BARZIN with SHUYLER JANSEN and CARRIE CATHERINE at the Rivoli (332 Queen West), tonight (Thursday, July 27). $8. 416-596-1908. Rating: NNNNN
Soft-spoken, gentle and handsome in a dark, doe-eyed indie rock kind of way, Barzin makes everyone around him seem sort of turgid and overblown, myself included.
Sitting in a noisy Starbucks on College, I spend the entire time worrying that my recorder isn't picking him up. I consider taking the interview outside, but decide against it for fear the singer/songwriter might blow away in the summer breeze.
This is probably the sense one should get from the Tindersticks and Leonard Cohen fan who recorded the lush, minimalist and melancholy My Life In Rooms (Weewerk). The collection of chamber pop, alt-country and indie rock tunes is Barzin's second offering, and despite its drowsy, dreamy vibe, the two-year experience of making the record was brutal.
"It was a terrible experience," he begins, then interrupts himself. "No, I shouldn't say that. I worked with some wonderful people [including Great Lake Swimmers' Tony Dekker and Karen Graves], and that was great, but for myself it was really torturous. I wasn't able to get what I was after.
"I took things way too seriously," he sighs. "I just should've chilled out."
An exercise in introspection and experimentation, My Life In Rooms makes use of a drum machine, French horn, vibraphone and pedal steel. Barzin also says he was really into "effect-ed vocals." At first I think he says "defective vocals" but he corrects me.
"I recorded most of the songs through $5 Radio Shack microphones, and you get these 50s-style AM radio effects."
Now, he says, he's moved away from those sounds. Not that Barzin hates the album, but the world of experimental music he got sucked into throughout the recording process? He's over it now.
My Life In Rooms also deals with some heavy subject matter: how life can acquire meaning through devotion to making art.
"I thought that the more you dedicate yourself to something, the more meaningful your life's going to be. Especially when that something is art. It's what people dream of doing. But I found I had the opposite experience. I became very unhappy as I got more and more into doing music, and I don't know why that is."
I share my theory that it can be difficult to find fulfilment in such a narcissistic and self-indulgent pursuit as a life devoted to art.
"That probably has a lot to do with it," he agrees. "Particularly when you're writing about yourself a lot and thinking about how things matter in relation to you unless you're a social commentator or protest singer, I suppose. I didn't find that meaning I was searching for through music."
Despite his misgivings, a recent tour of Europe (he mostly stayed in the UK but also hit Paris and Luxembourg) proved a success. Barzin isn't sure why, but he claims Europeans really seem to relate to the music he makes.
And, he says, they make him feel appreciated.
"They treat you really nicely. It's small things, like you play a show and there's a platter of food spread out for you. Here I'm lucky to get a beer ticket."
Plans to return abroad are, understandably, afoot. And just because Barzin hasn't found the meaning he seeks doesn't mean he's going to give up making music.
"I don't know what else to do," he chuckles. "I can't do anything else."