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Physician and Musician – Is there Anything D...

Physician and Musician – Is there Anything Dr. Barnard Can’t Do?

By Robin D. Everson

Dr. Neal Barnard is the founder of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine in Washington, DC. For over 30 years, he has been a pioneer in bringing science-based nutrition research to the masses and is credited with improving the lives of people, animals, the planet as well as spearheading changes in medical school education. He recently celebrated the one-year anniversary of the Barnard Medical Center where patients learn how to make changes that will produce healthy lifestyles.  Through is extremely hectic schedule, Dr. Barnard sat down with VegWorld Magazine’s associate editor, Robin D. Everson, for an interview on his latest project – the creation of CarbonWorks his new rock band.

You have been in numerous bands over your musical career – including Pop Maru and Verdun (as well as during your teen years) – what makes CarbonWorks (CW) different from other bands?

The overall theme of this new album might be called “tearing down walls”—between musical genres, between languages and cultures, and, as you’ll see in the lyrics—between humans and all the other species. So the album is a bit of a linguistic adventure, and also adds quite a mix of musical genres to the foundation of rock. The lyrics tend to come back to tenderness and compassion, albeit somewhat obliquely. That wasn’t done self-consciously; it’s just where the music needed to go.

The other unusual thing is that are 16 musicians on the CD, which is a bit unusual. Each one brought his or her own musical sensibility to the project. They are great at what they do and really fun to work with.   How did you go about forming CW?

Each musical project starts with writing music that I wish existed but doesn’t yet. Once the music is written, you find people who can actually play it. So this band includes some terrific rock musicians with whom I’ve worked in the past, some great classical string players, and two unbelievably talented Vietnamese musicians. Then Naif Hérin came in because basically there is no one in the world who sings like she does. I would say the same about Chris Thomas King on the guitar; he is extremely distinctive. I just asked everyone to be part of it, and it was a wonderful experience.

Where did you get the name CW? What is its significance to you?

Well, “the Beatles” was already taken! Seriously, to take a rather unromantic view of things, at the bottom of it all we are carbon, and these are our works.

Neal, you have a distinct sound not heard in other indie rock bands, how would you define CW?

Music is like a recipe. The final result depends on what went into it. So, in this case, we used a pretty good dose of rock, because that’s where the pulse comes from. And we added classical instruments—violin, viola, cello, and double bass—because add beauty and restraint. And there was a measure of jazz, blues, and Vietnamese music, too. We blended it all together, and this is what popped out. The goal was not to experiment, but to create something beautiful or at least striking, and the diverse elements are spices that have to work together.

One other thing: Music is often an acquired taste, so sometimes it takes a few exposures for a new song to make musical sense.

carbonworks-cd-cover-image

You are a physician by day, musician by night. What percentage of your brain contains song lyrics?

That’s a cute question! Actually, I have so many other people’s lyrics stuck in my head that I wish I could get rid of. Seriously, how many neurons have I inadvertently devoted to memorizing “you are the wind beneath my wings” or “learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all”—which is a sentiment I don’t even agree with!?

Tell us about your creative process?

It starts with imagining, not what I would want to create, but with what I would want to hear. You can close your eyes and imagine a dark auditorium. You picture the curtain opening, the musicians appearing, and the music starting, and just let it wander wherever it wants to go, and then write it all down.

Once in a while a song starts out as a musical puzzle or challenge. “By the Window” is a traditional Vietnamese song that wanted to morph into a driving rock song, while paying homage to the original. “Samurai” started out as an effort to create a new, slightly jolting rhythm. And on my previous CD, Verdun, I felt a need to rework Tammy Wynette’s “Stand By Your Man” and Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze.” So those were really just some fun challenges. But the key is always music. It always has to be something that a person would want to hear.

Are you writing lyrics and then writing the music to go with it or the other way around OR is your song creation completely different?

Music first, then lyrics. The lyrics are the hard part and take hours and hours. One night I was driving from Santa Fe to Albuquerque, and I played the music to “God Save the King” over and over the whole way, just singing various lyrics over the top, trying to make it fit.

Where do you normally write (lyrics/music)? (location) On a park bench, in an alcove at home, while strumming, while running (for lyrics)?

It’s best if you’re in a pleasant spot where there is nothing in front of you—like a beach looking out over the ocean. It’s funny how in a beautiful place you can write sad things, which is what happened with “Song for an Angel.” But you can write anywhere. “Song to a Sparrow,” which is on the Verdun CD and which, to my ears, is very beautiful, thanks to Martha’s [Roebuck] unbelievable vocal intertwining with cello, was written in the ticket line at Dulles airport.

Mike Stetina was one of the musicians from your group Verdun. He’s now with CW. Tell us about the importance of the “beat” he brings as drummer to CW.

Not only does the beat drive the song; sometimes the little flourishes and turnarounds are what really make it. Mike’s the master.

verdun-cd-cover-image

You are coming off of a 10+ year hiatus. What made you decide to return?

You start planting again fairly soon after the harvest. Which is to say, the new project started right after I released Verdun in 2004. But it took a while before I had a collection that deserved to be released. I threw away quite a lot of material that didn’t make the cut.

But, to state the obvious, we’ve been busy with other things. Since 2004, we’ve knocked out the meat group from federal diet guidelines, ended experiments on chimpanzees, stopped the use of animals in medical school education, reformed toxicity testing, created the online Kickstart and Food for Life programs, conducted several major clinical trials including our NIH-funded study on diet and diabetes and two more with GEICO, published 54 scientific articles and 7 books, filmed 4 PBS shows, created a new medical center, and lots of other things. Music gets the time that remains when those things are in the oven.

Some of your songs include Vietnamese instruments as well as Asian themes. What made you decide to incorporate these elements into your repertoire?

When I was in medical school at the George Washington University, I lived in a part of town where there were many Vietnamese shops, and I fell in love with the music. As it happens, the pentatonic scale used in traditional Vietnamese music is the same scale used in blues. So it fits in surprisingly well. Also, I suspect that the war that killed so many during my formative years has worked its way into my subconscious. When things are both beautiful and tragic at the same time—as Vietnam has been—they are hard to forget.

World-renowned performers Naif Hérin and Chris Thomas King are members of CW. Tell us what they bring to the group.

One day I heard Naif singing on a Belgian radio station, and I was so impressed with her voice and her writing. And shortly after that, I was working on “Winged Victory,” which is the finale of “The End of the World” suite and is very challenging to sing. So I asked Naif to sing it, which she did perfectly. Then we decided to translate “Song for an Angel” into Italian, and that was a complete knockout, too.

Chris Thomas King, to my ears, is a brilliant musician and is also the heir to the blues guitar tradition that runs from Freddie King and Albert King to B.B. King. I had recorded the basic tracks for “The Beginning of the End,” but I still needed to record the lead guitar part which is a challenging solo in 7/4 time over a landscape of power chords and a string quartet all playing simultaneously. I was getting ready to do it myself, but then I heard Chris at Blues Alley in Washington, and I realized that he was the man. And he was spot-on magical.

I notice that violin is very prominent in the new CD, too.

Yes, the violin can sing out like a voice of its own and harmonizes perfectly with the human voice. Allegra Havens is actually the only musician who is on every song on the CD. She is classically trained, but is totally at home with rock, and is great to work with.

Some of the proceeds from the sale of the album go to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. Tell us about the organization that you founded.

I set up the Physicians Committee to bring physicians’ voices to the movements for prevention, healthier diets, and alternatives to animal research. The idea was that they could lend expertise and credibility, and so far it’s worked out well. We are always finding new ways to reach people, through science, litigation, social media, books, humor, and now music.

You play a variety of instruments – cello, guitar, and piano. Tell us about your instrument of choice. Which came first, the cello or the piano before the guitar?

As a child I studied piano and cello because it was an expectation. But it was like learning math or vocabulary; classical music did not really speak to me at that time. Then the Beatles arrived, and my world went from black and white to color, and I took up the guitar. But training on other instruments turned out to be very useful.

In regards to music, who has influenced you the most?

As a youngster, I listened to the guitar music of Cream, Hendrix, and the other rockers of the time. John McLaughlin is a boundary-defying guitarist whose Mahavishnu Orchestra combined jazz, rock, and Indian music in a very effective way. My brother gave me a record of the Incredible String Band, which is a Scottish folk band that everyone either loves or hates, but I was moved by their creativity. And then the punk and New Wave movements arrived in the 1980s, and Talking Heads, Laurie Anderson, Lou Reed, and lots of others were very creative and energetic.

Later on, I fell in love with a number of French musicians, such as Patricia Kaas, Carmen Maria Vega, Ina-Ich, Bernard Lavilliers, Alain Souchon, and Claire Diterzi, and also Vietnamese musicians, especially Phi Nhung. And Naif sings in both French and Italian, and she influenced my thinking quite a lot recently, too.

There is an adorable little girl dressed as a samurai warrior on your album cover. 

Yes, Lily is the star of our “Samurai” music video. I can’t wait for you to see it. Lily awakens to find a punk band in her bedroom, and the guitarist hands her a magic sword that she uses to cut through chains and free animals. It is very cute.

Monaco is a racing song with classic, upbeat tones and appears as the intro piece to your making of CarbonWorks video. Tell us about the composition of that piece.

Monaco is a beautiful place, situated on the Mediterranean right where France meets Italy. And every May, it becomes very noisy, as Formula One cars race through the city streets.

I had a little four-note tune in my head that became the signature of the song, and so I pulled together the driving undercurrent and asked Chau Nguyen to play dan tranh over the top (a dan tranh is a traditional Vietnamese instrument, rather like a Japanese koto), along with Allegra on violin and me on guitar. And Jeff Phelps on the cello plays just one note over and over and over. And that’s it. We shot a video of it on the Monaco race circuit, and the music really fits.

Song for an Angel is simply beautiful. Please tell us what prompted you to compose it?

Thank you! That’s Naif and Allegra handing the melody line back and forth in such a beautiful way. The song came about one day when I was walking on a path through the woods, and I happened upon a deer who just froze and tried to make herself invisible. Seeing this beautiful, majestic creature made me reflect on the fleeting nature of life and its fragility. She was an angel who, no doubt, will vanish before long if she has not already, just like everyone we love and value.

By the way, we made a video of this song, and when it comes out, I think you will really like it. Naif and Allegra are just great.

The End of the World Suite feels like a requiem? Is it?

That’s a fascinating observation, Robin. Years ago, I was playing with Pop Maru, and it was all guitar, guitar, guitar—good music, in my view, and very edgy and strong—but I wanted to add an element of restraint. So I took a rock band and added a string quartet to it, and looked to see where it would end up. The piece then wanders into Asian themes in Part 2, and into jazz in Part 3. And the recipe includes equal parts restraint and dissonance.

As to what it’s about, I should say that the music has to stand on its own, without the need for interpretation. But I added a bit of interpretation in the song titles, which reflect the swiftness, aggressiveness, and ultimately fatality of our time on Earth. So yes, the word “requiem” might fit. But the theme that emerges at the end of it all in Part 4 is to work to contain the aggression that is so much in evidence in human behavior. So the suite ends with Naif singing Beati Pacifici—“blessed are the peacemakers.”

We shot a video of it, which is so beautiful—you have to see it. During the filming, after 15 minutes of dense music, Naif started to sing those final triumphant lines, and I was so taken with it all that I threw up my hands with joy. Naif caught my eye and just collapsed with laughter and brought the whole house down.

 

The CarbonWorks CD is available at www.amazon.com.

Physician and Musician – Is there anything Dr. Barnard can’t do?

By Robin D. Everson

Dr. Neal Barnard is the founder of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine in Washington, DC. For over 30 years, he has been a pioneer in bringing science-based nutrition research to the masses and is credited with improving the lives of people, animals, the planet as well as spearheading changes in medical school education. He recently celebrated the one-year anniversary of the Barnard Medical Center where patients learn how to make changes that will produce healthy lifestyles.  Through is extremely hectic schedule, Dr. Barnard sat down with VegWorld Magazine’s associate editor Robin D. Everson for an interview on his latest project – the creation of CarbonWorks his new rock band.

You have been in numerous bands over your musical career – including Pop Maru and Verdun (as well as during your teen years) – what makes CarbonWorks (CW) different from other bands?

The overall theme of this new album might be called “tearing down walls”—between musical genres, between languages and cultures, and, as you’ll see in the lyrics—between humans and all the other species. So the album is a bit of a linguistic adventure, and also adds quite a mix of musical genres to the foundation of rock. The lyrics tend to come back to tenderness and compassion, albeit somewhat obliquely. That wasn’t done self-consciously; it’s just where the music needed to go.

The other unusual thing is that are 16 musicians on the CD, which is a bit unusual. Each one brought his or her own musical sensibility to the project. They are great at what they do and really fun to work with.
How did you go about forming CW?

Each musical project starts with writing music that I wish existed but doesn’t yet. Once the music is written, you find people who can actually play it. So this band includes some terrific rock musicians with whom I’ve worked in the past, some great classical string players, and two unbelievably talented Vietnamese musicians. Then Naif Hérin came in because basically there is no one in the world who sings like she does. I would say the same about Chris Thomas King on the guitar; he is extremely distinctive. I just asked everyone to be part of it, and it was a wonderful experience.

Where did you get the name CW? What is its significance to you?

Well, “the Beatles” was already taken! Seriously, to take a rather unromantic view of things, at the bottom of it all we are carbon, and these are our works.

Neal, you have a distinct sound not heard in other indie rock bands, how would you define CW?

Music is like a recipe. The final result depends on what went into it. So, in this case, we used a pretty good dose of rock, because that’s where the pulse comes from. And we added classical instruments—violin, viola, cello, and double bass—because add beauty and restraint. And there was a measure of jazz, blues, and Vietnamese music, too. We blended it all together, and this is what popped out. The goal was not to experiment, but to create something beautiful or at least striking, and the diverse elements are spices that have to work together.

One other thing: Music is often an acquired taste, so sometimes it takes a few exposures for a new song to make musical sense.

You are a physician by day, musician by night. What percentage of your brain contains song lyrics?

That’s a cute question! Actually, I have so many other people’s lyrics stuck in my head that I wish I could get rid of. Seriously, how many neurons have I inadvertently devoted to memorizing “you are the wind beneath my wings” or “learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all”—which is a sentiment I don’t even agree with!?

Tell us about your creative process?

It starts with imagining, not what I would want to create, but with what I would want to hear. You can close your eyes and imagine a dark auditorium. You picture the curtain opening, the musicians appearing, and the music starting, and just let it wander wherever it wants to go, and then write it all down.

Once in a while a song starts out as a musical puzzle or challenge. “By the Window” is a traditional Vietnamese song that wanted to morph into a driving rock song, while paying homage to the original. “Samurai” started out as an effort to create a new, slightly jolting rhythm. And on my previous CD, Verdun, I felt a need to rework Tammy Wynette’s “Stand By Your Man” and Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze.” So those were really just some fun challenges. But the key is always music. It always has to be something that a person would want to hear.

Are you writing lyrics and then writing the music to go with it or the other way around OR is your song creation completely different?

Music first, then lyrics. The lyrics are the hard part and take hours and hours. One night I was driving from Santa Fe to Albuquerque, and I played the music to “God Save the King” over and over the whole way, just singing various lyrics over the top, trying to make it fit.

Where do you normally write (lyrics/music)? (location) On a park bench, in an alcove at home, while strumming, while running (for lyrics)?

It’s best if you’re in a pleasant spot where there is nothing in front of you—like a beach looking out over the ocean. It’s funny how in a beautiful place you can write sad things, which is what happened with “Song for an Angel.” But you can write anywhere. “Song to a Sparrow,” which is on the Verdun CD and which, to my ears, is very beautiful, thanks to Martha’s [Roebuck] unbelievable vocal intertwining with cello, was written in the ticket line at Dulles airport.

Mike Stetina was one of the musicians from your group Verdun. He’s now with CW. Tell us about the importance of the “beat” he brings as drummer to CW.

Not only does the beat drive the song; sometimes the little flourishes and turnarounds are what really make it. Mike’s the master.

You are coming off of a 10+ year hiatus. What made you decide to return?

You start planting again fairly soon after the harvest. Which is to say, the new project started right after I released Verdun in 2004. But it took a while before I had a collection that deserved to be released. I threw away quite a lot of material that didn’t make the cut.

But, to state the obvious, we’ve been busy with other things. Since 2004, we’ve knocked out the meat group from federal diet guidelines, ended experiments on chimpanzees, stopped the use of animals in medical school education, reformed toxicity testing, created the online Kickstart and Food for Life programs, conducted several major clinical trials including our NIH-funded study on diet and diabetes and two more with GEICO, published 54 scientific articles and 7 books, filmed 4 PBS shows, created a new medical center, and lots of other things. Music gets the time that remains when those things are in the oven.

Some of your songs include Vietnamese instruments as well as Asian themes. What made you decide to incorporate these elements into your repertoire?

When I was in medical school at the George Washington University, I lived in a part of town where there were many Vietnamese shops, and I fell in love with the music. As it happens, the pentatonic scale used in traditional Vietnamese music is the same scale used in blues. So it fits in surprisingly well. Also, I suspect that the war that killed so many during my formative years has worked its way into my subconscious. When things are both beautiful and tragic at the same time—as Vietnam has been—they are hard to forget.

World-renowned performers Naif Hérin and Chris Thomas King are members of CW. Tell us what they bring to the group.

One day I heard Naif singing on a Belgian radio station, and I was so impressed with her voice and her writing. And shortly after that, I was working on “Winged Victory,” which is the finale of “The End of the World” suite and is very challenging to sing. So I asked Naif to sing it, which she did perfectly. Then we decided to translate “Song for an Angel” into Italian, and that was a complete knockout, too.

Chris Thomas King, to my ears, is a brilliant musician and is also the heir to the blues guitar tradition that runs from Freddie King and Albert King to B.B. King. I had recorded the basic tracks for “The Beginning of the End,” but I still needed to record the lead guitar part which is a challenging solo in 7/4 time over a landscape of power chords and a string quartet all playing simultaneously. I was getting ready to do it myself, but then I heard Chris at Blues Alley in Washington, and I realized that he was the man. And he was spot-on magical.

I notice that violin is very prominent in the new CD, too.

Yes, the violin can sing out like a voice of its own and harmonizes perfectly with the human voice. Allegra Havens is actually the only musician who is on every song on the CD. She is classically trained, but is totally at home with rock, and is great to work with.

Some of the proceeds from the sale of the album go to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. Tell us about the organization that you founded.

I set up the Physicians Committee to bring physicians’ voices to the movements for prevention, healthier diets, and alternatives to animal research. The idea was that they could lend expertise and credibility, and so far it’s worked out well. We are always finding new ways to reach people, through science, litigation, social media, books, humor, and now music.

You play a variety of instruments – cello, guitar, and piano. Tell us about your instrument of choice. Which came first, the cello or the piano before the guitar?

As a child I studied piano and cello because it was an expectation. But it was like learning math or vocabulary; classical music did not really speak to me at that time. Then the Beatles arrived, and my world went from black and white to color, and I took up the guitar. But training on other instruments turned out to be very useful.

In regards to music, who has influenced you the most?

As a youngster, I listened to the guitar music of Cream, Hendrix, and the other rockers of the time. John McLaughlin is a boundary-defying guitarist whose Mahavishnu Orchestra combined jazz, rock, and Indian music in a very effective way. My brother gave me a record of the Incredible String Band, which is a Scottish folk band that everyone either loves or hates, but I was moved by their creativity. And then the punk and New Wave movements arrived in the 1980s, and Talking Heads, Laurie Anderson, Lou Reed, and lots of others were very creative and energetic.

Later on, I fell in love with a number of French musicians, such as Patricia Kaas, Carmen Maria Vega, Ina-Ich, Bernard Lavilliers, Alain Souchon, and Claire Diterzi, and also Vietnamese musicians, especially Phi Nhung. And Naif sings in both French and Italian, and she influenced my thinking quite a lot recently, too.

There is an adorable little girl dressed as a samurai warrior on your album cover. 

Yes, Lily is the star of our “Samurai” music video. I can’t wait for you to see it. Lily awakens to find a punk band in her bedroom, and the guitarist hands her a magic sword that she uses to cut through chains and free animals. It is very cute.

Monaco is a racing song with classic, upbeat tones and appears as the intro piece to your making of CarbonWorks video. Tell us about the composition of that piece.

Monaco is a beautiful place, situated on the Mediterranean right where France meets Italy. And every May, it becomes very noisy, as Formula One cars race through the city streets.

I had a little four-note tune in my head that became the signature of the song, and so I pulled together the driving undercurrent and asked Chau Nguyen to play dan tranh over the top (a dan tranh is a traditional Vietnamese instrument, rather like a Japanese koto), along with Allegra on violin and me on guitar. And Jeff Phelps on the cello plays just one note over and over and over. And that’s it. We shot a video of it on the Monaco race circuit, and the music really fits.

Song for an Angel is simply beautiful. Please tell us what prompted you to compose it?

Thank you! That’s Naif and Allegra handing the melody line back and forth in such a beautiful way. The song came about one day when I was walking on a path through the woods, and I happened upon a deer who just froze and tried to make herself invisible. Seeing this beautiful, majestic creature made me reflect on the fleeting nature of life and its fragility. She was an angel who, no doubt, will vanish before long if she has not already, just like everyone we love and value.

By the way, we made a video of this song, and when it comes out, I think you will really like it. Naif and Allegra are just great.

The End of the World Suite feels like a requiem? Is it?

That’s a fascinating observation, Robin. Years ago, I was playing with Pop Maru, and it was all guitar, guitar, guitar—good music, in my view, and very edgy and strong—but I wanted to add an element of restraint. So I took a rock band and added a string quartet to it, and looked to see where it would end up. The piece then wanders into Asian themes in Part 2, and into jazz in Part 3. And the recipe includes equal parts restraint and dissonance.

As to what it’s about, I should say that the music has to stand on its own, without the need for interpretation. But I added a bit of interpretation in the song titles, which reflect the swiftness, aggressiveness, and ultimately fatality of our time on Earth. So yes, the word “requiem” might fit. But the theme that emerges at the end of it all in Part 4 is to work to contain the aggression that is so much in evidence in human behavior. So the suite ends with Naif singing Beati Pacifici—“blessed are the peacemakers.”

We shot a video of it, which is so beautiful—you have to see it. During the filming, after 15 minutes of dense music, Naif started to sing those final triumphant lines, and I was so taken with it all that I threw up my hands with joy. Naif caught my eye and just collapsed with laughter and brought the whole house down.

 

The CarbonWorks CD is available at www.amazon.com.


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