If You Want To Read This Interview With Spin Doctors’ Chris Barron, Just Go Ahead Now
A career-spanning chat about "Two Princes," Barron's Norwegian side project the Canoes, #Caturday, and everything between.
“I was sort of scared shitless,” Chris Barron says, “because I’m making a new record, and I made a choice that I was gonna basically do material from the new record. “I played ‘Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong,’ ‘Jimmy Olsen’s Blues’ and ‘Two Princes.’ And then the rest of it is all this new stuff that I have either never played in front of people or barely played in front of people.”
Barron, best known as the singer for the Spin Doctors, is recollecting his solo tour last year opening for Glen Phillips of fellow ’90s alternative radio mainstays Toad The Wet Sprocket. The last few years have been difficult for musicians who like to tour, but in 2021 Barron was able to pull off not just shows with the Spin Doctors but also those rare solo dates with Phillips.
Unlike many band leaders, Barron isn’t the kind of musician who typically builds solo gigs into his touring year. He’s used to the format — as a kid, he started off doing gigs like that, and during the pandemic he’s frequently performed streaming shows — but hasn’t necessarily made a big push for solo touring. “Glen and me, as a bill, I think people definitely are not there to see me,” Barron says. “But I haven’t done that many gigs. So they’re like, ‘Oh, cool, I’d love to see Glen. Cool, Chris Barron’s on the gig, I wonder what that’s gonna be like.’ So it’s a very warm, receptive audience.”
Barron might be underselling himself a tiny bit. After all, the Spin Doctors were one of the biggest bands of the ’90s, thanks to 1991’s Pocket Full Of Kryptonite, which spawned the mega-hits “Two Princes” and “Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong.” The album (and memorable MTV videos) propelled the band to Saturday Night Live and a slot opening for the Rolling Stones and Allman Brothers. Barron became a recognizable figure, in no small part to his scruffy red beard and the fact he wore an uber-’90s knit hat with ear flaps. (He still owns it.)
The Spin Doctors’ fortunes ebbed and flowed, but over the years Barron has established that he’s far more than just some dude in a goofy hat. In 2017, he released the lovely and introspective solo album Angels And One Armed Jugglers. He also plays in a Norwegian supergroup called the Canoes, which favors harmony-heavy folk, easygoing rock. More recently, he’s become known as the king of #Caturday — a role he earned by flooding Twitter timelines with cute cat photos all day.
During the pandemic, Barron continued pursuing honing a newer pursuit, a different style of guitar playing. “In the last five years, I’ve been working really hard on learning this whole new style of fingerpicking that’s based on ragtime gospel fingerpicking,” Barron explains. “It’s based on the playing of Reverend Gary Davis. He’s a figure from the ’60s, but he was born in 1894. He was this blind reverend who was a street musician in New York. He never saw anybody play the guitar, so his guitar playing is really weird. It’s like he didn’t know what was possible on the guitar. I’ve been studying with Woody Mann, who’s kind of a guitar legend. [During] COVID, while everybody was making sourdough bread, I was, like, playing Reverend Gary Davis tunes and working out this weird fingerpicking thing.”
Barron’s working on solo music inspired by this style, although he’s staying plenty busy. Although the Spin Doctors recently postponed several shows due to COVID-19, the band is in the midst of making a new record. And the Canoes are due to have another record, Magnetic North, released this year. “I guess I’m working on records with all my projects now, so that’s awesome,” he says cheerfully.
During a lengthy conversation over two separate days, the gregarious Barron regaled us with stories about rockstar encounters (going to Keith Richards’ birthday party, meeting Jimmy Page), but also waxed ecstatic about his early days in New York City’s music scene, where he made money doing his favorite bar trick (throwing himself off a bar stool) and bands’ nightly fortunes were measured by how big a bar’s take ended up being.
But no matter where the conversation went, it all came back to music and community — the two things that have always buoyed Barron and the Spin Doctors.
“Before I record songs, I like to practice in front of people,” he says. “I play on my block in New York City all the time. I started doing that a few years ago. I’ll go down to the park and I’ll play, or I’ll go down to the subway and I play. I started out busking, so I have no problem farting around playing in front of people who don’t necessarily know who the fuck I am or aren’t giving me their full attention. And then I’ve been playing on my block, which was transformative of my life and my presence as a neighbor in my neighborhood, because now everybody in my neighborhood knows me. I live on this really funky block that’s very diverse.”
Late last year, you tweeted about the location where the Spin Doctors started. I guess you all played a frat party? What made you say yes to doing the gig?
CHRIS BARRON: Eric [Schenkman, guitar] comes up to me and he goes, “Hey, man, I got this gig. It’s kind of a rock and roll, blues gig. We were at the New School for Social Research, in the Parsons jazz department. And he goes, “It’s a rock-blues gig and, and you’re the best rock and blues singer in the school.” And that’s that’s why I decided to do the gig. [Big laughs.] I’m a lead singer — flattery will get you everywhere.
The live scene in the late ’80s and early ’90s in New York City was known for being amazing. What made the community such a great environment for musicians?
BARRON: That was another amazing stroke of luck. There was an older generation—and by older, I mean, these guys are five, seven, 10 years older than us. There were guys like Jono Manson, Simon Chardiet, and Kevin Traynor, who were in these bands: Joey Miserable And The Worms, the Mighty Sweet Tones, the Surreal McCoys, the Five Chinese Brothers, and Mumbo Gumbo. Every night of the week, there were these incredible bands that were playing, and it was this rootsy, rock and roll-style of playing. And it’s all very improvisation-based.
I met Eric and Aaron [Comess, Spin Doctors drummer] at the jazz program. I only stayed there for a semester because my whole objective [after I moved to New York City] was to put a band together. My dad had really not a lot of money for college. And I knew my brother was a real candidate for college, so I didn’t want to fuck his college [prospects]. So I told my dad when I moved to New York, “Look, I’m here in New York. And a number of the people that I know are going into this program at the New School. I don’t want a degree in music; I just want to put a band together. So I promise you, if you foot the bill for this for a semester or two, I will work my guts out. I’ll learn everything. Which is exactly what happened: Eric and I met, and Eric asked me to do a gig.
New York was a funny hotbed of music. There’s always been a lot of really great players in New York. Right before I moved into the city, up until a certain point, there had been a thing called the cabaret law. And a meant that you needed a special license to have more than, I want to say, two people on stage. And [that law] was overturned. Suddenly, bands could play again, I don’t know if it was like an influx of people moving into the city — in my case, if there was, I was certainly part of that. Or suddenly all these musicians were suddenly able to put these larger combos together. But we were really lucky.
[These veteran musicians] were really, really cool to us. And they liked us. It wasn’t a competitive scene. People were constantly collaborating and writing together. There was a real sense that we could all help each other out. We’d be doing a gig on Bleecker Street, and Blues Traveler would be over at Thompson Street. We’d time our sets so our set breaks are at separate times. John Popper would come over and play harmonica with Spin Doctors during his break, and I would go over and [sit in] with those guys, or me and Eric would both go over there.
And Moe Holmes, this great blues musician, would come and sit in with us. Everybody was really sitting in with everybody all the time. And that was really, really encouraged. It gave the scene a real vitality, because there were people who were just coming out every night. Not just because the bands were great, but you just never knew who was going to show up. You’d go see your second-favorite band—but somebody from your first favorite band would show up.
Thirty-plus years later, what do you remember most about making Pocket Full Of Kryptonite? You had written some the songs years before, so you’re bringing some of that stuff to the table. What do you remember now?
BARRON: You know, we were on a goddamn mission from God when we made that record. We really knew we were onto something. We had worked and paid a lot of dues to be in the studio making that record. We knew that material, like, frontward, backward, inside out and upside down. That’s where I got the conceit, you know, of the importance of playing music before you record it. At least in my process. It’s not like everybody’s got to do that. That’s one of the reasons why I like to work that way, because that material was very, very seasoned. By the time we were recording Pocket Full Of Kryptonite, we had played all those songs in front of people hundreds of times.
The band’s always been kind of contentious. We’ve always thrown a lot of elbows. We’re really good friends now. And we know each other’s kids. We’re sweet older guys who fucking love each other now. But in the beginning — and this is part of the dynamic of making that record — we didn’t get together because we’re friends. You know, most bands get together because they’re friends. Blues Traveler all went to high school together. Hootie And The Blowfish, those guys met in college. Generally, rock and roll bands get together because they’re friends.
We got together because each guy in the band thought the other three guys were the best three guys around. They thought I was the best singer, I thought they were the best guitar player, drummer and bass player around. And each of us felt that way about the other three. So there’s been this thing in the band, [and] I think it’s kind of served us well.
The thing in the beginning of the band was sort of like, “Oh, you’re mad at me? Great, fuck you. Get on stage, do your job. And I’ll get on stage and do mine, and we’ll talk about this later, if ever.” The nature of our relationship isn’t like, “Oh, you hurt my feelings. Oh, I hurt your feelings. Let’s sing ‘Kumbaya’ and hold hands, and get to the bottom of this.” It was really more like, “Motherfucker, get up there and do your shit, and I’ll do my shit.” So there’s an aggression.
I always laugh, because people just know “Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong” and “Two Princes.” And we came up in this grunge scene that was much more nihilistically oriented, from a songwriting point of view, than what we were doing. But if you go into Pocket Full Of Kryptonite, songs like “Refrigerator Car” and “Shinbone Alley” and “Forty Or Fifty,” those have a darkness to them, both musically and lyrically.
If you go into our tunes, even the happy ones, there’s a darkness in all of those lyrics. There’s a lot of sad lyrics with happy music in the Spin Doctors catalog. Songs like “Two Princes” and “Jimmy Olsen’s Blues” and “How Could You Want Him (When You Know You Could Have Me?)” and “Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong,” there’s a lot of loss, and sadness and hurt and pain, if you go into those songs, just lyrically.
You mention the darkness in the lyrics of that record. I imagine that’s probably why, when the record finally connected with people, it did connect. I was a teenager when the record came out — and at that time, you’re moody, you’re angsty, and you pick up on that stuff, even though you can’t quite put those feelings into words. Besides the fact that you had hits, I would imagine that might be another reason why people really gravitated toward it. It’s like the Smiths who I loved: upbeat music and the saddest lyrics.
BARRON: I love the Smiths. I am very happy to be in the same paragraph as them. That’s a really interesting observation. I have long marveled and felt very fortunate that we struck this universal chord. Several people over the years have said to me, “Yeah, you were the CD, or the cassette, we could play in the car, because our mom and dad liked it, and we liked it. We couldn’t play Nirvana in the car because our parents didn’t like it.”
Over the years, as I’ve kind of dialed in the process. I don’t stop working on a tune until it’s a good tune. The songs aren’t going to go bad in your notebook. You know, I wrote “Two Princes” in a half an hour. But I wrote probably 20 drafts of “Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong.” “Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong” sounds like I wrote it on an envelope, but I slaved over those lyrics.
Just to go back to the thing about the darkness — you know, I have always had this idea of what I call, like, holding the mirror up to the mirror. If you can really tell the truth about something, and speak honestly to yourself, you get the angle of your perspective lined up with the angle of a listener’s perspective. And then you strike this form of infinity, where people can look really deep into this and see themselves and see you, and then see themselves again, and you again.
A lot of it has to do with truth, but I never really thought of it along an axis of darkness, and people maybe being able to empathize a little bit.
I think I saw, via pictures on Facebook, that Spin Doctors are making a new album.
BARRON: It’s been a long time since we got together to write an album. The first session was me and Eric, and we decided to meet in Vermont. He lives in Toronto, so it’s halfway between New York and Toronto. I called my friend Mike Gordon, the bassist of Phish. He’s got a guest house, and he had said to me, “Hey, if you ever need a place for writing and recording, don’t hesitate to ask me.” He’s got a studio in there and everything.
I got up there the night before, and Eric was on his way. This was [last winter]. We’d all been quarantining since March, and I hadn’t seen Eric in eight or nine months — or more, because the last Spin Doctors show before all this shit was in January, so I hadn’t seen him in like a year. It was the first time I’d gone that long without seeing him in a really long time.
I got this text from Eric: “Which way do I go at the fork?” And I realized like, “Oh, he’s at the fork, He’s half a mile away. He’s about to pull up.” And I had this unguarded, upwelling of glee and joy at the prospect of seeing him in five minutes. He got there and we were just like, “Yeah, man, what’s up?” We threw our arms around each other, gave each other a great big hug. It was fucking great. We [drank] whiskey every night and we wrote four or five really fucking good songs. And the shit was fucking on.
Then I went over to Aaron’s house. He’s a really interesting composer. You know, he composed the music to “How Could You Want Him (When You Know You Could Have Me?)” and “Forty Or Fifty” on Pocket Full Of Kryptonite. He came up with the strange leitmotif at the beginning of “Refrigerator Car,” which has a strange time signature.
And I went over to his house and wrote three songs with him. And then, a month or so ago, the three of us got together. Some of the shit is really deep and weird that we wrote, and some of it’s really fun, and funny and appealing. Just like Pocket Full Of Kryptonite. There’s shit on there that anybody would get, and then there’s stuff for the hardcore music freakazoids. We’ve always been able to bring to bear like a level of musicianship because everybody in the band can really play. We’ve always been able to mix more dense material with stuff that’s really kind of like ear candy.
[In March 2021, Barron tweeted a lengthy thread that started out like a short story: “Some of you might know that in the early 2000’s I lost my voice for about a year. A funny thing happened after that. Something that had never happened to me before. I became afraid of life. How would I survive if I lost my voice again, maybe forever?”
He went on to describe how he tried writing songs for other people, big superstars — it didn’t work out — but unexpectedly found himself with a new band thanks to Arne Hovda, keyboardist/vocalist of the Getaway People.]
BARRON: Arne’s band was out on the H.O.R.D.E. tour in 1998. There was a main stage, and then a second stage, and then there was an improvisational music stage, a jam stage. My job was to try and get, you know, Ben Harper, to do a tune with John Popper, and that kind of stuff. I was wrangling people. Every day I had to be coming up with combinations of people to play.
The thing was, people have varying degrees of comfort with going onstage and improvising. The Barenaked Ladies guys were like, “Great.” Some of them were showing up every day, just to see what was going on. Other people were a little more resistant.
Arne comes out on tour, and once he realized what it was all about, he was like [all in]. When I needed somebody to play a little bit of keyboard, he would play a little bit of keyboard. And if I needed somebody to play keyboards and backing vocals, he would [do that]. If I needed somebody to make up a song about underwear, he would just do that. He was great. He never played too much, but if I needed him to take over the whole thing, performance-wise, he would. We got to be really good friends.
A couple years later — I think this is what the tweet was about, being worried about losing my voice, trying to write a bunch of annoying music. It [was] not so bad an experience, but I was not making music that I really liked, and it was kind of depressing. It was like, “You know what? I have this weird, poetic, quirky style. And I don’t want to sit in a room of people trying to write Faith Hill songs and hearing them say, “Oh, that’s too clever” or “Enrique Iglesias would never sing that” or that kind of crap.
I was like, “I’m just going to do what I do. I don’t need to make a lot of money. I’m fine. And if I starve doing what I like to do, well, that’s a good way to go.” Sure enough, a couple days later, the phone rang — and it was Arne, being like, “You should come to Norway to this songwriting camp with me.” I didn’t even really know what a songwriting camp was. But he explained that [a bunch of] really good writers [are] all gonna get together in Norway and write for our own projects and other people’s projects.
[After flying to Norway, Barron hit it off with another famous Norwegian musician, Erik Norvald Røe, and wrote songs with him. On a later trip, he, Erik and Arne connected with yet another Norwegian star, Hans Petter Aaserud — and the four ended up forming a new band, the Canoes. They all decided their band uniform was jackets with fancy crests — why not? — and ended up landing a minor hit in Norway, with the stellar “Steal A Little Time,” and released a debut album, Booze & Canoes.]
BARRON: We have another record in the can. It’s called Magnetic North. We really found a stride, I think. Booze & Canoes is kind of all over the place.
When we get together, we have a thing called the confession corner. One time we were up at one of the cabins, and I was wearing Arne’s wife’s pajamas. I was talking about, like, having a difficult time with my daughter, and trying to balance things, [or] like [being] on the verge of a divorce or coming through my divorce and feeling really depressed about it.
And I was standing in this one part of the kitchen. These guys are like tough Norwegian guys, and we’re all sharing our feelings. And they’re like, “Chris is in the confession corner!” And then, like, everybody got into the confession corner. Now we do this thing where we get into our pajamas and drink wine and do the confession corner.
We’re really good friends. We’re not like writing tunes about typical stuff. We’re writing songs about monogamous married love, and concern of parents for their children.
They’re really great writers. I always say, Spin Doctors, we’re friends because we’re a band. But the Canoes are a band because we’re friends.
And you ended up on Eurovision with the Canoes — what was that like? Did they just submit the song?
BARRON: That was really funny. Those guys are all famous. They’ve all been approached to do Eurovision many times. I didn’t know anything about it. They’re like, “Oh, so many people watch it.” I was like, “Let’s just do it.” They were like, “Oh, it’s kind of cheesy.” And then I was like, “Let’s not do it.” They were like, “Everybody’s been asking us to do it forever.” It was like that kind of thing.
We were like, “Let’s send in our silliest song, and see what happens,” which was “It Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time.” I have work tapes of us writing that, and we are laughing so hard. There’s a couple of times in my life I’ve actually fallen on the floor laughing, and that was one of them. And so we sent it, and they got back to us in 30 seconds, and were like, “OK, you’re in.” We were like, “What! Oh, shit. Now we really have to do this.”
But we had a great time doing it. I mean, we were never going to win. Once I got there, you know, there were pop artists that had like 15 dancers that all had feathered costumes. They had pyrotechnics, and all this production. And we were like, “Um, can you put these crests on these jackets?” And they’re like, “Sure.” And we’re like, “And can you put piping on the lapels?” Like, sure. And we’re like, “Can we get pants as well?” They’re like, “No. You have to bring your own pants.” We were like, “Oh. OK.” [Laughs.] It was very clear that we were not, you know, a production priority.
[At the end of our performance] the camera goes up above us and [you can see] this big wrap to cover the floor. It said “The Canoes” and it’s got our crest on it. But it was very clear that we were probably not going to be the ones that lit the whole place up.
I was also really worried because it all came together at the beginning of February. If we had won, my wife and I would have had to postpone our wedding. [Laughs.] I had mixed feelings about whether we wanted to win or not.
I love that you have this whole separate group here. How many musicians have that luxury and that joy to be able to have so many different projects going on that all feed the different creative parts of you?
BARRON: I look at it like I’ve got these three drawers in my career. The Spin Doctors is like the killer rock band drawer. The Canoes are like my buddy band, harmony sync drawer. And then that drawer in your kitchen that’s got like a screwdriver and a bunch of different kinds of batteries and toothpicks and tea tree oil and a pot holder. That’s like my solo career. All the funky kind of misfit toys songs end up there.
I went through a lot of philosophical undulations in one of the biggest bands of the ’90s. That kind of went… We weren’t as popular as we had been, and there was a period of trying to grasp at that former height, and fame and success. And then I realized, “Look, I have a two-bedroom apartment, and I have a Subaru. I pay my bills. I go out and I don’t do anything but play music.”
And [so I realized] “I’m good. I don’t miss going to the mall to buy underwear, and being accosted by 300 kids.” Not that I’ve ever minded paying attention to fans. But I get recognized enough that I still feel like I’m somewhat relevant to somebody somewhere. But it’s nice having a low-key thing. What that leaves is doing really good music, and doing really good art that is really, really what you want to do.
Back at the height of Spin Doctors popularity, was it really like Beatlemania? Where you would go out and people would mob you? That must have been so bizarre, if that was the case.
BARRON: It wasn’t like being mobbed. It wasn’t people grabbing hunks of hair and trying to rip my clothes off so they could have a button. It was low-key. And it didn’t happen much in New York.
I think New Yorkers are good about that. They leave people alone.
BARRON: Yeah, exactly. If I was in Des Moines, and the band was playing, and I was like, “Oh, I need to go grab a package of underwear.” I’d walk into a mall — and back then, I had that red beard and red hair. I was on the road so much that I really didn’t have a lot of clothes. Sometimes the only clothes I had were the clothes that I wore in the videos. That cow shirt in the “Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong” video was, like, my favorite shirt, and I didn’t want to stop wearing it. I swear to God, I wasn’t wearing it around so people would notice me. Sometimes I was just absentmindedly wearing the thing that I had been wearing in a video.
And we were on MTV like 18 times a day. I was a very recognizable guy. So someone would come up to me: “Can I have an autograph?” And I was like, “Sure.” And then somebody would be like, “What’s going on? That guy’s giving him an autograph. Oh, it’s the guy from the Spin Doctors!” And before I knew it, there were, like, 100 people, 200 people around me.
And it wasn’t insane. It wasn’t hysteria. I mean, occasionally it was. But generally it wasn’t. It was people just being cool and wanting an autograph, and that drawing a crowd. Or coming up to you in a restaurant when you’re trying to eat. It’s funny, because I’ve never really minded much about that kind of stuff.
I have to remember, like, I’ve met Robert De Niro and Mick Jagger, all these famous people. I’ve been on television. You get used to that. If I’m introduced as like, “Hey, this is Chris from the Spin Doctors,” people generally know who I am. Spin Doctors were on Saturday Night Live. And I saw Dan Aykroyd at the party afterwards. I’m like, “I gotta go talk to Dan Aykroyd. What am I gonna say? Oh, I know, he plays harmonica. And I know John Popper. He’ll definitely know who John Popper is.” I cross the party and say, “Mr. Aykroyd?” “Call me Dan.” And I’m like, “My name is Chris. I’m the singer of the Spin Doctors.” And he’s like, “Yeah, I know.’
I’m, like, 23 years old, and Dan Aykroyd knows who I am.
I’m used to that kind of stuff. [But] I don’t take it for granted. A lot of people I know who are in my [level] say, “No, I’m not starstruck at all.” I believe them when they say that, but I am. You know, like, if I meet somebody like Robbie Robertson, when I met the guys from the Stones — I can keep my cool, because I’m a rock musician. You got to be cool; you gotta know how to be cool. But inside, I’m like, “Oh my God!” It gets me. I love these people. They are my absolute heroes. I’ve studied their work and admired them since I was a kid.
But there’s some people who will never be on TV and have never met anybody famous. They live somewhere where the possibility of that’s crazy. They see you, and it’s like a moon creature. I don’t consider myself an A-list super-famous person. I have a sturdy notoriety because my band was really big in the ’90s. The “Two Princes” thing is kind of a trope, and that was a very big song. Pocket Full Of Kryptonite‘s a big album.
You know, I think I’ve made a lot of really good art. But it hasn’t been like a huge, massive, cultural success. So I meet somebody, and I’m like… I just know you could really hurt somebody’s feelings if they weren’t ready. I always try to be cool to people.
I had a moment, early on. We were opening up for the Allman Brothers. I’m, like, 21 [or 22] years old. Independent of opening for those guys, I had been thinking, like, “Shit, you know, if I’m going to be a famous lead singer, do I have to be an asshole?” Because I don’t want to be. Maybe that’s what you have to do. That’s the sort of reputation that lead singers have. Maybe I have to be arrogant and a jerk.
This is going on in my mind as we come off after our set. We watch their set from the side of the stage. They come off before their encore after their set. And Gregg Allman sees me on the side of the stage and walks right up to me and goes, [affects Southern accent] “Hi, I’m Gregg Allman.” I’m like [affects awed, reverent vocal tone], “Dude, I know.” He shakes my hand: “Hey, man, thanks for doing this. I’m like, “Are you kidding me? Thank you.” He’s like, “Man, I love your album.” I’m like, “Whoa.” And then Dickey Betts, same thing.
That was it for me. I was like, “If the fucking Allman Brothers can be normal and cool, then I’m going to be normal and cool.” Not only was that a nice thing for me—them being cool to me changed the trajectory of my life and personality. That gave me the go-ahead to be a nice person.
And what’s great about that story is that they didn’t have to do that. They went out of their way to say, “Hey, this is great.” They could have just been jerks. But that’s really cool.
BARRON: Even more with the Stones. The Stones are really too big to fail. They could behave any way they want to. But I was at Keith Richards’ birthday when we were touring with them. And Ron Wood shows up to the party. And, first of all, he’s wearing one of those gigantic yellow plastic, like, Gorton’s fisherman’s hats. I was like, “What the fuck is he wearing?” It was so silly.
He sees me — and by that time, I had met them all. He grabs me by the shoulders, and goes [affects British accented voice] “Chris, mate, how’s it going?” You know, shaking me, jostling me. I’m like, “Great. This has been great. It’s been great to see you guys play, and great opening up for you.” And he goes: “Oh, you’ve seen the band?”
And I’m like, “Yeah, man. We’ve gone to every show that we could. We’ve done like 14, and we had to drive a couple times, but I’ve seen the band 10, 12 times.” He goes [Barron affects British accent]: “You’ve seen the band 10 times?”
I was like, “Yeah, it’s like a clinic watching you guys.” And Keith Richards is standing behind him, and [Wood] reaches behind him and he sort of pokes Keith Richards. Keith turns around and Ronnie’s like, “Chris has seen the band 10 times.” And Keith’s like, “You’ve seen the band 10 times?” And then he goes back to his conversation.
And Ronnie’s like, “Have you had a chat with Mick?” And I said, “Well, I’ve met Mick, but I haven’t had a chat with him, per se.” [Ronnie voice] “You must come over and chat with Mick. He’s such a lovely fellow.” And he’s still got me by the shoulders. “Mick, this is Chris from the Spin Doctors.” And Mick goes, “Yeah, I know.” And my brain explodes. I’m just like, “Mick Jagger knows who I am.” Ronnie’s like, “Chris has seen the band 10 times.” And Mick goes, “You’ve seen the band 10 times?” They were all so cool.
I follow you on Twitter, and the way you talk to people, it’s clear you have a good relationship with their own music and legacy. That stands out to me because I think a lot of people don’t. A lot of musicians get really tortured about things…
BARRON: [Laughs.] I know. It’s really weird when people don’t want to play their hit song. I think that’s really a shame. I like playing “Two Princes.” Then again, the Spin Doctors — and me personally — have an approach to music that is improvisational. The way I look at it, it’s not like, “Oh God, I gotta play this song again.” It’s like, “OK, I’m gonna do another rendition.” And I feel really fine about fooling around and doing a version that’s a little bit of a different tempo, or phrasing things differently, or every single time doing it just a little bit different. I’m not going to make it so that it’s unrecognizable or anything. A lot of a lot of people I know — I actually know — don’t like playing their hits or are sick of them. I’ve never really understood that.
It’s a bummer as a fan, too. I get it if fans are like, “I don’t care about any new music you’re doing, I just want you to pretend like it’s 1991 again and play all your hits.” That’s a bummer, and I understand that. It’s just having a balance.
BARRON: We always play “Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong,” “Two Princes” and “Jimmy Olsen’s Blues.” When I do a solo gig, I always do “Two Princes” and “Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong.”
We do a bunch of people’s favorite tunes. But [after a show] people [might] say, “Oh, you didn’t do ‘Refrigerator Car’ tonight. I’m like, “Well, you can’t play them all every night.” And you can’t — but there are certain points in your career, where it kind of changes a little bit.
I just went and saw Bob Dylan, and he was awesome. But he didn’t play any of the major [hits]. He played “When I Paint My Masterpiece” and a lot of major works. But he didn’t do “Blowin’ In The Wind,” he didn’t do “Like A Rollling Stone.” It was cool because people were into the new album. That’s part and parcel of him being this elder statesmen and having been around for so long. And for such a long time, he’s made it really clear, like, “I’m just gonna go out and do my thing.”
By the time I’m 70, maybe people will [want to hear] the new stuff [from me], or whatever. Songs gain and lose significance over time. But “Two Princes” was a really big song. It’s been played on the radio 8 million times. And in 1994, it was the most-played song on the radio in the world. And 8 million — if you laid out 8 million plays, let’s say the song is like three minutes long, it’s 30 years.
That’s wild. I can’t even wrap my head around that.
BARRON: Five, six, seven years ago, I got an award for it being at 5 million. So it’s still getting played on the radio. In the last 5,10 years, it’s been played another 3 million times. It’s still getting a lot of radio play.
My daughter the other day was like, “I have ‘Two Princes’ stuck in my head.” I was like, “Yeah?” She was like, “Yeah, I heard it in a coffee shop, and I couldn’t get it out of my head. I can’t believe you wrote that.” I’m like, “I know what you mean — I can’t believe I wrote it.” [Laughs.] She’s like, “You’re, like, my dad. You make me pancakes and are this goofy guy.”