Thanks largely in part to her artistic family, the Seattle native was gigging in clubs at the age of 16 in Gordon Raphael’s Mannequin and went on to discover punk music. Ireland then performed in legendary Upchuck Gerra’s band The Fags.
At the time, the Great Northwest was a bustling creative landscape for muscians and artist types. If you weren’t in a band, you wanted to be in a band and everyone supported the local club scene in Seattle, especially The Showbox, the Crocodile and the Off Ramp, to name a few.
“I have always loved music, so to be so deeply involved with it was an amazing experience,” Ireland said of her early days as a musician. “I remember going to the doctor when I was 17 or 18 years old because my jaw ached. He checked me over and since everything was fine, he suspected I was grinding my teeth. So he asked me what was going on in my life. I said, ‘Well… I’m going to high school, I’m composing music, I’m in five… no, six bands….’ He stopped me right there and we discussed the concept of having too much to do – but I couldn’t get enough of music.”
Even though she was a teenager in high school, Ireland’s first time playing in a bar was with Mental Mannequin, the brainchild of Gordon Raphael (who, among other accomplishments, produced the first Strokes CD). Ireland confesses even though she was just 16, the experience was in fact “seedy and scary and fun.”
“The next band I was in was The Fags, with Upchuck Gerra and other amazing Seattle musicians. That first show was an eye-opener as well. It took place in a big, open arts center, and there was no stage. I had a stack of three keyboards and synthesizers in front of me. The M.C. announced our band’s name with this crazy guttural scream, and the minute we started playing, the audience went totally berserk, slam-dancing and screaming. It was like that pretty much for every Fags show from then on. There was this highly energetic, kind of delicious chaos took over. Of course I ended up on the floor buried underneath all my keyboards! It was my first real ‘punk rock moment,’ and it freaked me out, but I was hooked from then on just because everyone was so alive.”
When she was 20, Ireland moved cross country to the Big Apple to attend New York University and earned her BFA in film. Her thesis movie “Secrets” went on to earn several top honors. After college, Ireland went on to make several short films, directed videos and worked at a television studio. For eight years she was also co-owner of the production company Filmus Maximus.
Now back in her hometown of Seattle, the multi-talented artist had her first art show “Allegorical” and had stepped back into music reforming a revised version of The Fags. As of late, Ireland has been playing along side Pearl Jam’s Stone Gossard in HankKhoir and in a Stooges cover band called The Splooges.
More recently, Ireland has ventured out into uncharted territory releasing her debut CD Turning Back Time – Classic Songs to Kiss By – a 13-track offering of jazz and blues classics from the 1930s, ’40s and early ’50s. But the album actually came together by accident.
“I was planning to record some of my original songs, which I guess could fall into the ‘indie rock/pop’ category. But something kept telling me to wait… It was driving me crazy. In the meantime, I made a fun little demo of jazz tunes for my stepfather for Christmas that year, and for some bizarre reason, that little demo went ‘viral’ in its own primitive way – it was copied so many times, it was ridiculous. While recording that demo, I did notice just how much my voice loved singing jazz. There’s so much freedom and spontaneity to that genre, vocally as well as instrumentally. Plus a lot of these old tunes have a playful eroticism to them that I really like… a quality that we don’t get to experience in that same way very often these days…
“So I just started playing around with the idea of a jazz CD. Strangely enough, my heart or instinct or whatever you want to call it started telling me to go for it – even though my head was set on recording my originals. But once I committed myself to recording, lo and behold, doors opened like you wouldn’t believe, and the whole project just flowed from then on.”
Covering such legends as Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday;and Peggy Lee – who Ireland is often compared to with her sultry vocals – the album truly lives up to its billing. As soon as the first notes of “Baby Baby All the Time” play you are transported back in time to when men wore stylish suits with classic hats and women were elogantly dolled up in flowing dresses. The smoky supper club was filled with patrons, swilling their whiskey and dancing to the live jazz band until the wee hours of the morning.
“It took many hours of listening, which were all very enjoyable hours of course,” Ireland said of selecting the songs for the album. “I was looking for a certain ‘vibe’ of old, classic jazz – that slinky type that’s so fun and conjures up images of hot dames in form-fitting gowns with sly grins. Also I chose songs I could relate to, either through their lyrics, or because of the way the music felt in my body or heart when I heard it.”
Backed flawlessly by Jeff Fielder on guitar, Keith Lowe on bass, drummer Mike Stone, Steve Moore on trombone and Hans Tuber on saxaphone and piano, the mood of the album is smooth, sexy and flirtacious in a fashion rarely seen in music today. Along with the band, the music allowed Ireland to easily set the mood to record these gems.
“The chemistry and camaraderie between all of us musicians was and is awesome. So while we worked fast and hard, we also had laughing attacks and lots of fun. Plus I kept feeding the musicians chocolate, nuts and grapes while they were laying down their tracks, which probably didn’t hurt the mood either!”
The beautiful singer also set the mood with an original song she penned entitled “Angel in Blue Jeans,” which seamlessly fits with the tracks which are 50 years its junior.
“’Angel In Blue Jeans’ is the only original on the CD, and it’s funny because I have probably 60 songs already written, and yet this song, which just spilled out spontaneously one night while I was driving in my car a week before we recorded, is the one that ended up on the CD. We had a little extra time in the studio one day so I asked the guys to play it, and it just seemed to fit well with the other material. I love that one because it makes me laugh every time, no matter how many times I hear it. There is honesty in the lyrics, but it’s also written with a sense of humor, very ‘tongue-in-cheek.”
Not only did Ireland sing the songs, but she produced Turning Back Time – Classic Songs to Kiss By – something she has never done before.
“That was an amazing experience for me – no one ever taught me what to do. Musically, I just followed my instincts – on the sound, the arrangements of the songs, the musicians I chose – everything really. That instinctual side of me never fails me, so I felt I was in ‘good hands.’ As for all the tech and legal and business details, those aren’t things that come naturally to me, so that was a bit strenuous, and the learning curve was nearly vertical.”
In a day and age where it’s hard to sell a rock CD, let alone a classic jazz CD, Barbara Ireland isn’t too worried about sales. Sure, it would be nice to sell millions so she can recorded her already written five albums of varying genre’s, but in the end Turning Back Time – Classic Songs to Kiss By, was a labor of love that paid off in more ways than monetary.
“I have a personal mantra to live my life to its absolute fullest and deepest and most colorful, and to experience everything I feel passionate about before I die. And since music and singing is my lifeblood, and I love so many different types of music, I decided it was high time I quit messing around and got myself into a studio to record – whether it was jazz or rock or any other genre of music, I just had to go record it.
Also, I believe music is a healing force – or at least an intense, and emotional force that has the power to heal. And I keep getting unusual reports like someone’s friend who started weeping openly when he heard my CD even though he hardly ever cries; or how the music helped reopen communication between this woman and her mother. And just recently, someone told me about his 11-year-old, rock-n-roll-loving son who now asks to hear my CD whenever they get into the car, and then he just sits there quietly listening, ‘enthralled,’ as his dad puts it. If this CD has that kind of effect even on a handful of people, I am thrilled beyond words.”