Kris Barras Band recently released Death Valley Paradise, and it is by far the most enduring work to date from the former MMA cage fighter whose punches are hitting harder with each release. MetalTalk’s Brian Boyle spoke with Kris about his band, his experience with the Supersonic Blues Machine and his hopes for the future.
Since releasing his sublime debut album Lucky 13, Barras has wrapped a massive comfort blanket around those who might have thought that British rock was losing its mojo. The latest album Death Valley Paradise is packed full of no-nonsense attitude, although it has its roots in a time before Covid-19.
“I actually started writing Death Valley Paradise pre-pandemic,” Kris Barras said. “Coming off the Light It Up tour in autumn 2019, I started writing some songs. My Parade came to life around November 2019. But, for sure, lockdown was a really tough time for everybody. It definitely brought up some subject matters and evoked different emotions in me, which influenced the writing.”
Death Valley Paradise saw Barras open his door to co-writing, which got him sharing his pen with a proven bunch such as Zac Maloy (Shinedown, Tyler Bryant), Bob Marlette (Alice Cooper, Airbourne) and conceiving half the album with Blair Daly (Halestorm, Black Stone Cherry). Was there any initial apprehension?
“No, not at all,” Kris says. “I’m someone who likes to push the boat out with every album. I like to do something different. I don’t want to be one of these artists putting out the same album back to back. I like to try different things. I want to try and be the best possible version of myself, and working with songwriters was a fantastic experience. All the biggest bands in the world work with songwriters, and there’s no reason I can’t either.”
Co-writing was something initially set up by the record label. “We had a few chats back and forth about what we can do to make this album as special as possible,” Krisa says, “and we spoke about working with different producers and maybe try collaborating with different songwriters. There was no kind of pressure. It was just one of those things. It was like, ‘try it and see how you get om’.”
It turned into a very positive experience indeed. “I actually struck up some really good relationships with a couple of the guys,” Kris says, “and now they’re people I’ll probably keep writing with for a very long time. It was a great experience. They’re so used to working with big artists that they know exactly how to bring out the best in you, and yeah, it was great bouncing ideas backwards and forward with them.”
Kris says he has different approaches to developing his kernels of ideas. “Sometimes a song starts life as a riff, and sometimes I would have a chorus melody,” Kris says. “My Parade, for instance, started off as a vocal melody. I wrote that on a plane coming back from The Milan guitar show in November 2019. I had come up with that vocal melody and rough lyrics to the chorus. And actually, the riff for that song was kind of the last thing written. So yeah, it changes. Sometimes I start with a chorus, sometimes I start with a riff, and I see where it goes from there.”
The new album is packed with big, rousing choruses. Some have already been played live, and the reception to these has been a real boost. “We’ve been playing the songs live now for a little while,” Kris says. “We got to do the tour with Blackstone Cherry in September last year, and we had a few of the tracks there.”
The first time the band played My Parade live was a momentous occasion. “The first time we played some of the new songs live was actually in the summer last year when we had a few festivals,” Kris says. “We had Steelhouse festival, Love Rocks and Stonedead. I remember we played My Parade for the first time live at Steelhouse Festival. We finished the song, and the crowd carried on singing the song back to us.
“It was one of the most amazing experiences ever but also affirmed that we might be onto something good there with the songs if they were singing it back the first time anyone had ever heard it live.”
You can sense that My Parade holds a special place for Kris. “My Parade was always written to be a sing-along,” he says. “That was my goal with that song, to play it live and have everyone signing it. We’ve been doing it on the headline tour that’s just finished in the UK, and it’s a great song to end the set on. It’s a great feeling.”
My Parader is not Kris’ favourite song on the album, though. “My favourite track on the album is probably These Voices,” he says. “It’s always hard choosing a favourite but that song for me, not just the meaning but I like the chorus melodies. It’s got like a dual chorus thing going on, and I like the guitar riffs. It’s a song that doesn’t have a guitar solo, it has more of a riff section instead, and it’s always good fun when we play that live because we extend it a little bit and put some extra notes in there. But yeah, I think that one’s my favourite.”
In part two, out tomorrow, Kris talks about his guitar influences and how he got the Supersonic Blues Machine gig and is eagerly waiting for their new album to be released.
We also find out how Kris would maybe not win a guitar duel with Steve Vai to join Whitesnake in the late ’80s, “but I might be able to beat him in an arm wrestle.”
Kris talks about how he is looking forward to playing with Thunder and the Joe Bonamassa cruise, plus his thoughts on streaming and his early years.