Matthew Barber and Justin Rutledge at Upstairs and the Segal Centre

Matthew Barber Matthew Barber

Whether you’re a fan of the iconic 1960s film The Graduate, or you love contemporary folk/indie/alt-country/rock, or both, you’ll want to check out Matthew Barber and Justin Rutledge while they’re in town. The duo has composed new music for a Segal Centre theatre adaptation of the film, which they’ll be performing live (along with some of the original Simon and Garfunkel numbers) during the production. While they’re here they’ll also be playing at Upstairs Jazz Bar and Grill, promoting their most recent album releases: Rutledge’s Daredevil is an homage to the Tragically Hip, and Barber’s Big Romance is a meditation on love, life, death, and loss. I had the opportunity to talk to Matthew Barber about Big Romance.

Matt Barber

Matt Barber

Nancy Berman (NB): Your new album is really great. Do most of the songs come from personal experiences, or are they stories you wanted to tell, or both?

Matthew Barber (MB): Everything has a genesis in something personal but then I try to take it out of the factual personal realm and make it more universal, something everyone can relate to. But it always comes from some kind of mood that I have or something that’s going on in my life.


NB: How is your new album different from your previous work?

MB: It’s not a radical departure. Every album reflects how I’ve changed or grown as a person or in the circumstances of my life in the year I’m living while I’m writing the material for the album.

NB: You’ve said that on this album, “Some songs are about love, but others deal with death, despair and that which lurks in the shadows that are cast when the fires of passion burn bright.”  Why did you want to tackle these topics, and what exactly lurks in the shadow of passion?

MB: I wasn’t necessarily setting out to write about death. I wrote the song Magic Greg the day I found out that a friend of mine had passed away. The song just flowed out of me, a very sincere reaction to hearing the news. On the 505 deals with the death of someone I didn’t know, but who was killed by a streetcar a few blocks away from where I live in Toronto. As for the second part of the quote, I’m not ashamed to say that I’m a romantic person and I think that shows in my song writing. I think part of romance is to explore the whole breadth of what it means, not just the Hallmark card part, but also the doubt, uncertainty and pain and everything that goes along with it. The good stuff is so important but we have to acknowledge the risks involved [in falling in love].

NB: What’s your favorite era of music making? Why?

MB: I love many different types of music so that’s a tough one, but probably most of my favourite albums date from the late ‘60s and early ‘70s: Bob Dylan, Neil Young, The Band, The Stones, The Beatles. The era’s combining of folk, blues, rock-and-roll, and country is the stuff that affects me most.


NB: Many of your songs deal with love and heartbreak. Do you have any advice for the brokenhearted?

MB: It sucks to have your heart broken but if you’re a creative person you can use the opportunity to get a good piece of art out of it. Don’t let it go to waste, write a song, a poem, paint a picture. Then share your work with other heartbroken people to ease their pain.

The Graduate, with original music by Matthew Barber and Justin Rutledge, plays at the Segal Centre (5170 Côte Ste. Catherine) from August 31 to September 21. Times vary. Tickets start at $24.50.

Matthew Barber and Justin Rutledge play at Upstairs Jazz Bar and Grill (1254 Mackay) on August 22. 8:30.


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