Relix 44: The Slip
Welcome to the Relix 44. To commemorate the past 44 years of our existence, we’ve created a list of people, places and things that inspire us today, appearing in our September 2018 issue and rolling out on Relix.com throughout this fall. See all the articles posted so far here.
Justin Vernon’s Type of PEOPLE: The Slip
When Relix’s sister site Jambands.com launched 20 years ago this month, there was little question which band should be awarded the inaugural “artist to watch” nod: The Slip. Something about the New England-bred trio has always inspired musicians and fans from both sides of the hippie-hipster aisle to root for The Slip with apostle-like fervor, as guitarist Brad Barr, his brother and drummer Andrew and bassist Marc Friedman have carved out a highly improvisational scene uniquely their own.
The Slip formed as a classic-rock leaning cover band working the prep-school circuit at Marion, Mass.’s Tabor Academy in 1989 before any of the group’s core members were actually part of the project. The Barrs and Friedman gradually joined and, after graduating, all enrolled at the prestigious Berklee College of Music. The Slip’s early sound, as exemplified by their fabled “Red House” jam sessions and debut From the Gecko, tilted toward the acid-jazz and freeform side of the then-burgeoning jamband genre. But they eventually expanded their palette to include heavy post-rock, American primitive folk, wooly roots music, minimalist atmospherics and the world-informed beats that Andrew studied when the Barrs’ father traded a Malian musician free dental care in exchange for percussion lessons.
By the time The Slip reached their broadest audience with 2006’s Eisenhower, the indie revolution was in full swing and the trio came to personify the post-jam era, treating conventional alt-rock structures like Fabergé eggs containing their kaleidoscopic pockets of sound. Yet just as The Slip seemed to have finally crossed into mainstream popular culture, thanks to a late-night appearance, a key TV placement and a Guitar Hero nod, they shifted their attention elsewhere.
Along the way, they touched the defining voices of several generations, signing with Butch Trucks’ Flying Frog label, recording in Phish’s Barn clubhouse, backing Sonya Kitchell, opening for My Morning Jacket on tour, lending their rhythm section to Natalie Merchant and inspiring everyone from Marco Benevento to Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon to think differently, musically. “I got very into The Slip in high school,” says Vernon, who worked with Andrew Barr on a Land of Talk album and recruited the Barrs for his highly collaborative European P E O P L E happening in August. “I saw them many times. I was into jam stuff, but they were somehow also doing a group improvisation thing that nobody else on that circuit was. There was a deeper understanding. ‘Mr. Meowskers’ is one of my all-time favorite drum beats. Heroes.”
The Slip quietly went on hiatus in 2012, briefly emerging for a set at Quincy, Calif.’s High Sierra in 2015 and a single-song appearance at the same festival this past summer. However, the trio remains the festival generation’s Big Star, turning heads with the trail of albums and live recordings they left behind.
This article originally appears in the September 2018 issue of Relix. For more features, interviews, album reviews and more, subscribe here.