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Kris Barras Part Two / “I might be able to beat Steve Vai in an arm wrestle”

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 influences, his early years and Supersonic Blues Machine.

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.”

Part One can be read here.

Gary Moore has always been one of Kris’ main guitar influences. “He was certainly my very first guitar hero,” Kris says, “but I’ve gone through a lot of different styles growing up. I was massively influenced by classic rock in my early years, moving on to more bands like The Rolling Stones, Whitesnake, Deep Purple, stuff like that.”

Kris says he moved on to heavier music in his teens while playing in Metal bands. “My favourite band during my teens was Slipknot,” he says, “and then I really got into the instrumental guitar stuff, like Steve Vai, Joe Satriani and some more jazzy guys like Gregg Howe and John McLaughlin. My influences have always been pretty much anything with a guitar in.”

Asked if he could step into any band for one night, Whitesnake spings immediately into his mind. “I would love to be a guitar player in Whitesnake in the late ’80s,” he says. “Try and take Steve Vai’s place [Laughs]. I wouldn’t be able to beat him in a guitar duel for it, but I might be able to beat him in an arm wrestle. They’ve always been a band that’s been known for having great guitar players, and the guitarists have always got great stuff from that band. David Coverdale’s one of my all-time favourite vocalists. I think that would be quite a cool band to join.”

Kirs is a former professional MMA fighter and trainer, and while he was still playing in these times, the guitar was an outlet once he stopped competing. “I never really had any long term plans with the music,” Kris says. “I mean, I’ve always played. I’ve been playing since I was five years old and have always been in bands. Even when I was fighting, I was still in cover bands, doing the pub scene and weddings.

“I wrote a lot of songs when I was younger, in my late teens. But then, I just didn’t do a lot throughout my twenties because I was focusing on fighting. But once I decided to stop competing, I needed a bit of an outlet, and I just started writing some songs and had a little band that I put together.

“My goal was just that I wanted to do a few gigs, playing original music to people that wanted to hear it. I never had any long term plan. I never imagined it would get this far and didn’t think I would get to play with the band that I’ve played with or get to tour in the way that we do, having an album in the charts. That was never the goal. It was literally just to maybe get on a few small festivals and just basically write some songs and sing a bit. It kind of just snowballed, really.”

Kris Barras Band who release Death Valley Paradise
Death Valley Paradise “Dripping in raw sophistication, the sound is big and brash and never overcooked.”

Kris has the Supersonic Blues Machine gig, fronting a band that’s performed with the likes of Billy Gibbons, Steve Lukather, and Walter Trout. It must have been initially terrifying but a massive career highlight. “Yeah, playing with Supersonic Blues Machine is an amazing experience,” Kris says. “The first show that I did with them was the Shepherds Bush Empire in London, and I definitely think that’s the most nervous I’ve ever been before a gig.”

Kris Barras Band had been put up as support for that gig. “They were about to go on a ten date European tour with just the one in the UK,” Kris says. “We didn’t know at the time, and no one did, that their frontman Lance Lopez had parted ways with the band, and they were looking for someone new. They had a couple of guys in mind and then I got suggested by my agent, my label, you know, ‘What about Kris?’.

“They saw some videos, and we had a few phone conversations. I flew over to LA and spent the week with them. The very first night I arrived at LAX airport, I got picked up and taken straight to Billy Gibbons’s house, and we ended up going out and having Tequilas on the sunset strip. It was a great week, and that was it, really. I was in. We’ve done a couple of tours now, and it’s been great. We’ve recorded a new album, and hopefully, that will be out in the not too distant future.”

Kris and his band are one the most exciting British groups to have emerged in recent years. How does he assess British Rock at the moment? “There are lots of great British bands at the moment,” he says. “Rock’s a pretty broad genre. Obviously, the whole New Wave Of Classic Rock movement is doing a lot of good things for bands coming through. And moving a bit more towards the heavier end, with the ‘Kerrang type’ bands, there are some really good bands coming through and getting airplay on things like radio one.

“That’s always a good thing to keep guitar music, rock music in the limelight and get it exposed to as many people as possible. I think it’s great. There are so many great bands coming through, lots of really good festivals and opportunities for bands. I think it’s an exciting time.”

Kris Barras Band who release Death Valley Paradise
Kris Barras Band. Photo: John McMurtrie

The financial pitfalls of streaming and the unfair remuneration have been a big topic over the last couple of years, with even the UK Parliament getting involved. Many people see them as a necessary evil, but, having slogged your guts out getting albums made, it must be disheartening to see very little financial return.

“They are what they are,” Kris says. “It’s the way of the world. I use them. I’m as guilty as anyone. I use Spotify. I don’t own a CD player or a vinyl player. I consume my music via Spotify, it’s extremely convenient, and I completely get why it exists. I was one of those annoying teenagers who used to fill up my parent’s computer with viruses from Limewire and Napster, downloading music, and spending my pocket money on CDs.

“I did use to do that, and I do miss those days in a way. But it’s just the way it is. Streaming came about as a way to at least get some money back. Everyone was downloading music illegally, especially in my age group. I think streaming was something that had to come along and had to be cheap enough to make people want to do it and not go through the hassle of downloading torrents and whatever else.

“It is what it is! We were actually just talking about it on tour. I do miss the days of going to a music shop at the weekend, where I used to get my pocket money and go down to the local Our Price and listen to different CDs and decide which one I was gonna buy that week.

“But yeah, it’s just a different world now. Spotify can open you up to a whole new audience. A lot of my favourite bands of recent years are bands that I’ve discovered through Spotify and through playlists.

“Supersonic Blues Machine, I’d never actually heard of before. They popped up on a playlist, and I became a fan of the band. Lots of bands I’ve discovered through Spotify, and in turn, I’ve ended up buying tickets to go and watch them live. Whether there is a fair distribution of profits from the top down to the bottom, who knows, but it is what it is.”

Now that Covid-19 rules have been relaxed, there is an exciting future for the Kris Barras Band. “We’re doing Wembley Arena with Thunder at the end of May,” Kris says. “That’s gonna be amazing. Thunder was the very first big band that I ever saw live. I used to go and watch my dad’s pub covers band every weekend when I was a kid, but Thunder was the first big proper touring band that I ever got to see.

“I was about nine or ten years old, and I was just in complete awe. They were one of my favourite bands growing up, so getting to play with them at such an iconic place as Wembley Arena is a pretty special thing.

“Later on in the year, we’re doing the Joe Bonamassa cruise. There are some amazing acts on that, and that’s gonna be good fun. We’ve done the Bon Jovi one before, and we had an awesome time, so I’m looking forward to getting out and doing that. And then we’ve got a few things in the pipeline that haven’t been announced yet, so keep eyes and ears peeled.”

Death Valley Paradise is out now. You can take a track like the ridiculously catchy Chaos, which hooks you in on the first listen with those wide appealing hardened melodic tones. This is the style that’s become Shinedown’s bread and butter and afford them support slots with Metal legends Iron Maiden.
And that’s exactly the status of company that Barras and co should be mixing with on the strength of this album. The future of British rock is bright.

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