The Sun rises and yields eternal alchemical gifts as Paul Ion Barker speaks with ReGen about crafting Lead into Gold.
An InterView with Paul Ion Barker of Lead into Gold
By Ilker Yücel (Ilker81x)
While it’s been just under five years since The Sun Behind the Sun, you’ve kept busy with live performances, DJ sets, and collaborations. Would you tell us what the creative process was behind the new album, and how it contrasts from your past efforts?
‘I don’t know what I want, but I know what I don’t want.’ Stanley Kubrick used to say the same thing about his films. What is it that you don’t want? What are you actively not looking to do with Lead into Gold?
Barker: We all have our influences, but I don’t want mine to be obvious, so this is a part of the process. We want to take steps ‘forward’ in our growth, whatever that means.
Were there any changes in the writing or the production this time around, or would you say that you’ve settled into a method or process that works best for you?
Barker: This record’s process was different in two ways – after The Sun Behind the Sun, I recorded 30 short song ideas as a challenge, and so I had plenty of material to choose from, and I used the Malekko Manther synth as the main production tool to write these songs. This gave me a completely different set of initial ideas to work with, and that was exciting.
I definitely have a production method, for better or worse, and that entails lots of time to allow the ideas to get refined or rejected.
I’d noted in my ReView of the last album that it was neither a nostalgia trip, nor a complete reinvention of what Lead into Gold had been; The Eternal Present seems to delve even further into less conventional song structures. How much of what you do is a conscious effort? Do you purposefully try to think outside of the usual verse/chorus format, or is it more of an automatic occurrence?
Barker: The final production is 100% intentional. I allow and want my music to do unusual things. Some songs naturally have a verse/chorus structure, which feels good, not forced. I’m not trying to write pop songs, but if it happens, I’m okay with it.
Barker: Yes, my friends remind me of this, haha! Depending on the lyric, the sun represents inner creativity, spiritual enlightenment, the force of life, knowledge, the will to exist. Thematically, it ties in nicely with the name of the project.
You’re a multi-instrumentalist, but most people tend to associate you with the bass, and the new album has some really striking grooves, both organic (like in ‘The Eternal Present’) and electronic (‘She Lies Beyond’). What still excites you about the bass (not just the instrument), and how would you say that your approach or your outlook on the bass component in music has evolved over the years?
Barker: A good bass line is irresistible, and that still excites me!
I am willing to use bass guitar as a supporting element much more these days than in the past. I’m not writing songs on the bass as much now, but definitely using it to pull a song together.
Your vocals are rather striking on the new album too, and I believe some of the best you’ve yet recorded. Are there any particular practices or exercises that you do to strengthen your voice?
Barker: Thanks, yes, absolutely I practice. Anything is better than nothing, but I’m using the standard methods. I love singing, although I’m not a natural singer; however, I am taking it seriously for some reason.
When coming up with vocal melodies, do you find that they emerge naturally as you’re writing the music, or do you find that you have to work to find them?
Barker: This is a song-by-song process; sometimes the vocal is just there. I went through three versions of vocals on ‘She Lies Beyond!’ But that is also an aspect of allowing yourself to try things which you know aren’t great yet realize that it’s part of the process. And give yourself time to do it.
Along with Lead into Gold, you’ve released music through Bandcamp, but have now signed with Artoffact Records for The Eternal Present. What are your thoughts on the traditional models of releasing music and how it applies to you? Moving forward, do you think we will still be bound to record labels?
While it’s still early days, how has your experience been with Artoffact?
Barker: I am extremely happy with everything Artoffact has proposed for me, and it’s been great!
What drew you to sign with them for this new album?
Barker: Reputation as a business and talking to people on the label.
Lead into Gold live seems to primarily revolve around you and one other person live – Lorrie Kountz (ex-Whatismu) and then Omniflux on the last tour. What do you feel are the greatest strengths in this two-person configuration vs. a fuller band?
Barker: There is an undeniable efficiency in this but it is a compromise. I hope to tour with a full band one day!
Josh Holley was onstage with me for this tour with Skinny Puppy.
One of your ColdWaves appearances was in something of a DJ capacity, in which you spun and remixed some of old faves from MINISTRY. Having lived with those songs for so many years, what was your mindset in reinventing/reinterpreting those songs for that particular type of performance?
I hate to ask this, but some people have insisted that I should… as MINISTRY has been celebrating some anniversaries on tour lately, are you willing to reflect on the lasting impact of albums like The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Taste, and of the band period? Any particularly poignant thoughts or memories from then that you’d like to share?
Barker: I am humbled that people might still give a shit about music that I was intimately involved with, and I have the greatest respect for everyone involved in the creation of the music, the band, the labels, the press, and the tours at that time, whether I like them or not.
You’re also the co-founder of Malekko Heavy Industry Corporation, making guitar effects and synth modules. Of course, many companies have been making the same sorts of sounds for decades, so what are the challenges for you and the company in coming up with new ideas, new pieces of equipment, to offer new sounds?
Barker: In every field of business, there will always be room for startups which offer their unique perspective. We still have plenty of ideas; it’s just a matter of rolling them out.
How much of that is informed by your own musical impulses, and how much comes from the demands of other musicians/producers that you’ve encountered?
Do you use Malekko equipment exclusively now in your own productions?
Barker: Not at all!
What pieces of gear or types of sounds are being made now that are exciting you, perhaps giving you new ideas for what to pursue in Malekko?
Barker: Everyone has access to the same gear. It’s what you do with it that matters.
Malekko was also the name of a band that featured you, Chris Connelly, Peter G. Holmström, and Josh Holley, releasing an EP in 2018. Was this intended to be a one-shot offering, or is there a possibility for future Malekko band activity?
Barker: I’m not ruling it out.
Regarding your collaborations, having the right personalities factors into a good collaboration, but for you, what do you most look for in a collab, what are the most important elements that you feel are necessary for you to consider it?
Barker: Creativity, friendship, reliability, trust, satisfaction, spontaneity.
What else do you have in the works that you’d like to tell us about?
Barker: Music related stuff, I’m doing some soundtrack work, but time is the resource in shortest supply now.
Outside of music, what do you most enjoy? Movies, books, hiking, cooking, etc.
Barker: I like all of those plus motorcycles, but for exercise, I also cycle on the street and in the woods.
Lead into Gold/Paul Ion Barker
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Malekko Heavy Industry Corporation
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Photography by Eric Patton and Mahsa Zargaran, provided courtesy of Artoffact Records and Lead into Gold