Power-Pop-Plus! New England-Based Singer-Songwriter Eric Barao Releases Killer EP “Obsolete”

SEEKONK, MASSACHUSETTS - Musician and entrepreneur, Eric Barao, wears many hats – solo artist, guitarist, vocalist, songwriter, guitar-effects builder, website and graphics designer, video and photo editor and audio recording producer. Whew! And to top it all off, Eric just released a new solo EP, titled “Obsolete,” that you just gotta hear! Born in the southern Massachusetts town of Seekonk, this jack-of-all-music-trades rocker studied at Berklee College of Music and simply lives and breathes his craft. “I’m from a small town just minutes from the Rhode Island border, near Providence, and couldn’t wait to attend Berklee and live in the beautiful city of Boston,” Barao said in a recent Standing Room Only interview.

Article by Joe Milliken * Photos courtesy of Eric Barao

“I thrived in the city and stayed there for a decade, before gradually migrating back toward the Seekonk/Providence area. Berklee is an amazing school filled with world class musicians, so it can’t help but elevate what you are doing musically and give you fresh perspectives. Majoring in songwriting gave me the tackle box; the hook, the line, fly, bait – to lure and catch the listener. But the real fun is in breaking the rules in just the right places.”

Barao’s new EP, titled Obsolete, is a bit louder, more aggressive, and even a bit whimsical in places. “The general vibe of Obsolete is decidedly retro in terms of production, using obsolete recording methods in what feels like an increasingly obsolete art form. Of course, no one wants to be known exclusively as a retro act, so, I wanted the album to be surprising in other ways. There are some modern sounds mixed in here and there, along with some 21st century subject matter.”

Song topics range from a fatal car crash, to a relationship-ending fight, to songs about inanimate objects, animals, and odd adult themes. “Lyrically, this album is all over the place and I’m not really sure there is a theme at all, from song to song. When it comes to lyrics, I’m a big believer that good songs hold nothing back – no matter how painful, unflattering, gritty or personal the subject is. If you hold that stuff back, you’ll lose the listener’s interest.”

Some of the songs on Obsolete date back to 2013, the year Eric released his first solo CD, while most of the other tracks were written a few years later, except “New Lifestyle,” which was written just before the new CD was complete. Barao stated that he always seems to “write one song at the last minute, just as things are wrapping up.”

So, what makes Obsolete unique, Eric was asked?

“Certainly, the ‘retro-ness’ of the production is a bit unique for an album released in 2019,” he replied. “Most of the tracks are recorded in ‘60s stereo,’ where all the instruments are in mono and are panned either hard left, right or center. I was going after the exact recording and production techniques employed on the Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour and the White Album, but with slightly more modern guitar and vocals sounds thrown in, borrowed from bands like Queen, Cheap Trick and XTC. Obsolete is an album where heavy guitars live side-by-side with harpsichords, wind-up music boxes, tubas, wine glasses, CB-radios, mellotrons... and everyone gets along!”

All the “important stuff” – the drums and pianos – were recorded with Ducky Carlisle at Ice Station Zebra in Medford, Ma. “Ducky is the perfect person to make this kind of record. Not only is he a genius of a recording engineer, but has an encyclopedic knowledge of all things related to Beatles' recordings – and has vintage recording equipment to match. Ducky is also a fantastic drummer, so, he played most of the drums as well. Due to a limited budget, I took the basic tracks back to my home studio where I chipped away at the rest of the instruments and vocal overdubs on my own.”

In the end, it was all brought back to Ducky’s for final mixing and Eric self-produced the album. Most of the players on the record are musicians that Eric currently and formerly plays with live including Carlene Barous, Matt Gillooly, Matt Boynton, and Matt Gilmette. “Jeff Calglarcan is my pal from our previous band, The Cautions, so it’s always great fun to collaborate with him again. My latest discovery is Matt Obadashian, who is just a monster singer and keyboard player from Providence, and he kindly recorded a face-melting electric piano solo for ‘Nothing To See.’

“Also, Mike Viola (Candy Butchers) and Roger Joseph Manning, Jr. (Beck, Jellyfish, Imperial Drag) are both truly legendary power-pop heroes of mine and big influences on my songwriting, so it was a high honor that they were willing to sing on my album. Because I was on the opposite coast, these collaborations happened online, but still a great thrill for me.”

Barao says that even though he is very proud of his last CD, he wanted this new release to be “a bit more loud, aggressive in places, and even a bit stranger.” He was looking to flex his musical muscles, dexterity, and to present more of a challenge to the listener. “Obsolete is similar to my previous album, but with more sex and violence! The Cautions were more of an aggressive sound – taking cues from bands such as The Cars, Weezer and Elvis Costello.

Speaking of The Cars, Eric proudly contributed to the Cars’ tribute collection Substitution Mass Confusion. “The Cars were my biggest musical influence growing up and they were the main reason I went to Berklee to study songwriting. I’ve met almost all the members of the band and they were very gracious, which is refreshing. When I recorded ‘Night Spots’ for the compilation album, I was invited to play at the CD release party in Boston and Greg Hawkes attended the concert. So, there I was, playing cars songs in front of my keyboardist idol! Afterwards, I was chatting with Greg and when a newspaper photographer asked Greg for a photo, he put his arm around me as to make sure I was included. I will never forget his generosity in that moment.”

Along with making great music, Eric also indulges in making effects that create music, more specifically guitar effects pedals. “About 10 years ago I took up the hobby of building guitar effects pedals from kits and launched On The Road Effects. I learned as much as I could about analog electronics and now I sell custom-designed analog effects pedals. I do everything from designing the circuit boards to soldering, drilling, painting, and the assembly.

“I’ve sold to a few high-profile artists and have even seen my pedals in use on Late Night with David Letterman.” Along with the effects pedals Eric also runs ESB Productions, offering website and graphic design, video and photo editing, and audio and recording production.

Back to the music. Barao recently hosted a CD release party at the Askew venue in Providence, with the five-piece Eric Barao Band performing along with the power-pop artist, Minky Starshine, and singer John Faraone. “It was a great night! A couple surprises included the debut of a color-changing, light-up electric guitar and a quiet, acapella set accompanied only by ukulele and piano.“

In closing, Eric is also very excited to now offer a Deluxe Edition of Obsolete, a piano-shaped 32GB thumb drive filled with bonus music, behind-the-scenes footage and other goodies, ready to plug into your computer or car USB port. “I’d love to keep making quality records but as an independent artist, every purchase from fans helps keep me going – so please tell your friends if you like what you hear! Amen to that! Please visit Eric at ericbarao.com.