Blossoming Musical Talent Starts to Take Root in the Tri-Cities

Posted In: Arts & Entertainment, Local Music, Artist Feature,   From Issue 634   By: Scott Baker

22nd March, 2007     0

Sometimes a new local band takes a while for its stew to get brewing. But after a year of wood-shedding and another year spent searching, Barbarossa are finally bringing their burnished brand of roots and rock to the local masses, picking up tons of new fans along the way.

The band has been nominated across the board in the 2007 Review Awards, from rock to country, to jazz and blues. With a sound difficult to define, this band's blend of roots, groove and jam lay out an impressive musical landscape that makes listenable sense.

Comprised of members Loren Kranz, 19, on vocals and keyboards, John Stephen, 20, on guitar, Ryan Fitzgerald, 20, on bass, Nick Churnich, 19 on drums, and Mike Wardynski, 23, on percussion, the quintet seem to be taking well to their new found local fame.

"We've been together since we were seniors and Nick was a junior in high school," explains Kranz. "It's coming up two years in April. We've been around for a while, but haven't really had a lot of exposure. We played at White's a couple of times. In the last few years, John and I went away to CMU and Ryan, Mike and Nick were still here, so we didn't get to play together a lot. I really do feel like the last couple of months we've been picking up steam. We've been asked to play at the Review Awards which is really great and it's really cool for us to be getting this exposure."

Part of the musical package is their personable ability to pull the audience into their charm and swagger, while mixing up sounds and styles on the fly like musical chameleons. Barbarossa is consistently a smiling musical unit, which is rare in the bar scene.

"I think it probably has a lot to do with the fact that all of us have different influences," said Kranz. "I'm more of a classic rock guy. I love the old stuff. We love The Band. I think that all of us really connect through that kind of music, good music from the '60s and '70s. Ryan is a really big jazz guy. Nick is kind of a Bob Dylan guy. John is more into the jazz and blues and took lessons from Matt Besey, while Mike brings it all together, he likes everything."

"There are definitely funk influences drawn from Stevie Wonder and The Allman Brothers. I dig how they go from blues to jazz to rock and I love Gregg's voice. There is a lot of jam band influence too, like Phish, The Grateful Dead. When we were in high school we were all big Phisheads. To be truthful I don't listen to a lot of new music. A singer/ songwriter that I'm really into is Damien Rice."

Making music together is a connection Barbarossa has come by naturally.

"There's a real camaraderie," said the singer. "I've known Ryan since the 7th grade and John and Nick since high school. It was an excuse for us to continue hanging out. We were friends before we were players together and we started really liking to play together and it went from there. We just met Mike a year and a half ago, but it's like we've known him forever. The friendship does contribute a lot. After a great show it's like hugs all around, we're just so happy with each other."

In the spring of 2006 Barbarossa released their debut EP, a CD recorded just north of the Tri-cities. Now they are trying to get ready for a full-length CD to be released hopefully later this year.

"It's really tough for us right now, because everybody is ridiculously busy," said Kranz. "We're in a very good position because Mike owns a fully operational recording studio in Linwood and that's actually how we met him. Mike's studio, Delicious Groove Studios, is at our disposal. We're very lucky to have that and he has a very nice set up."

"We've got some exciting things planned for the full length album," added Fitzgerald, in a separate interview. "We may delve into the world of cinema as well, so keep your ear to the ground."

The group shares in the songwriting credits for the majority of their originals.

"It's a collaborative effort, but on the EP you will find at least two songs that are group efforts," Kranz stated. "Ryan contributed at least two songs to the band and a couple of them are written by Ryan and myself. On this new album we will be featuring several songs written exclusively by our drummer Nick. One of the most rewarding things for me has been watching him grow."

Using the Review Awards as a spring- board, Barbarossa has found itself in a position they sort of just dreamed about in the past.

"I remember two years ago when we just had our first couple practices as a band and we'd go hang out at our local pizzeria and they had The Review there," said the vocalist. "We'd read it and think how cool it would be to be nominated for this stuff and to play it at the gathering of the best musicians in the area. And now we're doing it. It's like a dream come true. I have so much respect for so many of those people. We've been really lucky to meet a lot of great local musicians and they've been very kind to us."

"It just feels natural to be around and work with a lot of creative people," Fitzgerald said. "One of the earliest concepts of Barbarossa was to always have guest musicians."

Facing college and submersed with work, the band are not sure what is in store for their future.

"We're all not sure where we'll be next year, honestly," said Kranz. "I know that Mike would like to move his studio elsewhere. I personally am looking at Universities around the state. John will probably be staying at Central. I think that Barbarossa will continue to exist, but I don't know if it will really be much unless we were to find some reason, and the Review Awards may be that reason to devote ourselves more fully to it. I don't know if we will play more than the occasional show here and there."

Side projects have popped up for the musicians and they have taken full advantage of the opportunities.

"Ryan, Mike and I are also in another band, The Holy Gun with Ray Torres, said Kranz. "Obviously Mike, Ryan and I  - because we live in the area - are the ones who can play out more. We have gone on to do other things to keep ourselves busy. Ryan and I also play in a band called Sheamusic with Shea Conklin, Earl 'The Squirrel' and sometimes Dave Kellan. Ryan also plays in Bryan Rombalski and Three Worlds, but certainly for me, I haven't really found anything that gives me the satisfaction that I do get from playing in Barbarossa. I love it because it's a great band and it allows me to have a lot of creative expression."

For Kranz, having andin-demand' bassist keeps him thankful for what Barbarossa has become.

"We're so spoiled to have a bass player as good as him. He's by far the best musician in the band and we're very lucky that he likes us enough and the band enough to continue."

"It's a joy," Fitzgerald stated of working in Barbarossa. "It is work and reward, stress and relief. It is still a group of friends getting together to make music. It's also an excuse to head to a Chinese buffet, get flat tires, and play the most ridiculous 'set' in Bonnaroo history. I'll stick with my first answer."

With such a unique sound, it's no question that Barbarossa is not as widely influenced by much modern music.

"I really don't think in our case it was big famous musicians that inspired us. It was going to see bands like Sprout and The Banana Convention and we used to hang out at the Dave Kellan Blues Jams at White's. When you see somebody right in front of you doing what you want to do, it's a lot easier to go out and say, 'I can do that'. Maybe not in terms of what we play and how we play, but the fact that we play has a lot to do with the local scene."

"Their personalities have inspired us just as much as their music," added Fitzgerald. "There are a lot of terrific people in this scene."

Having been more than pleased with the current, Kranz can only hope the future is equally as sweet.

"For the past year or so it's kind of been stagnant. With the New Year I think we really caught some fire, got some recognition and you know, who knows? Who knows what can happen?  I'm Barbaross's number one fan. I'm the guy saying, 'listen to these guys!'"


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