The Ant abides
Weirdo psych-pop singer-songwriter Anton Barbeau returns briefly to Sac from Berlin
It takes Anton Barbeau several moments to consider the seemingly simple question: How many releases have you put out? He thinks it over, recalls more than 20 CDs, six or seven cassettes in his early days, a couple of more in recent years now that cassettes are back in style, three or four singles.
There’s probably more than that, he says.
The weirdo, off-kilter psych-pop singer-songwriter began his career in the ’80s right here in Sacramento and moved to Europe a decade ago. He hadn’t released a vinyl LP, that is until last year’s Magic Act, and he believes it’s a great introduction to his vast career.
“If it was my first or my last album ever, I’d be OK with that,” he says.
The lo-fi record emphasizes all of the elements Barbeau has gotten known for in his tenure as an underground artist: jangly guitars, retro synths, midtempo drums, lush Beatles-esque harmonies and surreal stream-of-conscious lyrics, with his semispoken and semidrunken, albeit gorgeous, singing style.
Barbeau is hoping to release his second LP later this year. He’s in Sacramento for a couple of weeks recording the album, Natural Causes, which he’s feeling really good about. He’s assembling the album off of the scraps from an abandoned album, which he’d sent to You Are The Cosmos, the label that released Magic Act. They told him the album was too weird. Actually they said: “Marciano,” Spanish for “Martian.” Now Barbeau is pilfering the album for material for Natural Causes.
“I don’t know if it was too weird. For me, it was too dark. I was writing these songs that creeped me out. Everybody in the songs got a gun. So, there’s that aspect to it,” Barbeau says.
The songs for the abandoned record were written in the period leading up to Trump’s election, so it’s no surprise that there were such dark overtones to the album.
In preparing for Natural Causes, Barbeau had a new thought. A friend of his was posting on Facebook that in the Trump era it’s the responsibility of artists to be angry. While Barbeau was upset by the election results, he felt that to react solely from a place of anger was disingenuous.
“I get the feeling. After he was elected, I thought artists are going to have to reevaluate what they’re doing,” Barbeau says. “It’s more important than ever that we do what we do. … Make it meaningful in whatever ways we personally can. For me, I’m not going to become some punk rock dude.”
Natural Causes, he decided, needed to sound glorious and beautiful, because that’s the album he wants to make. That isn’t to say it’s a happy record. The songs are sad, joyful, somber—pretty much the whole range of emotions, just done from a place of beauty.
Of course, this record isn’t the only thing that Barbeau is working on. He’ll soon release a second collection of synth-pop songs (or Antronica 2) honoring his love for English singer Gary Numan, who’s been an influence since he was a kid.
One listen to Antronica 2, and it still sounds very like Barbeau, if just a little different in terms of instrumentation.
“There is something consistent about what I’ve done forever and ever,” Barbeau says. “It doesn’t matter how I present them as long as I feel the song is as strong as it can be.”