Kristen Barry

Singer, songwriter, guitarist and arranger, Kristen Barry

Kristen Barry, 1996

From singer, songwriter, guitarist and arranger, Kristen Barry:

1975 – Santa brought a piano.  I could never figure out how he got that thing in the sleigh, but that was it, I was hooked. I was 5.

1977 – Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack to “Once Upon a Time in the West.”  I listened to that over and over and over, right next to the speakers.  Epic.  I wanted to make music like THAT.

Heart’s “Barracuda.”  They were girls, and they played loud.  I also wanted to make music like THAT.  I was 7.

1980 – Gary Numan, “Cars.”  That song, especially the ending, took me somewhere else, far away.  I was 10.

1982 – Lake Hills Skate Center.  I used to tag along with my sister and her friends to see the heavy metal bands from Seattle play – Overlord, Shadow, The Trids.  My sister’s friends all wanted to get noticed by the guys on stage.  I wanted to BE on stage. I was 12.

1983 – Prophet 600, a 6-voice polyphonic analog synthesizer with a 5-octave, 61-note keyboard.  My dad bought one, post-divorce and likely in the midst of a mid-life crisis.  So that’s how Gary Numan made those mysterious sounds behind the guitars in “Cars.”

I promptly absconded it. I had an instrument, I needed a band.  I was on a mission.  I was 13.

1984 – Skoochies nightclub.  I went every weekend.  The Cure “A Forest,” PiL “This is Not a Love Song,” Joy Division “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” Bauhaus, Gene Loves Jezebel, Cocteau Twins, Tones on Tail, New Order.  Bands with keyboards, keyboards in bands.  I tried to meet everyone and anyone who played music.  I wanted to join a band.  But since most of the musicians I met were guys, most of them mistakenly thought I wanted a boyfriend. I was 14.

1985 – Someone FINALLY took me seriously.  I joined the First Thought as their keyboard player and only female member. I rode the Metro bus from Redmond to Seattle two nights a week and every Saturday for band practice.  I was 15.

1986 – First Thought played our first gig on January 31st, 1986 at the Soho Café.  I finally got on stage.  That year we would start playing the clubs every month – Vogue, Central Tavern, Soho, Vogue (there weren’t many options back then).  We would take turns descending on the city’s multitude of telephone poles armed with a staple gun and fliers.  Since I was underage, I would have to wait outside in the parking lot before our sets, or in the basement, or in the back rooms until I could go onstage. As if I was there just to drink beer.  Pleading my case with doormen, bartenders, club owners, etc etc became second nature.  I really WAS in the band.  No, I’m not someone’s girlfriend.  No, I’m not just trying to get into the club to drink.  Yes, I’m supposed to be on stage RIGHT NOW.  I was 16.

1987 – Susan Silver, manager of Soundgarden, decided to help us out.  We had a real manager, and our first tour to L.A.  We drove 24 hours straight in a mini van overflowing with gear.  We played Club Lingerie, and the place was packed when we arrived.  I did my usual pre-set hideout in some closet of a back room (still underage).  When I came back out into the club, there were 4 people there.  The crowd was gone.  We played our hearts out anyway.  The next night we played Raji’s.  The smell of wet dog hair and vomit, and electric shocks – that’s what I can remember about that gig.  I was 17, and missing my first week of classes at college.

1988 – The First Thought started to wear on me. It felt tame, and oftentimes inauthentic.  I needed guts, and force, and angst.  I needed music to explode, loudly like the music that was beginning to bubble out of the bars and warehouses – Pixies, Mudhoney, Sonic Youth, Nirvana (before they were “Nirvana”), Screaming Trees, Soundgarden (before they were “Soundgarden”), all the music coming out of Reciprocal Studios with Jack Endino. Or quietly, like Talk Talk’s Spirit of Eden, which reminded me of Ennio Morricone…

I wasn’t being taken seriously.  I left the band, and decided to do it on my own.  I started to sing.  Playing keyboards on stage felt like standing behind a lectern delivering a speech, so I taught myself guitar. Susan Silver stuck with me, in the biggest vote of confidence anyone had ever shown.  I was 18.

1989–I recorded my first solo demo at Reciprocal Studios with a backing band, and started playing shows around town.  I’m not sure anyone knew what to do with me.  I didn’t fit in anywhere.  I wasn’t punk enough to be punk.  I wasn’t soft enough to be folk.  I wasn’t girly enough to be a “singer songwriter.”  I wasn’t tough enough to be a “rock chick.”  I just tried to be true to myself.  I remember Mark Arm from Mudhoney coming to one of my shows at the Central Tavern and standing in the front row.  He looked confused, like he couldn’t figure out if he should like it or not.  I was an awkward outsider on the inside, a satellite, tied to the orbit, connected to the middle, but always circling just outside the perimeter…

1990 – Andrew Wood of Mother Love Bone passed away.  In a moment of grief or charity, I’m still not sure which to this day, Jeff Ament gave my demo to his A&R guy at Epic.  I was offered a “development deal” with Epic Records, industry speak for “we’re not sure we want you, but we don’t want anyone else to get you, so we’ll see if we can mold you into something.”  I dropped out of college. Epic flew me to L.A. to meet with Patrick Leonard, producer for Madonna, Bryan Ferry, Elton John, Rod Stewart, Pink Floyd, Peter Cetera.  I had no idea why the hell I was there.  But Epic seemed to think it was a potential match made in heaven.  I think Patrick Leonard could tell within 5 minutes I would never be able to play that game, so he just played us his most recent mix of Rod Stewart covering some “classic from the 40s,” and I couldn’t wait to get back to Seattle. I met Mariah Carey and Paul Stanley and Wolfgang Puck at Spago, at the Epic after party for the American Music Awards.  Digital Underground were in the room next door to mine at the hotel and kept me up all night.  It was all ridiculous.  Susan Silver announced she was joining forces with Kelly Curtis to co-manage myself and Alice in Chains.  I was 20.

1991 – Epic continued its campaign to try and mold me into a pop star.  The death knell came in the Sony offices at 666 Fifth Avenue (the irony of that address was never lost on me), where my refusal to sing a Jimmy Webb song waxing nostalgic about Marilyn Monroe escalated into a near shouting match. (You can hear the song, “Just like Marilyn” on YouTube…see if you can figure out what they were thinking).  I couldn’t get my head around why, if they signed me based on my songs, they felt so compelled to turn me into something else.  But that seemed to be the only recipe the major labels knew at the time:  Take 1 female artist, add middle-aged chart-topping producer/songwriter, mix well and shove down throat…

The good news was, I was finally 21.  No more hiding in back storage closets before my sets.  More than one club owner and bartender around town was pleased with this turn of events…

I met Heart, and Nancy Wilson.

I met Stefanie Sargent from 7 Year Bitch.  We became instant friends.  She accepted me and my music.  She got me and I got her. I felt less of a satellite for a little while.

1992 – I drove Stefanie home after a night of drinking and stage diving at RKCNDY.  She was depressed.  I tried to convince her to come stay with me so she wouldn’t have to be alone.  She refused.  I never saw her again.

We lost a lot of people between 1990 and 1995.  Thank God there was music to channel all that grief.

1993 – Kaz Utsiminoya, the Japanese Englishman who got his start hanging out with Queen and was now head of Virgin Publishing, seemed to get what I was doing on my own.  He was Pavement’s biggest fan.  I signed a publishing deal with Virgin, somewhat reluctantly (I was 23, opinionated, proprietary, and still holding on to DIY as hard as I could), but because of his infectious vision and passion I went for it.  And Virgin didn’t ask me to go anywhere to work with anyone, they just wanted more of my songs.

1994 – On June 17, 1994, I signed my record deal with Virgin Records, celebrating over dinner at a restaurant in L.A. with Kelly Curtis, Susan Silver, my new A&R guy Andy Factor, and Kaz, while in the background O.J. Simpson was cowering in the back of his white Bronco being driven down the 405 Freeway by his best friend. Kaz announced his ultimate vision was for me to be the new female Soundgarden.  I was confused.

Ironically, later I recorded “Joyride” for the Home Alive compilation with Ben Shepherd and Matt Cameron of Soundgarden on bass and drums.  It was my first recording as a guitar player.

I was asked to be the backup singer for Heart’s The Road Home live album, a sort of “unplugged” greatest hits recorded over five shows at the Ballard Underground with John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin producing and composing and conducting the string arrangements.  Me, Nancy, Ann, and John Paul, in a club, 8 hours a day, for two weeks.  The next month I got married, at Nancy and Ann Wilson’s vacation homes on the cliffs in Cannon Beach Oregon.

My life was getting very strange…I was 24.

1995 – I left Seattle for L.A. to record my debut album for Virgin.  I never came back.

1996 – A year after it was recorded, after much strategizing, scheming, and re-strategizing, Virgin decided it was time to release my record.  Alanis Morrisette’s Jagged Little Pill was released 12 months earlier.  From that day forward, every interview, every review, paid homage to the “fact” that I was Virgin’s quick answer to Alanis.  But who’s paying attention to facts.

A year and a half of relentless touring.  The U.S., Korea, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Indonesia.  I was in heaven, with my only obligation to get up and play music far, far from home.  Most of the time.  We were put on a bill with another fledgling band, Matchbox Twenty.   I remember one poignant and particularly “deep”conversation with their singer, a meeting of the minds if you will.  He said, “I love a girl with a guitar” As if I was some dog and pony show…I said, “Fuck you.” He said, “I love a girl who can swear.”  We still had a long way to go…

1997-1998 – The end of my three-year marriage (another “biography,” another time), an implosion in my personal life, and a soul-destroying year lead to the most prolific period of songwriting I have ever had.  Only one song, “Ordinary Life,” has ever seen the light of day, on the soundtrack to the movie Cruel Intentions.  The version that made the soundtrack is the end product of a collaboration with my label mates The Sneaker Pimps in London, which involved too much Bordeaux and too little sense.  The version is actually unfinished.

Kaz left Virgin Records, for Epic. I moved to New York.

1999 – The new head of Virgin wanted an “American” sound…I was dropped.  Rumor has it someone left my photo on his desk with the words “Big Mistake” written all over it in black magic marker.  That was kind.

Kelly Curtis decided he would no longer manage me; he was going into the movie business.  Susan Silver had handed over my “custody” to Kelly after their managerial divorce.  She was gone too.  I moved to Boston.

2001 – I got a phone call that someone from Warner Brothers wanted to resurrect my career.  He was “blown away” by my song on Cruel Intentions.  He thought Danny Wilde from the Rembrandts, co-writer of the theme song to Friends would be a perfect person to collaborate with.  I hung up.

2002 – I remarried. This time I got lucky and found my soul mate (they do exist).  Our first son was born.  I went back to school. I was 32.

2003 – June 21st, Summer Solstice.  I played my last gig, at the Paradise Lounge in Boston.

2005 – I finished college. Finally.  Our second son was born. I started graduate school.

2012 – I finished my Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology after 10 years of blood sweat and tears.  I finished school forever.

2013  – In my new life, I’m known as a psychologist. I help people with depression, mania, anxiety, and trauma cope with their lives, their emotions, and their journeys.  I develop non-medication talk-therapy treatments, and study the brain with fMRI to see how these therapies might help people by changing the way their brains work. I have an amazing family. We live simply, authentically, and happily.

My son plays piano incessantly.  Sometimes we can’t get him to stop (like, to go to bed, or to go to school).  He asked me for a portable keyboard, so he could play anywhere, anytime he wants.  He just wrote his first song on piano.  He’s 7.  My older son is learning the guitar.  One of his favorite songs is Gary Numan’s “Cars.”  He’s 10.

I have 24 songs that still have not seen the light of day.

Kristen Barry – Created


Band Title Released
Kristen Barry Various Artists: Home Alive: The Art of Self-Defense 1996
Kristen Barry The Beginning. The Middle. The End. 1996
Kristen Barry  Various Artists: Cruel Intentions Soundtrack 1999

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