As brothers Brad and Andrew Barr raced to finish their third album as The Barr Brothers in February, they had two other deadlines looming. They were renovating a house they had just bought together and Andrew’s wife was due to give birth to the couple’s first child at any moment.
“It felt like if we get this done, these are the three most major things … at the same time,” Brad says. “It was overwhelming. I don’t know if it’s by virtue of my own psychosis — there’s no alternative — but I actually am genuinely happy with the record the way it turned out.”
The Montreal-based folk rock group, which includes Sarah Page on harp and touring members Morgan Moore on bass and Brett Lanier on pedal steel, started working on “Queens of the Breakers” in November 2015. Brad, himself a new dad at the time, was finding it hard to write at home. As he is the group’s primary singer and songwriter, that presented a problem. So too did Page’s concerns that she, as Brad puts it, was “feeling buried under the weight of the band,” which had ballooned to six members on the tour behind 2014’s “Sleeping Operator.”
The core trio needed a reset so they took the Bon Iver approach, retreating to a remote cabin/recording studio in a frozen town in Quebec for some musical therapy.
“It was personal therapy, too,” Brad says. “We’d been on the road together but we hadn’t really hung out. I imagine it’s that way with a lot of bands. Once you get off the road you don’t wanna see each other anymore.”
The lack of distractions — “you had to call the guy with the 4×4 if you needed to get out of there and get to the market,” he says — allowed the three to focus on the music and their relationships. They returned for another session in February 2016, and then a third that July when the town had thawed out. That time, they brought Moore, another musician friend and an engineer.
“It had been about six months and I was chewing on the sounds and pushing myself to get some writing done,” Brad says. “I thought I had about a record’s worth of songs if we stretched out and we went for it.”
That July, they recorded songs like the ambient and hypnotic “You Would Have to Lose Your Mind” and the poppy title track.
“The great thing about that place, you can record until the sun comes up,” Brad says, adding that the songs recorded at the cabin have “a trippy ambience to them — that’s kinda what that place was for me.”
Part of that comes from Page’s harp, which is more pronounced on “Queens of the Breakers.”
“Her sound had expanded beyond the sort of plucky fast decay of the harp,” Brad says. “She had turned it into almost like a synth at times. A lot of sounds you hear that sound like a synth are actually the harp, and her amplification has developed to where she can play pretty loud — Andrew can hit his drums hard and she doesn’t disappear.”
Even though the band needed an extra session at home to finish the record, those trips to the cabin — and the sessions’ collaborative nature — reignited the band’s spark.
“It’s allowed us to go back to those intuitive ways of playing,” Brad says. “It helped us just enjoy the experience and make it more delightful.”
Sixth and I, 600 I St. NW; Sun., 8 p.m., $17-$20.