Instead of selecting just one project to spotlight this week, we’ve asked incoming Assistant Program Director and midday host Justin Barney to introduce himself to the WNXP community by picking songs from four of his fave projects from 2022 so far.
Jewly Hight: It’s received wisdom that people develop their musical taste in adolescence, and that’s when they find the music that will stay with them through the rest of their lives. Can you pinpoint when and how you began to develop a real identification with or curiosity about music?
Justin Barney: There is a song that I think encapsulates my music taste or where it all comes from. It’s not going to be one that you can play on air, because it’s a lullaby that my dad used to sing me when we were kids. And it’s called “Yellow Bird.” I think it was an old Caribbean song. It’s, “Yellow bird, up high in banana tree. Yellow bird, you look all alone like me.” That song has this kind of sweetness that I love and a little story in there that I love. And it’s a little sad, like I love. And overall, it’s wholesome, which I also love. I always think of that as the beginning of my musical life.
But when I started taking music seriously, I think, is possibly the least serious band in existence. The first band that I really loved and dissected was the band Weezer. I was a 14-year-old boy who listened to “Pinkerton” for the first time and just really, really, really loved Weezer. I really loved Rivers Cuomo. I loved his songwriting, being very sad and angsty, the the high school boy that I was. And that was when I was really like, “Music is part of my identity,” and going from there into the surrounding bands and taking music seriously from then.
JH: You have you’ve been at Radio Milwaukee long enough to work in numerous roles. How have you gotten to engage with music and music-makers in different ways as you’ve done different kinds of work in radio?
JB: I’ve done a million interviews in my life, and that’s been a big part of my career. But that all started because I was an intern and I was looking for things to do. We had bands come in to do sessions and then they would be sitting around. And I did this segment where every day I wrote about a song I couldn’t stop listening to. We had these musicians hanging around and I was like, “I guess that could kind of kill two birds with one stone here. I could interview these musicians, and then they could give me a song.” And so I started asking musicians about a song that they couldn’t stop listening to. I still do that with just about every musician that I talk to. Interacting with artists is a huge part of my life and a thing that I really love to do. I never thought that I would like doing, because for much of my life, I was scared to talk to people, but I’ve gotten better at it. It’s a skill that I’ve learned.
JH: How do you feel like playing music on the air, talking about it, talking with people who make it has changed your relationship to music, deepened your curiosity about things, shown you your blind spots or new ways of of listening?
JB: I think that when I started being a music director at a radio station, I was sure that I knew everything there was to know about music. When I started, that was when I was the most confident in my musical knowledge. And the more that I listen to music, the more that I discover music, the more that I read and encounter it, the more that I know that I don’t know anything about music at all, which I think is which I think is great. I had this understanding of, “This is the tree of music, and it started here, and it’s very linear and it’s gone here and then here and then here.” And then you discover people and you’re like, “They weren’t even on that tree. They came from somewhere else.” My favorite thing about this job and working in music is discovering songs and hearing a song and falling in love with the song for the first time.
Here are Justin’s picks:
“Chaos Space Marine” by Black Country, New Road:
“Possibly my favorite album of the year so far has been the album Ants From Up There by Black Country, New Road. There is just nothing like this band. They are an orchestra in a dive bar. At times they are freewheeling and spontaneous, flubbing notes and having fun, and at other times they are so locked in that they take you on the journey with them. Here the journey is out of England. It starts as a kind of harrumphing British post war march about leaving London. And it is around two minutes and thirty seconds where the tempo changes, the song breaks open and Isaac Wood sings, ‘I’m coming home!’ I can feel the salt of the English straight on his face as he sings it.”
“Matilda” by PUP:
“This is a song that is sung from the perspective of an old guitar, named ‘Matilda’ that PUP lead singer Stefan Babcock used to play every PUP show with, until the band got successful, Babcock moved on, and now she sits in a closet, like Woody in ‘Toy Story,’ remembering the good times they once had and longing for what is lost.”
“Making Sense Stop” by Charlotte Adigéry and Bolis Pupul:
“I love the conversation that songs have with each other. By naming their song ‘Making Sense Stop,’ Charlotte Adigéry and Bolis Pupul are having a musical conversation, stretching decades back to the Talking Heads game-changing music documentary ‘Stop Making Sense.’ And what are they saying? Well, I think they are saying that they have something in common. David Byrne has always professed his love of global music. Adigéry is a French-born, Caribbean-Belgian singer, who shares that love and connection. But I think above all, they both love having fun with music. And this song is fun.”
“Hangover Game” by MJ Lenderman:
“In 1994 ,the Chicago Bulls played the Utah Jazz in the NBA finals, and supposedly the night before, Michael Jordan ate a pizza that was poisoned by a Utah Jazz fan and delivery boy. But Jordan overcame the illness and played the game of his life. It’s commonly known as ‘The Sick Game.’ In MJ Lenderman’s ‘Hangover Game,’ he posits a different theory. The guitarist for Sonic Cathedral alums Wednesday says that Michael Jordan was not sick, but hungover. He’s got the receipts to prove it. A $3,000 room service bill for just five guys. Who else is writing songs like this?”