Let It Roll: A Conversation with Paul Barerre of Little Feat

Very few, if any, bands have been able to intermingle such an eclectic variety of musical styles so successfully as Little Feat. Whether it's rockabilly, country, blues, jazz, or any combination thereof, Little Feat has dazzled music fans and musicians alike with their inimitable approach and sound. They are currently in the middle of a lengthy fall tour, playing songs from their new album, "Kickin' at the Barn" as well as old favorites. Phreshwater.com had the chance to catch up with Paul Barerre, the longtime guitarist for Little Feat.

Pete Kolesari [PK]: You are in the midst of another lengthy tour and an upcoming Jamaican fan excursion. What will fans have to look forward to on this tour and will the fan excursion be a yearly event?

Paul Barerre [PB]: The tour will reflect our large catalog of songs, done with a lot of jamming, and we will be including some of our newest songs from the upcoming first release of a studio record for our own Hot Tomato Records called 'Kickin it at the Barn' Also, later in the tour we will be doing some all-acoustic shows where we perform the Little Feat catalog in a slightly different fashion due to the acoustic nature of the instruments. But there will still be a lot of jamming aspects to it! We feel the Jamaica Excursion will continue on a yearly basis, however we may start to check out different places to hold them, like Mexico or Costa Rica perhaps.

PK: I think Featbase is a great resource when tracking down Little Feat set lists throughout the band's history. How many songs are in the Feat live catalog and how are the set lists decided from show to show?

PB: We have over 160 songs in the catalog, including some that are covers that have not been recorded by us. Out of that total, we can probably play at least 60, I would think, with a little prep at a sound check. So what I do when laying out a set list, knowing that most folks feel cheated when we don't play Dixie Chicken, I almost always include that song and then try to change the set list from night to night. If it's a venue we play a lot, I try not to have the same songs from the previous show, even though it might be a year between shows. Then I look at who's singing what song and make up a set that disperses the lead vocals throughout the show. Lastly, I look at the guitar changes that need to be made in a show and try to keep the same guitar for a few songs in a row so the guitar tech isn't always running on stage. However, having said that, the set list can change at any moment in the show depending on how we feel and if a song is requested a lot and such

PK: What is the band's approach to live shows? And how does this approach differ from the studio?

PB: Live is more stretched out, I think. We like to really improvise a lot and in the studio we might do some of that, but not as much. The studio is for capturing moments, and repeating them, in that I mean finding the groove for a new song and then laying into it over and over until it's right, once you have it like you want it. When you do it live, you can really stretch it out.

PK: I think that the full-band acoustic shows are a great thing. What is the your approach to acoustic versus electric shows, and what are the pluses and minuses of each?

PB: Well, the plus is that we can show the songs in a different light with acoustic instruments, those songs that were mainly electric to begin with that is. And it's really a lot of fun having to come up with different solos since there is no real sustain on the acoustic guitars, but the power from the rhythm section remains the same.

PK: Do you prefer festival-type or club shows, and why?

PB: No preference really, they both have their good and bad sides, but mostly good. The large festivals are great cause of the number of people you can draw energy from, while the small club shows are more intimate, and you can share a little more closely with them.

PK: I know you have played with the Big Wu, String Cheese Incident, among many others. Many fans would love to see a live collaboration with Phish on "Sample in a Jar" (a song that Little Feat regularly covers). What are your thoughts on some of the "newer" bands playing and touring, and are their any artists you would like to join forces with in concert or in the studio?

PB: There are a lot of the newer bands that I find wonderful because they are so unique in their styles, the way it used to be really. There was a time in the late 1980s and 1990s that so many bands sounded alike I couldn't tell the difference. Bands like String Cheese Incident, Leftover Salmon, Govt. Mule, Derek Trucks, Sonny Landreth, and on and on. I just got into the Gourds and find them a lot of fun, especially their cover of "Gin and Juice"

PK: Little Feat has a long association with the Grateful Dead, dating back to Lowell George producing the Dead's Shakedown Street album in the late 1970s. Little Feat opened several stadium shows for the Grateful Dead in the 1980s and early 1990s. Bill and Paul went on to join Dead bassist Phil Lesh in his post-Dead outfit, "Phil Lesh and Friends." How did this collaboration come about and how was playing in this setting different from playing with Little Feat?

PB: I got a call from Phil asking me if I was interested in doing Phil and Friends while I was on the road, and it blew me away. I said yes immediately, then he asked me to see if Bill Payne was interested. The Dead's songs are a lot like Feat songs in that they sound so simple until you start to play them and find all the cool bits within, that was really cool. Billy and I had a wonderful time with Phil and Friends, and it really opened our eyes to jamming again. We had been getting a little stagnant with our shows just performing the songs as they were on record. After Phil, we opened up the doors and let all the music in, and out, and it's been really refreshing. It took us back to our old days when we would play instrumentals for 20 minutes like 'Eldorado Slim' and 'Day at the Dog Races.'

PK: You played several Little Feat songs with Phil Lesh. Also, Dead standards "Dark Star" and "Tennessee Jed" are regularly incorporated into Little Feat set lists. Is there any chance of future collaboration with Phil Lesh, or any of the other Dead members?

PB: Ya never know, I would certainly welcome the chance to do it again.

PK: Little Feat has recorded some incredible live albums (Waiting for Columbus, Live at Neon Park, and Down Upon the Suwannee River). The band allows taping at their concerts, which has put a sizeable number of Feat shows available for trade among fans. I think live tapes are a great chance to see how the songs and jams differ from tour-to-tour, even show-to-show. What are your thoughts on taping and trading live shows?

PB: Again, this is something we learned from the Dead and our fans. The tapers are a great bunch of fans, and our fears of bootlegs were really unfounded. In fact I think that tapers will buy the records as well cause they like to see how the songs change from recording to live, and live from night to night.

Many thanks to Paul Barerre from Little Feat for taking the time to speak us. Phreshwater.com encourages everyone to go out and buy the latest Little Feat album, 'Kickin it at the Barn' This vibrant, new release captures the band at their creative peak features nine new songs, all of which are sure to be well received by music fans everywhere and concert staples for years to come.

By: Peter Kolesari - article originally appeared on PhreshWater.com 10/03

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