2019 already looks like a great year of music at Neat Coffee Shop, which launches with a special sold out solo show by Barney Bentall on January 16.
Bentall originally made a name for himself as the front man with his band The Legendary Hearts, with a Juno-winning career that spanned the 80s and 90s, churning out singles and videos like “Something To Live For,” “Come Back To Me” and “Life Could Be Worse” that became staples of rock radio airwaves and MuchMusic Countdowns. The group went on an indefinite hiatus in 1997, and essentially disappeared from the spotlight for almost a decade.
For those who lost touch with Bentall’s work since the Legendary Hearts’ days, he re-emerged in 2006, reinventing himself as a solo artist with a new sound, and earning himself a Juno nomination for Gift Horse, his first solo album. He has kept busy ever since, having released a total of nine albums: four solo records, as well as side projects (The Cariboo Express, folk trio BTU, Juno-nominated bluegrass band The High Bar Gang).
His latest album, 2017’s The Drifter & The Preacher is one of his most personal albums, as many of the songs reflect two of his biggest influences in his life—his father and his father-in-law.
We recently had a chat with Bentall from his B.C. ranch about the album, the transition between the two chapters of his musical career, and his upcoming show.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Apt613: There’s definitely been a big shift from the rock sound you had early in your career to your new material from this past decade which is more folk with more acoustic elements. How did that kind of transition happen?
BB: Your life kind of unfolds in an atmosphere of chaos, and then you get to a certain point, you look back and it all makes sense.
I think for me I had had a wonderful relationship with the record company and things got into a bit of a difficult stretch there right before 2000—none of which was my responsibility. It was just a political shift in the record company. I had a recreational ranching place here in the interior B.C. and I just decided to take a little bit of a detour and continue on my path of exploring different ways of living in different experiences in life.
“Your life kind of unfolds in an atmosphere of chaos, and then you get to a certain point, you look back and it all makes sense.”
Rock and roll is an umbrella term to me. It’s a spirit thing to me and I’m still doing that. That and family have been the most central things in my life. So I ranched for a while and really kind of stepped back.
The storytelling really comes through in this format, and meshes well with the personal storytelling about your father and your father in law on this album.
In the early days, I wrote with my good buddy (Gary Fraser) who wrote the lyrics but didn’t play in the band. That was the partnership that we had as we set out and embarked upon a career in music. And so I did feel that that was part of the change too. I wanted to express myself lyrically and what I was going to express lyrically needed to be accompanied by a different musical sort of landscape setting.
“I wanted to express myself lyrically and what I was going to express lyrically needed to be accompanied by a different musical sort of landscape setting.”
And that’s what I sort of set out trying to do. I still collaborate on some songs with other writers but I tend to enjoy writing by myself, and just trying to nail down that singular vision.
In terms of the show at Neat. It’s such a unique venue because it’s so intimate. Does it change your approach to the kind of show that you plan on delivering as opposed to a theater?
It was really fun when I played CityFolk which was great, and then I did that Small Halls Festival, where I played in a couple of really similar venues to Neat so you maybe have 100 plus people and in a very sort of ‘Can hear a pin drop’ setting.
I like it because there’s a parallel to how I was talking about songwriting. Don’t get me wrong, I love playing with the band and I love that musical collaboration and I particularly love playing with the Legendary Hearts when we do it five or six times a year. It’s like the proverbial riding a bicycle: you feel like you just hop on, or hop in that band and let it rip. But doing a solo show, it can kind of go wherever it wants to go, and you can interpret your songs and just a couple of guitars and your voice, and of course stories. I’ve found over the years people like hearing the stories; the in-between song time is as important as the song.
Barney Bentall’s show at the at Neat Coffee Shop on January 19th is currently sold out, however there will be more chances to see him in the near future. The Legendary Hearts are celebrating their 30th anniversary since their debut release, and will be performing a few shows, including Ottawa, in late May or early June—stay tuned for the official announcement soon!