Barrow, the greatly revered and misunderstood post-hardcore project from Greensboro, quietly broke up a few years ago—an occurrence that left many wanting more and others wishing the band received more support and appreciation. Tonight, everyone has one more chance: They’re reuniting for one final show in Charlotte at Snug Harbor.
In support of their last performance tonight, as a part of the Oddboy Collective residency, Jarrod Hayslette spoke in detail about the humble beginnings of the band, their navigation of member changes and reception issues and why the time was right to lay the band properly to rest.
[Jarrod Hayslette] To start, just say your name and your role in Barrow!
[Travis Schuster] I play guitar and do vocals.
[Zach Tobin] Guitar and vocals!
[JH] Barrow formed in 2009. When and how exactly did the band come into existence that year?
[TS] Matt Clark and I were in a metalcore band called Fastest Kid in 5th Grade and always vibed off of one another pretty well. We gave FKI5G what we felt was enough time to fully die out and decided to start writing music together again. We invited our friend Wil Shaw from another local band to play guitar, and our best buddy Tyler Ingram literally just showed up to our first practice with his roommate’s bass to see what would happen. As they say, the rest is history!
[ZT] I had grown up with the guys; Travis and I had started and played together in multiple projects throughout high school. Hell, he was the reason I even picked up a guitar to begin with. I remember speaking with Travis about starting a new project, as both of the bands we were playing in at the time had ended somewhat abruptly. We had both been a part of each other’s projects for quite some time, so it only felt natural to work together again. However, I turned down the idea initially, due to mostly personal matters I won’t bore you with. In the end, after they had played a few shows and released the demo, we reconnected. The four of us—Travis, Matt, Tyler and I—were shooting hoops one day when I jokingly mentioned joining since their initial guitarist had left the group. That was that, mostly. We just dove back in, what ultimately became the most natural musical relationship I have experienced.
[JH] From a sonic perspective, what were some of the earliest influences you drew from when trying to establish your sound?
[ZT] A question probably best suited for Travis, as he was the primary constant in the writing process. However, for me, I was a huge fan of As Cities Burn, and more specifically their record “Come Now Sleep.” Bands such as As Tall as Lions, Anathallo, and This Will Destroy You also heavily influenced me, as well as Greensboro’s own Giant. To be honest, I had drifted away from heavier music and wanted to play music that was more of an honest interpretation of where I was emotionally and mentally in life.
[TS] Kind of all over the map. I was super into As Cities Burn, Circa Survive, Russian Circles, Pianos Become the Teeth, Suis La Lune, among others. We didn’t really know what kind of band we were until we decided how vocals would factor in, which pretty much happened a few days before recording our first demo.
[JH] Your first release as a band was said two-song demo in early 2010. What was that first Barrow recording process like?
[TS] We recorded the demo with Stephen Price, who also recorded both full-lengths. He was a long-time friend, but he’s also an incredibly talented musician, so there was a level of intimidation mixed with the excitement. Like I mentioned, we pretty much figured out vocal stuff right before we recorded, and then I spent the entire day just totally botching it. Like, it sounded so bad—everything I tried was worse than the previous take and I didn’t really know how to “break my voice” until the very end of the night. It finally decided to work for some reason.
[ZT] I wasn’t in the band at the time, but my perception upon hearing it was being blown away. I connected with it. As cheesy as it may be to say, I have always loved the style in which Travis writes, his mind truly is beautiful to me. From that point forward, I saw them play any and every chance I could until I joined.
[JH] Two years after the demo, you self released your first LP, “Being Without.” What was the reception to those songs once they reached the ears of listeners? I remember my first time listening to “The Undertow” before knowing any of you personally and being absolutely blown away by what I was hearing.
[ZT] In complete honesty, we weren’t expecting a response at all, or if there were to be a response, we believed it would be one of disinterest. At the time, there were very few bands in our scene that were playing anything similar. Local shows were mostly comprised of breakdown bands asking fans to mosh harder. We wrote that record for us, because we had spent hours at coffee shops talking about our difficulties with relationships, the pains of life, and the hell any of it ultimately meant. We went into the process of recording with an understood mentality that not everyone would care, and that was perfectly okay.
[TS] The positive response was really validating, honestly. Zach took over Wil’s position right before we started writing for Being Without, so that really feels like where we came into our own. We had talked about writing a full-length for years, so making it happen was really cool for us. With that being said, I go back and listen to some of it and there is definitely some excess that could have been trimmed to make a much more cohesive EP or something. All in all though, I’m really glad we did what we did and I think the response was way better than we could have anticipated.
[JH] After dropping your first proper album, what was the goal for Barrow at that point as you started to support that release? I imagine playing those new songs, playing more out of town shows, and going on tour was on the short list?
[TS] Touring was definitely number one for us. We pooled our personal cash and bought a cheap church van that somehow managed to last us our entire “career” (even if barely) and just kind of went from there. I feel like that’s where we really started pushing ourselves out of our comfort zone. We didn’t play any huge shows by any means, but I definitely remember the first time I actively noticed someone out-of-state that knew the words to a few songs and I was like “What?!” Again, just very validating.
[ZT] I had just graduated college at the time, but the rest of the band was still working toward their education. It was holiday vacation for school and we had booked our first four or five day run with the Chapel Hill band Systems. We had hardly any touring experience, and what experience we did have was mostly of all the things that could go wrong. Our first date was cancelled, and so we ended up booking a last minute show in Charlotte at a place called Tommy´s Pub, a dive bar for older locals. From that point on, we played a lot of house shows in support of that record, thanks to the incredible generosity of the networked DIY scene. Whenever we left our hometown, we were always met with the utmost hospitality. Every new city or state, most of which we had never seen before, always met us with a kind face to show us around, feed us, and open their homes to us. Our goal was if we didn’t have to spend money on gas, we made it. Our tours were vacation for us.
[JH] Two years after “Being Without,” you released your second and ultimately final LP, “Though I’m Alone,” through Cleveland, OH indie label Mayfly Records. How did that relationship come to fruition, and what made it the right fit for Barrow at the time with what you hoped to accomplish moving forward?
[ZT] We happened to play a few shows within a short amount of time with two at-the-time Mayfly bands, Apart and Code Orange Kids. We were talking to a couple of labels and PR agencies, but very little had materialized. When Bob reached out to us about the idea of working together, we ultimately decided to join the roster. None of us had much experience with labels, but the low risk and laid back mentality Bob had seemed like a good fit. We´d write a record and he´d release it, and help with the promotion. For us, it was a win-win. He had released a lot of great records, and we thought it would be a good move.
[TS] If I remember right, I’m pretty sure it was as simple as Bob shooting us a message and saying, “Hey, I like what you’re doing, if you decide to do more than this, hit me up!” We chatted with him more, respected his whole ethos and such, basically the fact that we could do a handshake agreement and go from there, and said yeah, why not? We paid for the recording and vinyl pressing of Being Without, so it was cool to have someone willing to invest in putting out our next record (and really, we couldn’t have afforded it on our own since there wasn’t really a big gap between the album releases.)
[JH] As most bands do, Barrow went thru a handful of member changes over the course of its existence. Was there always a clear goal in regards to retaining the style of the band, regardless of who was new to the mix?
[TS] More or less. “Being Without,” to me, always felt like a collection of songs that just kind of came together over a few years. Though I’m Alone is a lot of me. It’s kind of my baby and my brainchild and a full realization of my own “creative vision” (I put in quotes because I don’t want that to sound nearly as pretentious as I think it all might.) It’s the release I’m most proud of and the release that I feel actually represents what I wanted from Barrow. Past that, when Kyle Case took over on bass, and then later Corey Doran on third guitar and his brother, Matt Doran, briefly on drums, we kind of just started messing around. We were at a point in life where we knew we’d be either putting recording over touring, or just kind of playing locally for fun, so we wrote a bunch of songs all over the map. Some of it was more upbeat stuff, falling between BW and TIA stylistically, some post-rock leaning stuff, some sort of shoegaze-y stuff. At that point I was like “Hey, let’s just do whatever, whenever, and if it works, it works.”
[ZT] A bit of yes, and a lot of no, honestly. I don’t think we ever had a clear goal, besides playing music that we felt to be an accurate reflection of ourselves, both wholly and individually. The member changes were usually pain-free, in the sense that the writing process, for the most part, was attributed to Travis and Matt. When our original bass player left the band, another great friend Jacob Beeson, who recorded on “Though I’m Alone,” replaced him. Jacob was a great asset, he played drums, guitar, and bass, and having someone who could contribute definitely aided in the process. Eventually, he decided to leave the band to pursue personal goals, and while it left us with a void, another life-long friend, Kyle Case took his place. Instantly, he was a fit. He started playing with us a few weeks before we left for a tour down to SXSW. If there was a turning point for the band, it was when our original drummer Matt left. He was the backbone for the writing process. Travis and Matt had been playing and writing music together for years. When he left, we talked with another good friend, Matt Doran, about playing with us. Travis and I had played with him as well in a previous band. He´s an incredible drummer, but an entirely different feel. There were a lot of dynamic changes that took place, and we flowed with that as best we could. We added a third guitarist, Matt’s brother Corey to the group, which allowed for Travis to do just vocals. To no ones fault, I began to feel disconnected. For me, it felt that while we were all pushing towards something, we were struggling to find any meaningful reason and lost whatever sound we were trying to create.
[JH] Although Barrow existed for around five years, the band was never a full time project in regards to playing shows and touring. Was this the game plan from the start, or did the right opportunities never materialize to make it more of a focus?
[ZT] We all had independent agendas, goals, and ideas. However, these things don’t hold nearly as much weight when your primary goal is continued education and you’ve got ample free time. Our bills were minimum, we lived together, and our jobs were flexible. I was a strong advocate of making the band a full time commitment, and in a position to take unnecessary risks. Travis and Matt were in school for most of the bands life. I had already graduated, and mostly working odd jobs – anywhere from construction to retail, neither of which was an end goal for me. I think if the opportunities would have materialized into generating a decent living while playing full time, we were all willing to give it a try.
[TS] I think we were as full-time as we could be within the context of our lives. I never wanted to spend nine months out of every year touring – I had to keep a job and a roof over my head and I didn’t want the band to become something I potentially resented. Part of me regrets the moments I tried to stray us away from going “all in,” but things happen, it is what it is. We did a lot that I’m proud of in a relatively short amount of time and if I had things my way we’d still be able to make it happen, but it’s just not feasible in any way that would make sense or feel good to me.
[JH] Your final release as a band was a posthumous live digital split with Charlotte’s Oddczar, who you had toured with that previous summer. How did that particular idea come about?
[TS] That was basically a van discussion, I think. We knew Oddczar was recording a new track at The Office (with our good friend Mike Moschetto of Aviator) and we said, “Hey, let’s make it a split.” We pretty much wrote a song on the spot based on ideas Kyle had (which we deconstructed and reconstructed four or so times) and recorded it. Then we all got hammered at a karaoke bar and came back and recorded vocals at 3AM in between sleep. Like, I woke up and did my parts, woke Kyle up to do his parts, and then woke Zach up to do his parts. (laughs)
[ZT] The idea was kind of last minute. We were outside of Boston, and Oddczar had planned to record a song with our mutual bud Mike. We didn’t have a song written, so we pretty much wrote and recorded a song in a couple of hours. Kyle had a few progressions in his head he had been playing around with and we kind of just ran with it. That is how we did most things, rarely prepared, and simply went with the flow.
[JH] Barrow was formed and based in Greensboro, but it always seemed like your reception was better outside of your hometown. Was there ever a reason that you were able to put a finger onto regarding why this was the case?
[ZT] There used to be a joke about Greensboro being a town where bands either thrive or die. At the time the city was comprised of colleges, bars, and coffee shops, which can be incredibly opportunistic and supportive, or feel as though you’re being choked out. “Being Without” had a lot of support from our hometown. We played regularly at a DIY space hosted in our friend´s basement called the Karate Dungeon (RIP). The entire space filled up with kids who would sing along. Around the time “Though I’m Alone” came out, Greensboro was going through a shift of show spaces and bands. Most of the kids who came to our shows were connected with us in one way or another, and when the shift took place, I don´t think we were relevant to kids around here. We probably played much too often, and Though I´m Alone, for lack of better terms, was “too melancholy” as I remember reading one reviewer put it. Our hometown fans were college friends, and when they either moved on or moved out, we were playing songs that intentionally made people uncomfortable or walk out mid-set.
[TS] Man, I could talk for hours about this, but I’ll keep it short and sweet. Greensboro felt cliquey to me in ways that I just didn’t get in other places. I think a lot of bands are like this with their hometown though so I can’t be too upset. In my head there was always just some stupid punk hierarchy in the mix and everyone wanting to be better than everyone else. I think we always did better in places like Charlotte because there were people who made us feel welcome and at home. (The Oddczar guys and The Oddboy Collective as a whole being a huge part of that.)
[JH] I was always personally impressed and drawn to the distinct type of imagery and branding you associated with Barrow, whether it be the bleak album artwork, the poetic nature of the song titles and lyricism, or the gray and dark blue color pallets that were ever-present. Were these choices deliberate on behalf of the mood you hoped to invoke when paired with the actual soundscapes you were creating?
[TS] Hey, thank you! I’d say it was mostly accidental. I always gravitate towards darker imagery and I do think much of the lyricism reflects that, so it warms me to hear from an outside perspective that it all came together. I don’t feel like we ever actively tried to curate an image to match our sound, but to hear that it kind of worked out that way is rewarding, especially if it helped get our point across.
[ZT] I believe the two were conjoined for us. We tried to create both a sound and image that was reflective at the time we wrote them. Each song was the manifestation of hours of conversation over coffee. We were trying to decide on the artwork for “Being Without,” and ended up collaborating with an artist who had posted their work online and worked with what we had in mind visually. For Though I´m Alone, we commissioned our friend Thomas Sara to paint whatever he wanted. We sent him some demos we had recorded, and let him have full creative control. We attempted to allow the imagery to be honest while mirroring the emotional response created through our songs.
[JH] Shortly after the initial break-up, there was a fake “Coachella of Screamo” line-up that circulated around various social media platforms that included some of the pioneers of the genre like Saetia and City of Caterpillar, along with modern torchbearers The Saddest Landscape and Loma Prieta, among others. Barrow was included on said parody flyer. I mention all of this because it seemed like despite issues here in your home state to grow the band, there were fans of what you were doing all around the country, and the world. Is it a humbling feeling to know that your music connected with and impacted people from far away places?
[ZT] To say the least, it is inspiring. When we released both records on vinyl, we were shipping all over the world—China, Russia, Bolivia, all over mainland Europe. None of us expected that, and we weren’t selling thousands, and honestly we still have a few hundred records sitting in one of our parents’ house (laughs). Still, we’ve received messages of the impact of our records, and that´s beautiful. While it would have been nice to sell more copies, it was never a goal for us. We simply wanted to create and invoke the same emotions we were facing at the time, and to receive messages of gratitude for a record that gave emotional relief while dealing with the continuous pains of life is truly humbling.
[TS] It’s a seriously fantastic feeling. The love we’ve felt during our time together, our time apart, and our short time reunited is unlike anything I’ve experienced, especially for such a small band. I’ve had really poignant discussions with people, whether via email, Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, or in person at a show—moments of people just expressing how they related to what we had put together and how it has impacted their life. That means more to me than probably anything else I’ve done in music.
[JH] Barrow will be reuniting for one last show tonight at Snug Harbor in Charlotte as the final night of The Oddboy Collective residency. What made this opportunity the right time to reunite and lay the band to rest in proper fashion?
[TS] It’s really just a matter of perfect timing. Michael Kuhn messaged me about it and within an hour’s time I went from 99-percent no way to 100 percent on board. I had already taken time off work for a trip to Atlanta the following weekend, but had delayed buying my plane ticket, so the whole show just slotted perfectly into my own plans and it’s something I think about all the time, so the moment it became a distinct possibility I wanted to do all I could to make it work.
[ZT] Timing, really. Travis lives up near Chicago now and happened to be coming back down this way for a convention. We had jokingly brought up the idea of playing a reunion show while at Matt Clark´s wedding earlier this year. I think at that point the last time we had all been in the same room together was at Travis´s wedding the year prior. However, we didn’t actually give much more thought to the idea. We were all spread across the country, and incredibly busy with our own personal lives. Oddczar are some of our closest friends that we´ve met through the guise of Barrow, and to be able to play with them one last time is going to be a night to remember. Plus Planet Creep is playing too, which is Corey’s new band. He played with Barrow towards the end and is a great friend of mine.
[JH] When you first started Barrow, was there a specific goal in mind that you as a band, and a musician, sat out to accomplish? Did that ever change over the course of the band?
[ZT] I think the initial goal was to simply play the music we wanted to. I don´t think anyone ever controlled what the other member was doing. We each had full creative control and took part in the writing process one way or another, and wanted Barrow to be an outlet and platform for each of us to create and express.
[TS] It always just kind of kept growing. “Let’s play a few shows.” “Let’s record a full-length.” “Let’s tour longer than a week.” I just didn’t want to be confined. I didn’t want to do anything that wasn’t strictly on our terms. That’s not always the way things work out, but it’s what I wanted. I kind of pushed our motto as “don’t care about gettin’ rich, don’t care about stayin’ poor” as a way to reflect those ideals. I wasn’t concerned with making a career out of music—if it somehow happened that’s great, but I was realistic about knowing how low those odds were. On the other hand, I wasn’t so caught up in being some “super punk, DIY, basements only, no labels, etc.” kind of band, either. I just didn’t want to live in some box of vague ethics.
[JH] Did you think a last show would ever happen? Now that it materialized, what about this last show are you looking forward to the most?
[TS] No. I don’t think I ever thought this would happen. I’m just looking forward to the fact that it’s happening at all, honestly. I’m looking forward to seeing familiar faces (including my own bandmates/best friends) and people I’ve never met before. I’m just so excited to play these songs one last time and I really hope people are excited to hear them. It’s really hard for me to know that I’m putting this project to bed once and for all, as the time I’ve spent with it has meant more than almost anything else, so it’s bittersweet overall, but I’m glad it’s happening. I think it will be good to have some closure, if that makes sense.
[ZT] To be honest, I did not. With the release of “Though I’m Alone,” everything kind of hit a standstill. We never wrote songs for anyone outside of ourselves, but the loss of momentum did take a toll on us. We were already in the process of discussing our next release at that point, and playing out of town more, but when things slowed down much sooner than expected, due to one thing or another, we simply lost the drive to push through it and continue. Everyone was finished with school and had started taking more demanding jobs. Ultimately, it was just a change of focus in all of our personal lives. All in all, this really is a family reunion of our musical ventures, and in truth, this is an entirely selfish opportunity for me to see friends and loved ones that I’ve been far too out of touch with, and there couldn’t be a better circumstance to end things properly.
[JH] What stands out to you personally as the most memorable show and/or tour that Barrow was a part of?
[ZT] We played on a bridge once while in Austin for SXSW. We were last minute add-ons, and played a three-song set for a bunch of strangers who somehow knew the songs well enough to sing along.
[TS] Whoa, there are definitely a lot of these, so I’ll just kind of list a few. A local show with Deadhorse, Caravels, and a few others on Halloween one year that was a total blast (along with it being both of our release shows in the same basement—great memories). A show we played in someone’s kitchen with one amp on the dishwasher and another over the sink. A show we played on a walking bridge in Austin, TX with the city behind us (and a ton of great friends we had just met.) Pretty much anything we ever did with Oddczar/Aviator/Shy, Low/Comrades/Au Revoir/Hot Basic/Historic/Gnarwhal/anyone else I’d put in our “best friends crew.” I could list a ton more, but those stand out right now.
[JH] If there’s one thing you’d like Barrow to be remembered for by anyone who was affected or inspired by your music, what would that be?
[TS] Honesty, really… I never wanted to mince words in what I was saying and even if I tried to bury feelings under layers of lyrical imagery, I always spoke directly from a way that I really, truly felt. With that in mind, I think honesty is everything in expression. Mental health is often pushed aside by so many and I think having a healthy outlet or, on the opposite end, something to relate to is just so valuable. I know how much it has helped me (on both ends.)
[JH] Any final words or thoughts you’d like to share with anyone reading this?
[TS] Your life has meaning. You are loved and valued. We make so many mistakes in life, things we sometimes feel we can never bounce back from, but I just want to say that no matter where you are or what you are going through, there is always potential for it to get better. As far as this band goes, thank you for taking the time to listen to what we’ve created. It’s been one hell of an adventure.