. A good probably 18 months off from songwriting. I just found… So I’m always jotting down ideas. I’ll get little lyric ideas or little riff ideas and they just go into voice notes on my phone. But actually, sitting down and writing songs, I’ve only just started now. But I feel a lot more fresh with it. I don’t want each album to sound the same, I want it to be a development of me as a writer and as a sound overall. So yeah, that’s how I like to do it.
Antihero Magazine: Do you listen to other bands, do you go out when you have any spare time? I assume that you don’t have much. Go out, and watch other artists and other bands. You don’t need time away from music, music’s just…
Kris Barras: It’s a thing. I read comments online and stuff, and people like, “Oh, the fans. The fans whatever. Fans want this, fans want that.” I think sometimes we forget that, actually, if you’re in a band, you are probably one of the biggest music fans going. I gave up a very successful career and was very well paid… I had a very, very comfortable life.
Antihero Magazine: And became a struggling musician?
Kris Barras: Exactly. And that’s what I’m trying to say, it’s because I love music so much, ’cause I love my band so much. Because of the feeling I get on stage, but also the feeling that music gives me.
Antihero Magazine: A brilliant feeling.
Kris Barras: I think sometimes people forget that.
Antihero Magazine: And that audience feedback as well, which obviously, during the Covid years and stuff, you must have missed that live feedback.
Kris Barras: Yeah. Yeah.
Antihero Magazine: Do you have any spare time, interests, or hobbies?
Kris Barras: Not really.
Antihero Magazine: Outside of music. You just said the music’s everything, you never really stop.
Kris Barras: Yeah. Yeah. Music is a hobby, really. I do some video stuff, I do a lot of film stuff. I do music videos for other bands and things like that. And do a few marketing, advert bits for businesses and stuff, I enjoy that. I’d say maybe I’d probably earn more money from the video stuff than I do from the band, so I’d probably say that’s probably my job, the band’s still the hobby.
Antihero Magazine: Don’t go into the video stuff full-time, please keep making the music. So you still, obviously, you’ve had, what appears to me, a huge success in a short time. But obviously, from what you say, you’ve been plugging away for years. Do you still have… What are your hopes and dreams professionally? Just to keep making music?
Kris Barras: Yeah. I don’t really have any. I’ve already achieved more than ever set out to achieve, so I’m just going to keep doing it, as long as I’m happy. The day I’m no longer happy, I won’t do it anymore. That’s just how I am.
Antihero Magazine: Since you decided to pursue music as a career, what has been the biggest challenge that you’ve faced?
Kris Barras: Probably the financial side of it. It’s a full-time job. All the social media side of things, you’re not just a songwriter and a performer, you have to be a social media content creator, and it’s a full-time job that you don’t get paid for. So yeah, that’s been probably the hardest thing. Being able to find things that can supplement it, and then just when I think things are going to be okay, it’s like, “Well, actually we need this, we need this. We need to do this on this tour and things…” That’s been the hardest part for me. As I said, I got to a point where, in my early 30s, I was pretty financially stable and life was pretty good, I was very comfortable. But I’ve just always had a passion for music. I had to just give it a go. If I can get back to that stage doing music, I’ll be a very, very happy man.
Antihero Magazine: Follow your heart. Does songwriting become easier or more difficult with maturity?
Kris Barras: I’d say probably easier. I feel like my songwriting has improved with every album. I try a lot of different methods. I try to not stick to the same structure, not necessarily song structure, but approach to how I’d write a song. I’m always trying to put myself out of my comfort zone and try to improve. And I’ve done a lot of work on my voice to try and improve that aspect and bring more life to the songs. I think as we’ve moved more into the rock world, there’s a lot more I can do and explore. Blues is a very, very narrow genre, and if you do anything that wants to be considered blues, you’re very limited with what you can do. No choices in a chord progression, scales, and stuff like that, because there’s just stuff that, well, that’s not bluesy. When you have certain guitar techniques, you can’t do it, because, well, that’s not blues. But in the rock world, the rock brand is so broad, I feel like I can pretty much do whatever I want.
Antihero Magazine: Do you ever feel that you would like a challenge of maybe creating music in a different style or genre, outside of what people associate you with?
Kris Barras: I don’t really put that much thought into it, but just… I like to just be able to write without boundaries, really. I felt, when I was writing, I love blues stuff, and maybe I’ll return to it later on. But yeah, as an artist, I felt very restricted. After a couple of albums, I’m like…
And you hear it with a lot of blues artists, not all, but 10 albums in, you’re like, “Well, I’ve just heard all this before. It’s still the same three chords going around.” And it’s great, but you don’t need me to do that as well. There are enough people out there in the world doing 12-bar blues.
Antihero Magazine: Just a final one. If the roles were reversed, who would you like to sit down and interview? Maybe not even a musician, personal hero, somebody who’s inspired you through your life.
Kris Barras: What, alive or dead?
Antihero Magazine: Either.
Kris Barras: Jimi Hendrix would be good, I think. That’d be a good one. Yeah, I’ll go with Jimi.
Antihero Magazine: Brilliant. Thank you very much.
Kris Barras: No worries.