Twenty-five years ago Barb Morrison ran away from her suburban life in Largo, Fla., to make music in New York. You could say she made it.
My high school friend and I got back in touch via MySpace a little less than a decade ago, but I’m not sure she knows that I fondly remember the first time I smoked weed in her bedroom, listening to avant-jazz.
I always looked up to Barb for her tireless brain and immense musical talent.
I am not a bit surprised that she became the successful iconoclast she is today.
Between the time I knew her and now, she has gotten off drugs, cigs and alcohol.
She has played in numerous bands, been a DJ, traveled throughout the Eastern and Western hemispheres and dated “every type except a straight male.”
She also became a prolific DJ and music producer is now one half of the Super Buddha recording team in Brooklyn, N.Y. Barb and her studio partner, Chas Nieland, have collaborated with Pink on the video “Hello Bonjour,” received their first gold record for “In the Flesh” on The Best of Blondie and charted at No. 5 on Billboard‘s dance chart for the remix of Deborah Harry’s “Two Times Blue.”
Her MySpace bio reads, “I am never bored. Ever.”
Last year she traveled to Greece, Turkey and Thailand. She even skateboards for kicks.The stylish gender rebel sports a spunky look that mixes up punk, urban and designer fashion, defying her 42 years of age.
You could say Morrison’s a punk rocker at heart with her finger firmly on the pulse of mainstream success. She doesn’t conform to any scene or subculture.
If that weren’t all, she’s a die-hard Tampa Bay Bucs fan, too.
Morrison shares some stories about her life back in Tampa Bay and as a busy music-maker today.
Early years: I started playing in punk bands at the age of 14. I was playing sax and drums. At 17, I saw the Pretenders play at Tampa Jai Alai. I jumped onstage and got to sing like two lines of a song before the bouncers tackled me. But that was all it took. The next day I went out and bought a beat-up acoustic guitar for $15 and learned on that ’til my parents bought me a fender Strat, and then it all started to make sense. I was collaborating with this genius bass player named Glenn Stevenson. We were getting our music played on WMNF (Community Radio in Tampa), so I figured it was time to try to get on the radio in NYC after that.
Onto bigger things: I left when I turned 18 in 1985. Like I said, my music was getting played on local radio stations in Tampa and at the time there wasn’t much of a scene the way there is now, so I thought NYC was the best choice for music. I left with $1,000, a suitcase, my Fender Strat and my sax. It was a pretty smart move. The first week I was in New York, I saw Salvador Dali hailing a cab on Seventh Avenue and I thought, “Okay, I can live here.”
Co-producing: Chas Nieland and I met back in the ’90s. Our bands used to play on the same bills together. We really wanted to collaborate on something together, something that wasn’t band related. Around that same time I got a call to do a 13-minute piece of music for a choreographer in Miami. So that was our first real project. That piece led us to our first film score for The Safety of Objects starring Glenn Close. Next we scored the pilot for the Showtime series The L Word and from there it just took off. All the while we were producing CDs for our friend’s bands while we were doing film score so it all kind of melted together. … We obviously work well together. We’ve been doing it for about 10 years. We just trust and respect each other’s ideas.
Some big names she’s produced: We started out producing all the bands in the East Village and then got our first break when Deborah Harry heard something we had done. She asked us to do a new version of the Blondie classic “In the Flesh.” She and the band liked it so much they added it as a bonus track on Blondie’s Greatest Hits: Sight & Sound and it immediately went gold. It was our first gold record so everything sprung from there. We’ve worked with Rufus Wainwright, Scissor Sisters, Franz Ferdinand, Lily Allen, Antony & the Johnsons, as well as continuing to do more film and television scores.
What are some CDs you’ve had in rotation recently?
I really like the new Kaiser Chiefs CD; the new U2 is growing on me. I also listen to the radio a lot. A lot of hip hop and R&B. Chas just told me he loves the new Yeah Yeah Yeahs, but I haven’t heard it yet.
You’ve commented in the past about how you don’t like some indie music. Please explain.
My goal is to get the artist’s message to as many ears as possible. So the indie crowd tends to be on a smaller scale than a mainstream pop crowd. I’m always thinking big. Also, I’ve always been a fan of lush arrangements and huge hooks. It’s what I grew up on.
What about bands like TV on the Radio, Arcade Fire or Spoon, which get pigeonholed in the indie genre but produce on a large scale, get good reviews and make TV and film appearances (soundtracks, SNL)?
Chas is much more fond of all those bands, which is a reason he and I work so well together. We’ve pretty much covered everything between the two of us. He will walk into work with Arcade Fire on his iPod while I’m listening to Ne-yo. The reason I think those bands aren’t in the pop genre is because of their lack of hooks, although chas will probably disagree with me. Pop music is short for popular music, and you can’t be afraid to really milk a hook. People love it. They always have and they always will.
What’s your take on the Bucs this year?
Well, I’m kinda getting sick of playing Atlanta, New Orleans and Carolina. I miss being in the NFC Central, but I’m standing behind them while they rebuild, and I totally plan on being down there for that Giants game since I HATE the Giants!
What’s your favorite late-night food in New York these days? Let us live vicariously through you …
Late night is best for Little Italy. The best spot there is a place called Umberto’s, where you can get the best sauce, oysters, calamari and everything until 4 a.m. every night. It’s the real New York. Mob boss Joe Gallo was murdered there in the ’70s. The place is all vibe. Also for late night Chinatown is awesome. The best place is Wo-Hop. But you gotta go to the downstairs one. It’s been there since 1938 so you can imagine the stuff they’ve seen in there. Delicious and reasonably priced. An excellent choice if you’re stuck with the bill!
Yeah, I’m not really awake during the day!