Points North
Eric Barnett Interview

Photo Credits - David Lepori

Points North creates melodic guitar-driven instrumental music, combining musicianship and a modern aesthetic with classic tones, song structures, and pop sensibility.

Points North understands what a band of their style needs to do. They write great songs, deliver high energy entertaining live shows, and are willing to work hard to validate the respect and popularity that they so rightly deserve.

Points North Eric Barnett Interview

Scott - Hi Eric, thank you for agreeing to do an interview w/ my website Guitarz Forever.com.

Eric - My pleasure Scott, thanks for having me!
Scott - Give our readers a short but descriptive label for your style of music.

Eric - That’s a tough one.  We are often labeled as “instrumental progressive rock”, and we also find ourselves talked about and embraced by the metal community.  But like some of the bands we see as our progenitors – Rush, Dixie Dregs, Eric Johnson – we like to at least think of ourselves as somewhat cross-genre, and experimental, and sometimes that leads us in directions that don’t fit the progressive label – for example, our current album has a lot of 3 and half to four minute songs on it, melody focused and with tight, compact arrangements.  I don’t know if I helped you or confused you there, but that’s the best way I can answer your question.

Scott - What is the name of your band and do you tour?

Eric - The name of the band is Points North, and we tour regularly on the West Coast, from Seattle to San Diego.  A national tour is in the planning stages in support of our current self-titled second album.

Scott - Please introduce the members of the band...
Eric - Sure, first we have, on drums, from points far north, he comes from the land of the ice and snow…ok, well, Ukiah, California, but it’s north of where I live - Mr. Kevin Aiello.  What I love about Kevin is not just his playing – which I find stellar in all regards – but also his writing and composition skills, his head for music and how to play just the right part in just the right place. 

Next on bass we have Uriah Duffy.  I first saw Uriah at a place called The Last Day Saloon, where he was playing with the Eric Martin (Mr. Big) Band, and he just blew my mind – instantly he was on my top 10 bass players EVER list, and I have to pinch myself that I get to play music with him on a regular basis.  He’s best known for his five years in Whitesnake, but he’s quite possibly the most versatile bassist I’ve ever met – he’s as comfortable playing rap with Lyrics Born as he is funk with Liv Warfield, or pop with Christina Aguilera, as he is with us – and yes, he’s had (or has) all these gigs.  I’m really excited for him about the new Points North record because I feel it’s one of the first times where he really gets to be HIMSELF on record, both from a performance and composition perspective, and he still blows my mind every day.

Then there’s me, Eric Barnett, I’m the guitarist and I guess you could say “bandleader”. I’m a lapsed classical violinist turned rock guitarist thanks to a bad case of teenage rebellion – what better reason to play rock music anyway – and through my music career I’ve kind of backed my way into what I do now…which feels to me like the music I was always supposed to make.  My first big “break” as an instrumental guitarist was in 2008, when I was a finalist in Guitar Player Magazine’s national Guitar Superstar Competition (an experience for which I will always be grateful), and it’s just been a slightly-too-slow-for-me but steady climb from there, full of all kinds of things that were on my “bucket list” as that rebellious teenager.  (Like getting interviewed like I am right now!)

Scott - What is the name of your New Album and when is the release date?

Eric - That’s an easy one – the album is self-titled, and it was released on April 21, 2015.

Scott - What  the genesis for the NEW Album?

Eric - If you mean conceptually and musically, well…the lineup changed from the first record to the second record.  Our original bassist, Damien Sisson, joined the successful thrash metal band Death Angel just a few months before our first album, “Road Less Traveled” came out, and for quite a while we were playing those songs with Uriah.  But Uriah and Damien are very different players, and the songs FELT different with Uriah playing, there was a different groove and energy…and so when we sat down to write, the “genesis” as you put it was really around just really figuring out what this lineup really sounded like, when we were playing songs that we had created from the ground up, as opposed to the “Road Less Traveled” songs.  And the writing process was really natural and organic, and for the most part came pretty quickly – which is good, because as they say, “you have your whole life to write your first album, but only six months to write your second…” But all in all, we just wanted to express ourselves and find our collective sound on record – it actually felt a lot like doing a first record, even though it was our second.

Scott - How did you get hooked up with Magna Carta Records?

Eric - Well, the president of Magna Carta Records is a great guy named Peter Morticelli, who’s been a fixture in the music industry for a long time. I had always thought Magna Carta would be a perfect label for us, that they would just “get” what we were and know what to do with us.  They’ve put out so many records we love; even their slogan is “Magna Carta: Quality. Musicianship.”  

So I was fortunate enough to be able to get Pete some of our music through some mutual friends that I discovered we had, and to my great joy I heard back from him and he liked what he heard and was interested in working with us.  It was a quick and easy process from there, and before long we were working on plans to release “Road Less Traveled”.   I couldn’t be more pleased with him and all the folks at Magna Carta; not only do they work incredibly hard for us, but they’re truly stand up folks in an industry where that isn’t always the case, and in an environment that’s currently quite challenging both for artists and labels alike.

Scott - How do you come up with your songs? Is it one song writer or more of a collaborated effort with other musicians?

Eric - It varies from song to song.  Some songs, one of us will bring in something fairly complete; other songs are written from the ground up in the rehearsal room, maybe from a riff someone brings in or even just from something that comes out of spontaneous jamming.  The finer points of the arrangement we all do together, in the rehearsal room and pre-production, and we like to at least try out songs live before we go into the studio.  But no song seems to follow exactly the same trajectory.

Scott - So Eric, tell me a little bit of what you’ve learned about human nature during making this new production.

Eric - What a great and thought provoking question!  You know, one of the original album title suggestions before we decided to self-title the record was “Rites of Passage”, which is also a song on the record.  It was such a growth experience…and I would say the biggest thing I learned was the importance of “letting go”; that people are who they are, and that it’s only when relationships come together organically, and alignments form naturally without pressure and coercion, that they perform and persevere.   For me, I’m definitely a “type A” personality, and I tend to drive hard and pretty relentlessly…but if the important people in my world aren’t on board with a given destination, it’s going to be one hell of a journey for all of us.  The wonderful thing I discovered, though, is that the same kind of results can be achieved with a lot less friction just by looking for the things that come easier, as opposed to trying to force outcomes.  At least, most days I remember that…

I also was astonished and grateful to the number of folks who stepped up to get this record done to absolutely no benefit of their own, other than believing in the music and seeing it get done. There’s one person in particular I want to call out here, if that’s OK – his name is R.J. Ward – and he wasn’t an engineer or producer, he wasn’t materially involved - and yet this record wouldn’t exist without his time and energy.  Thank you R.J.

Scott - What are your personal highlights on the new album?

Eric - Well, I’m really excited hearing Kevin’s development from the first record to this one, and as I said above in getting to hear Uriah’s musical “voice”, which I think the world really needs to hear too.   In terms of songs, my favorites are “Child’s Play, “Rites of Passage”, “Ignition”, “Harlequin”, “Turning Point”, and “Northstar”.  (Yes, I realize that’s more than half the record…)  In terms of my personal playing, that’s easier – I feel like “Child’s Play” is the most complete guitar statement, “Rites of Passage” is the best thing I’ve ever recorded from a guitarist’s perspective, and I’m really proud of how “Harlequin” came out.

Scott - Where do you live, play live, and  record?
Eric - I live in Northern California, I play up and down the West Coast now (with a national tour hopefully to follow in 2015).   We recorded at Foothill College in Los Altos, and then mixed and mastered in Danziland Studios in New Jersey, where my friend and amazing engineer/producer/guitarist Danny Danzi was able to make us sound good.

Scott - Are there a lot of places to play your style of music in and around your area? If so, could you name some venues?
Eric - I can’t exactly answer that question – because we get to play a lot of venues that bands that play “our style of music” often don’t get to.  Some of my favorite venues in the area that we’ve played are The Great American Music Hall (San Francisco), the Rockbar (San Jose), The Last Day Saloon (Santa Rosa, now closed), The Uptown Theatre (Napa), the Mystic Theater (Petaluma)…smaller rooms that we’ve played a lot that we also like are 19 Broadway (Fairfax), and of course Vinnie’s (Concord), which is kind of “home base”.   There are some new places too – there’s a room called The New Parish in Oakland that we’re hoping to make a big announcement about shortly – wink wink, but I can’t say for sure until it’s locked down – and in terms of touring, I’d say our three favorite rooms at the moment are Ramona Mainstage in Ramona near San Diego (thank you Victor Neito!), The Coach House in San Juan Capistrano (thank you Adam Spriggs!), and the Tonic Lounge in Portland (thank you Tony Lopez!).

Scott - How often when you start an idea for song, does it actually get finished?
Eric - For me, most of them – but that’s not necessarily such a good thing.  One of the things I’ve learned is that there’s a difference between the creative process and the editing process, and as soon as you start editing, you stop creating.  I have a tendency to edit far too quickly – meaning that I throw ideas in the garbage that might turn into good songs before they are even truly born, thinking that they “aren’t good enough”, for example.  But if I actually start something, holding on to that idea long enough that it becomes at least a part of a song, then more than likely I’ll finish it.

Scott - I was wondering if you ever hear music in your dreams and turn them into songs?
Eric - I wish.  I’ve performed some of the greatest songs ever in my dreams, I swear…but I never seem to remember how anything goes when I wake.

Scott - Are you a schooled guitar player or a self-taught guitar player?

Eric - I’m definitely schooled, but I tend not to pay attention to much of that schooling anymore…it’s the stuff that stuck with me that is in my ear and my heart that tends to come out, less than the stuff that I learned that’s in my head.  But I’m glad to have the head stuff to fall back on when I need it.

Scott - Did You develop your style by concept or by messing around on the neck playing what sounded cool to you?
Eric - All of the above, and more.  I did start writing very early – since by the time I picked up a guitar I’d already been playing violin for years, so an understanding of music and mechanics wasn’t new to me.  But in some cases it was trying to emulate my heroes, while other times I was just searching for something I heard in my head or I felt.

Scott - So, what type of guitars do you play and why?

Eric - Primarily I’m a Fender guy – my main guitar is a Fender American Texas Special Fat Strat. I like the relatively low output Humbucker (Pearly Gates Plus) in the bridge because it gives me just enough of that humbucker heavy rock sound while still keeping the character of a Strat.   There just isn’t any guitar that sings like a Strat; others may be easier to play, but I have to be the “voice” in Points North, and only Strats to me really have the vocal singing quality.  But I also have a secret weapon too – it’s a prototype guitar with the Antares Auto Tune for Guitar technology on it.  I was fortunate enough to have gotten the opportunity to work with them during its development, and it’s like a “swiss army knife”, especially when I’m doing commercial work in the studio, truly an amazing tool.

Scott - What type of amps do you use? Do you use different amps for the studio vs live shows... If so, why?

Eric - My primary amp is an Egnater Renegade 2x12, and I use it live as well as recording.  It’s a 65W combo, but boy can I get a lot of mileage out of it…it has two separate power amp circuits, with EL34 and 6L6 tubes, that can be separately mixed to each channel, so it’s sort of a “poor man’s Eric Johnson setup”, where I can have a Fender-like channel for clean, blues, and half-distorted fuzzier sounds, and then a Marshall-like channel for heavy rhythm and lead.  The only other amp I use is a Fractal Audio AXE-FX, which I use mainly for recording at the moment – but it’s truly a state-of-the-art piece of gear that I keep getting more and more enamored with, and the folks at Fractal are just brilliant.  
Scott - Do you have any endorsement with instrument and gear companies?

Eric - I do indeed, and I’m lucky because it’s all the stuff I use and think is wonderful – I have endorsements with Egnater Amplification, TC Electronics, Mogami Cables, and Seymour Duncan pickups.  I don’t officially have a Fractal Audio endorsement but there’s been some talk, I’ve worked for them before, and obviously I love their stuff.  And I guess I’m a “Fender Artist” as well, though they don’t exactly have an official endorsement program, but I haven’t really worked with them yet per se either.

Scott - How did you first get into the music business?

Eric - It wasn’t my choice – my parents started me on the violin when I was only five, and I was the kid inside practicing for two hours a day while all the other kids were playing ball across the street in the park I could see from my window.  But at least all that hard work paid off a little, I hope.   By the time I was 12 I was going to the Manhattan School of Music, I did a Juilliard summer program, and I played with the Princeton University orchestra.  As far as guitar, I moved out to LA still as a teenager to go to GIT, and my first real shows other than battle of the bands and things were there – I think my first or second LA show was a Monday night “showcase” at the Whisky A Go Go, though I’m not positive, it was a while ago.  But I had the bug then, and I never lost it.

Scott - What were your favorite recording artists and or bands a teenager?

Eric - That’s easy – my top two artists as a teenager were definitely Rush, and Eric Johnson.  Which still largely holds true today.

Scott - Who have been your main influences on your career to date?
Eric - Gosh, that’s a tough question.  My dad and my violin teachers when I was growing up.  The aforementioned Rush and Eric Johnson, but also a whole host of players that I admired, emulated, respected…Steve Vai, Eddie Van Halen, Joe Satriani, Tony MacAlpine…I got a lot from both Neal Schon and Rik Emmitt…Steve Rothery of Marillion, Greg Howe, so many others.  In terms of folks that effected me more personally, I would say Paul Gilbert – hearing “Scarified” is what brought me to GIT, and I was fortunate enough to spend some time with him there too.  Eon Hersey, my teacher at GIT.  As I got older, guys like Allan Holdsworth, Scott Henderson.  Gosh it’s such a long list I could spend all day on this question.

Scott - How has your guitar playing evolved over the years?

Eric - I like to think that my playing somehow got both more sophisticated and yet also simpler.  Coming from the world of instrumental guitar, where it’s far too easy to get caught up in the gymnastics of it all, I think that learning more about what NOT to play has been one of the bigger lessons.  Along with that, having the synapses fire more effortlessly so that I can play without thinking, which makes it easier to play what’s inside…I find the best music comes out when I’m almost unconscious with regards to what I’m playing, as opposed to when I find myself being more intentional.

Scott - What are you listening to these days?

Eric - I’m guilty of listening to the radio far too much; I always like to hear to new sounds, and I’m probably way too attracted to pop hooks and song construction.  But I know this interview is focused on guitar players, and so I’ll list four.  First is Daniele Gottardo; while I may draw some inspiration from my classical upbringing, he’s the true article, I “discovered” him early on and I find his playing and compositions inspiring.  Second is Michael Lee Firkins; we had the opportunity to go on tour with him last year and he floored me nightly, and getting to close the night with him and his band every night was so much fun.  Third is Mike Stern…I had kind of forgotten about him a little bit, and then we opened for a show in Southern California on the recent Eric Johnson/Mike Stern tour, and goddamn.  In fact that’s really the only word necessary.  And lastly is a guy I’m sure few have heard of named Eric Glass, who I know from the guitar competition site guitarwar.com.  He’s hard to find online or otherwise, as he’s not really in a place where he’s actively pushing his music career right now – but he should be, as he’s one of the finest guitarists, composers, and producers I’ve ever met and I’m a huge fan.

Scott - Do you have a dream car?
Eric - I want a black Tesla!

Scott - I also don't want to forget this... Tell us about any other things you may be in involved in or any special interest besides music that is close to your heart?

Eric - Thank you for asking.  Musically, over the past few years I’ve gotten to do a fair amount of commercial work; some of it I got to do with Uriah, but the main guy I’ve worked with is a brilliant composer named Mark Griskey, who is best known for his video game work with LucasArts.  It’s taken me back to my roots; a lot of what I’ve been doing has been “hybrid” music, which is to say orchestra meets rock. And while I have a lot to learn I’ve also been doing a bit of straight orchestral composition too; in fact tomorrow I’m off to Skywalker Studios where there will be an 80 piece orchestra recording on a project I’m involved in, though I’m not allowed to say any more than that.  And lastly, while music has been more and more of my focus lately, I’m also a serial tech entrepreneur, and being a Northern California guy I have a startup company – it’s called eParachute, and one of my co-founders is the author of the seminal job hunting and career exploration book “What Color is Your Parachute?” We make digital tools and courses focused on helping people find the career of their dreams, which I also feel pretty good about.

Scott - I would like to thank you for your time and candor with our loyal readers and keep on fighting the good fight to bring us some awesome music.

Eric - Quite an interview!  The pleasure is all mine, and I’m honored to have been asked!


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