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Angst-free zone

Barnicle keep things nice and friendly
By BARRY THOMPSON  |  December 16, 2008

SUPPORT GROUP: “I wanted to write songs about my friends,” says Karen Barnicle (here in the arms of Lucian Garro, Lindsey Starr, and Kevin Rheault).

It’s possible I’m working backward from a bullshit conclusion, but I’m half-convinced the main topic of most arts-and-entertainment journalism isn’t actually arts or entertainment. Lots of the time, A&E writers are writing about themselves — and their own hang-ups. I’m no exception.

Conversely, Friends of B., an infectious EP from the Brighton band Barnicle, is designed to be a sonic love letter to their social circle — a far less self-indulgent objective. Says rhythm guitarist and Boston Music Award–nominated songbird Karen Barnicle, before munching a vegan burger and, a bit later, drinking a Zombie cocktail at Deep Ellum in Allston, “I wanted to write songs about my friends. I think it makes them feel special, and I wanted to make them feel happy.”

Awwww! How sweet is that?

In accordance with my aforementioned theory, I waste much of our interview (where we’re joined by lead guitarist Kevin Rheault) projecting my adoration of early/mid-’90s faux-ternative onto this co-ed quartet. “Hey Jealousy” by the Gin Blossoms, for instance, has little direct connection with Barnicle, but I bring it up several times. Barnicle’s whole thing is generally piquant and sentimental while retaining strident guitars and kickin’ backbeats. So I thought, “saccharine yet rockin’,” and I made a knee-jerk association with that oft-forgotten spate of glossy grunge. But it turns out there were songs like that in the ’70s and ’80s, too. Thanks in part to Barnicle, we also have songs like that now.

“As the person writing these songs to express myself, I’m kind of psyched to be happy, not angsty,” Karen B. muses. The project is named after her and not vice versa. What’s more, she’s a distant relative of Mike Barnicle, but they’ve never met — and neither is she as cranky.

“Take ‘Lovin’ You,’ ” she continues, offering a track from Friends of B. to illustrate her angstlessness.

Rheault: “If you listen to the lyrics, it depicts a relationship that happens in a post-apocalyptic environment.”

Karen B.: “It’s a jab at consumerism, about appreciating what you have. That’s all you need, is your friends. I try not to buy anything. Ninety-five percent of the things I own I’ve gotten at thrift stores. I think I get cooler and more unique things because of it. We like old stuff.”

The band buy all their gear used, and their vehicles have almost all been converted to run on used vegetable oil. Cute and endearing though their songs may be, they don’t shy away from sticking it to the man, but they aren’t necessarily fretting the collapse of civilization, either — so long as nobody gets hurt.

Barnicle began modestly in 2005, with then-novice songwriter Karen B., former Piebald drummer Lucian “Luke” Garro, and a four-track. In the wake of the inevitable formative-years series of line-up changes, we now have bassist Lindsey Starr and Rheault, a survivor of both the ’90s NYC hardcore scene and a bike accident that left him bedridden for three months. He even had to relearn how to walk. Before the accident, Rheault had all but given up music to run his own business. Less than three years later, Barnicle are one of his several musical projects, and he’s a touring guitar tech for Dropkick Murphys. Talk about a punk rawkin’ way to overcome adversity.

There is an irony here: Barnicle’s highest-charting song is based on someone they’ve never met. Karen B.’s solo acoustic cover of Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl” rose to #20 on the iTunes UK pop chart. But they’re likely better known stateside for the less demure 2008 BMA Local Song of the Year nominee “Texas Mike,” which they wrote for one of their pals, a noted event promoter and a dude I went to hardcore shows with way back when we were both undergrads at Northeastern.

Having tracked down Texas Mike before he was scheduled to DJ one night at Harpers Ferry, I asked him a few questions twice (I had been drinking a little), and for some reason I serenaded him with both his themesong and “Hey Jealousy.” Fortunately, Texas Mike is not easily fazed by peculiar behavior. “It’s really poppy, with a little bit of a breakdown toward the end,” he says of the tribute tune. “Just rocking out. It’s a fun time. That’s Texas Mike. . . . Y’know how there are bands where if they’re playing, all those friends you may or may not see every weekend, you know they’ll be there. To me, Barnicle’s that kind of band.”

In other words, Barnicle are not to be shortchanged as a ’90s throwback. They’re a rock-and-roll band . . . with a posse.

BARNICLE + DJ KEN + DJ MICHAEL V | “The Pill” at Great Scott, 1222 Comm Ave, Allston | December 19 at 9 pm | $5 | 617.566.9014

Related: Gloom merchants, Slideshow: Six Finger Satellite at Great Scott, Between rock and a soft place, More more >
  Topics: Music Features , Dropkick Murphys, Mike Barnicle, Karen Barnicle,  More more >
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