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Wednesday, March 13,2013

Joshua Barton: Caught on tape

Lansing songwriter goes solo with new spacey country album

by Rich Tupica
Joshua Barton. Photo by Ethan Dick Tate.

Friday, Dec. 28 — Invoking psychedelic sounds with acoustic instruments while also tapping into classic country and gospel may seem like a daunting task for the average musician. 


But local songwriter Joshua Barton doesn’t seem to have a problem finding that assorted medium — maybe it’s because his musical idols range from Spacemen 3 to Johnny Cash.

His latest release, “The Wood Panel Program,” isn’t your typical Michigan indie-folk release, either. It’s a seamless blend of shoegaze and country-folk music. It’s also spliced with street recordings Barton collected on recent travels, adding an atypical ambience to the spacey country album.

“There are a bunch of found sounds on here, secret recordings I made on my phone in different cities,” Barton said. “There are sounds from New Orleans, San Francisco — snippets of street music and other interesting moments from places and things I experienced probably at the same time I was coming up with the ideas for the songs.”

Another oddity of the release is its outdated format: the cassette tape. “I released it on cassette 'cause that's all my friend's tape label, Lafayette Recs, releases. He asked if I wanted to do a release. I agreed and made this. It was understood all along that it would be a cassette. It seemed like a good idea. Cassettes are portable, cheap, nostalgic, and most everyone I know is driving an old car with a tape player,” he said. The release is also streamed and available for download at his Bandcamp page.

Barton led Fields of Industry, an experimental Michigan-based band, since 1999. In 2007 the band started gigging in Lansing. But recently he’s started recording and writing under his own name, which altered his sound on this George Jones-inspired album.

“The songs are all acoustic — that’s the biggest difference,” Barton said of his latest batch of tunes. “Fields of Industry was an electric band. Also there are country, gospel and old folk touchstones on these newer songs. They are things that have been an influence of mine for a while, but that never really made it past the filter I imposed on Fields’ stuff.”

Barton recorded “The Wood Panel Program” at his home in Lansing not long after he and his wife Mary Jane had their first baby. It made for a trickier recording regimen.

“It meant Mary Jane had to solo parent a screaming baby for many nights while I was sequestered away recording, trying to meet a self-imposed deadline of finishing by my birthday,” Barton said. “I think the album has become meaningful to both of us because it’s come to represent what we’ve lived through this year. In general, it’s hard to find time to make music and to play shows, but it’s totally worth it.”


Barton recently returned from a mini-tour promoting the album, hitting up some cozy, unconventional venues along the way. “It’s a lot of fun,” he said. “It was nine shows: a couple in this area and then several swinging around Lake Michigan. I played a fair amount of house shows or otherwise small venues and I love that kind of show. I think these songs are more at home in that setting.”

When he’s not living the family life or recording tracks, Barton is at his day job at the Michigan State University Library, which also allows him to be involved in under-the-radar music by way of old punk and DIY magazines.

“I work in cataloging and with the philosophy materials at the MSU Library. I also work with the zine collections there. We have a fairly comprehensive collection of punk zines, good collections of other radical zines, too. I’m always on the lookout for more.”

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