F&P Q&A: Insect Factory’s Jeff Barsky
Insect Factory is Silver Spring guitarist Jeff Barsky. By day, Mr. Barsky is a mild-mannered fourth grade teacher. But come nightfall, he metamorphoses into an axe-wielding noisenik whose intense guitar drones would bug out even the calmest 10-year-old. Fringe & Purge caught up with Barsky in advance of his Friday gig under Fort Fringes Baldacchino Gypsy Tent, and he's clearly been enjoying his summer vacation.
Fringe & Purge: Youve been playing guitar, and a little bass, with Arlington art rockers Plums for a while now. What does flying solo offer you that a full band cannot?
Insect Factory: I've been playing with Plums now for almost three years, but they have a history dating back 10. By design, Insect Factory has a lot of space. There are some parts that are very composed, but not in the traditional way. I usually have a point A that I start from, and a point B where I'd like to end up. I know that somewhere in between, I'm going to stop for some coffee. And then Ill stop to have lunch. If I've hit those two stops en route, I've satisfied the compositional needs of the piece. There's also a lot of room for improvisation, but to continue my metaphor, if I stop and have breakfast early on in the journey, I'm not going to be able to stop for lunch later—full belly. And that's OK. As a solo performer, I can explore while retaining overall control. Even if it's a new detour, I'm still responsible for the choices I make.
I've played in bands for close to 20 years (I'm 35 now), and I've never had people celebrate my odd-choice notes and chance-taking in the way that my Plum family does. They're all such an encouraging bunch of individuals. Half of what the Plums do during practice is talk and listen to records. Our music is an extension of that; we just turn our equipment on and play. So Plums offer me a chance to listen to what other people are doing as the music is happening, which is different from listening to what I'm doing as a solo performer as the music is happening. But it's not terribly different.
F&P: Other than a Sonic Circuits gig at Pyramid Atlantic and a handful of Velvet Lounge dates, your Insect Factory is still pretty much a one-man larvae—at least live. What are the challenges of recreating your act on stage, and have they changed since you first started playing out?
IF: I've been doing this for a while now, and I've gotten my setup (electronic loopers and such) down to the point that I'd consider it a direct extension of my instrument. Its like my instrument itself is another limb, so that I can translate ideas through it without having to stop and get too cerebral about the whole thing. The specific challenges are getting to know the room that I'm playing in. The room is the true collaborator at all my performances. Do I want to play through amps? Do I want to play through the PA? That sort of thing.
F&P: In the Capital Fringe Fest program book, all of the stage shows offer a quick blurb about themselves to try and lure the squeamish aboard. Im not asking you to sell me on your music, but since I am weary of any and all kinds of bugs, might you do the same?
IF: Quick blurb: Solo guitar playing that builds layers of sound into something hypnotic and atmospheric.
F&P: To that effect, how do you see what Insect Factory does fitting in with Fringe at large? Id venture that some of the sounds you capture might be on the fringe itself of what most consider music.
IF: Definitely a fair assessment. When I'm explaining what I do to people I work with, or family and friends, I tell them that 95 percent of traditional musicians probably wouldn't consider this "music. But in context, I think that what I'm doing is much more pop than it is noise, or even experimental. I think that Insect Factory is like taking a pop song and slowing it way down, so that a second lasts for 20 minutes. You can hear all sorts of details in the sounds and the spaces. There aren't the melodies of traditional pop music, but it's still highly melodic music, and the different notes collide with each other and usually create a melodic, consonant experience. I enjoy that; that is my way of being "fringe.
F&P: Speaking of captured sounds, you recently released a stellar 7-inch (b/w New Zealand guitarist RST) on your own Insect Fields imprint. How did you hook up with RST's Andrew Moon, and more importantly, will we be able to capture the wax, ourselves, after the show?
IF: I just wrote to Andrew years ago, as a fan, and we've kept in touch. We're both DIY artists. We're also interested in living full lives – we have jobs, Andrew has a family—and we weren't in a rush to get the record out. We both had tracks ready a few years ago, but I got busy with working on my masters degree, and it was delayed. Then, just one day I wrote him and was like, "Okay, I think I'm ready to go to press." It's not a very exciting story, other than to say that this world of people doing what we do is very small, and the people are kind. I couldn't have written to one of my heroes if I was in a rock band, asking Thom Yorke to be on a split 7-inch with me.
F&P: Ive heard tale that youre back in the studio working on even newer Insect Factory material. Is there a plan for an additional single, or maybe even a full-length proper?
IF: There's not a plan for a new single, although I really like the format. It was such a gloriously inappropriate format for the long-form music that I make. I welcomed the challenge. I have a second full-length recorded and ready to press. Im not sure if it'll be a vinyl release.
F&P: Is there any Fringe show or performance you're especially looking forward to catch this year? Washington Improv Theaters The Audio Files sounds right up your alley.
IF: That one definitely seems interesting. It all seems interesting. I don't have just one or two things that I'm looking forward to. It seems like a great collection of work.
F&P: Finally, I know youre a beer guy first, but will you be trying any of the Prosecco on tap here at the Tent? Ive heard good things.
IF: I've never had it, but sure, I'll try it! Is it hoppy?
F&P: Um...not exactly.
The Baldacchino Gypsy Tent is right next door to Fort Fringe at 607 New York Ave. NW. Janel and Anthony, and Plums, open at 10:30 p.m.