Rocking Remote

The Barbed Wires make the long distance thing work.

It can be easy to take local performers for granted. Miss one show and the next one tends to arrive in your notifications faster than you can clock whatever it was you missed.

This is decidedly not the case for the Barbed Wires, a welcome presence in Richmond’s punk scene for two years, as of later this month, without any risk of overdoing it. They’ve played four shows and released a self-titled album on Let’s Pretend Records featuring 11 songs in under 20 minutes. These lean-and-mean stats are a matter of necessity and proof-of-concept derived from the makeup of the band itself. Their singer lives in Indiana and all the members have been playing in punk rock bands in Richmond for a few decades – Pink Razors, Strike Anywhere, and Cloak/Dagger among them – and thus far, show no interest in veering far from that no-frills formula, let alone slowing down.

That’s not to say the Barbed Wires’ debut is without evolution or refinement to members’ past efforts; here, the results are more akin to Hot Snakes than Drive Like Jehu, even if the punk rock building blocks remain the same. It was among the more memorable area releases of ‘23, with hooks so plentiful and casually dispensed that listeners can expect new earworms to emerge with every spin. It’s catchy while skirting the treacle territory of boilerplate pop punk or powerpop. The melodies are sharp, as their name suggests, but also austere and menacing like punk and grunge pioneer Greg Sage’s take on angular guitar anthems for the Wipers, or in more recent years, any iteration from the Marked Men-Mind Spiders-Radioactivity universe.

No, the Barbed Wires won’t allow for a lackadaisical following. Now, over a year since their last show, they’re set to play Richmond Music Hall on July 10 with VR Sex (from Los Angeles, boasting members of Drab Majesty, Antioch Arrow, and Dirty and His Fists) and local opener, Artschool. Missing that show could mean waiting months or another year before the Barbed Wire’s resurface around town. While this isn’t ideal from a careerist standpoint, it goes a long way in making each performance more precious, or precarious, depending on your outlook. Either way, it’s an occasion in contrast to performers who take a more willy-nilly approach to the stage (case in point, Artschool are set to play the following night at the Camel — a fact both promoters are likely unaware of, or at least as nonplussed about as the band’s friends now faced with tactfully dodging two shows in-a-row). Style seized on the opportunity to peek behind the curtain of one of our most promising local (even if de facto) bands, we encourage you to watch every chance you get.

Style: Who are you and what do you do in the Barbed Wires?

Jeff Grant: I’m Jeff. I write the lyrics and melodies and sing them.

When did the band form and how’d that come about?

Garth, Colin, and Justin started this band in 2019 after having all been in the band Sick Bags together. They practiced instrumental for a long time and hoped to eventually find a singer. COVID slowed things down, but at some point in 2021, Justin mentioned to me that if I still lived in Richmond they might ask me to try being the singer. He and I were in the band Pink Razors, still close friends, and I was aware they’d been looking for a singer and had even already heard some practice recordings. I sorta pushed him on that proposal, asking, “Would I have to live in Richmond?” I grew up in Richmond but moved away in 2008, to Indiana.

How do you make it work?

Luckily there was already a precedent for the rest of the band to practice as a three-piece without vocals, and they still do that weekly as far as I know. That works for me because I don’t feel I’m impeding progress too much. When they’ve sorta finished a song, they send me a rough cell-phone recording of it, and eventually I send them back something that I feel is close to finished. Sometimes I get it right on the first try, sometimes they’re like “nahhhh that’s not it, make it simpler.”

Your shows are less frequent than a strictly typical hometown band, how do you approach playing out?

We basically just field every request we get, which is not very many, and say yes if it works logistically for us. There hasn’t been much we’ve had to turn down. Then, I drive for 11 hours, play the show, hang out with old friends and family, go to the river, and drive 11 hours back.

Why did this July 10 show make it onto your dance card? 

There’s not much to it.  We like the VR Sex records and were excited for a chance to play with them. I believe we submitted ourselves to play, in a brief moment of feeling proactive after a slow year.

What’s been the most rewarding aspect of doing this band so far?

I can’t speak for them, but for me, just hearing the songs come together is about as exciting as it gets. I have other projects where I write all the music, so to have these talented players take care of that part feels like such a gift every time, and it’s a new role for me despite playing in bands since the ’90s. It’s a thrill for me to create something that the three of them like after all the work they put into it. Also, for me to still have this peripheral connection to the Richmond punk scene that raised me is an immense feeling of love. It feels like I’ve hacked into it.

Would you share what The Barbed Wires have in store for 2024?

Yep, we’re getting close to setting a recording date for the next album, which is nearly all demo’d. We’ve got some shows in the fall, including a trip to The Fest in Gainesville and other Florida dates. We’d like to do more! Hopefully we can be seen as more of an active band. We’re not so great at putting ourselves out there, and I basically don’t exist in Richmond, so we really appreciate coverage like this.

The Barbed Wires, VR Sex and Artschool perform at the Richmond Music Hall on Wednesday, July 10 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15 in advance. 

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