A lot of us have history with Ben Barnett. The onetime Kind of Like Spitting frontman was an early anchor for Portland's burgeoning indie scene—right around the 17 Nautical Miles era of the late '90s. He's best known for penning wounded first-person narrative folk numbers that were (sadly) eclipsed by his untimely knack for building, then burning, friendships along the way.
Chances are you were probably in a band with Barnett at one time—speculation has it that the ex-Kind of Like Spitting member list is somewhere north of 50—and his discography includes eight full-lengths and too many singles to count. Hell, even I released one of his LPs almost a decade ago. Barnett's chaotic personal life, which was always a staple in his songs, oftentimes eclipsed his musical output. Basically, he was the beautiful train wreck of Portland music; a wondrously talented performer crushed under the weight of far too much personal strife, and permanently at odds with his own art.
But instead of dropping out of music—or worse—Barnett scripted a happy ending to his tale. Currently a ridiculously enthusiastic instructor for the Paul Green School of Rock—he worked at the Portland school and now he runs the Seattle arm—Barnett has found a way to remain in music without having to battle the skeletons grasping at his heels, and in the process help shape an entire generation of kids. His upcoming performance at the Artistery is a rare return for Barnett, who took a moment to talk about coming home, and being inspired by his students.
MERCURY: This is your first Portland show in quite some time. Do you view it as a sort of homecoming?
BARNETT: Not really. I still feel pretty connected to the city, and plan on moving back someday. I am just going to sing with my best friends and throw some songs I wrote—and songs I like—around.
Any future recording plans? Is the Kind of Like Spitting moniker dead?
I record all the time, but I don't really write songs that I want to get thrown out there to be judged. Kind of Like Spitting is just, looking back, not me. At least I know it has very little to do with me now. I have to believe life can evolve and depression can be overcome. I've always had solid friends. I have never been truly "alone."
The last time I saw you, at the School of Rock in Portland, you seemed happier and more grounded than I've ever seen you. Has your work with the students there changed your views on making music and being involved in the scene?
Man, things are really solid. Since I saw you last I moved to Seattle and have been the music director for the School of Rock here for a year. We are doing very well, with over 50 students, five season shows under our belt, and, seriously, I could go on and on: I hang out and teach the most amazing, adorable kids ever. Every day! It's the most positive scene.
Ben Barnett performs at the Artistery on Friday, January 2.