In the ever-evolving landscape of industrial music, one name has remained a constant force for over three decades: Paul Barker. Known as the former bass guitarist, producer, and engineer of the iconic industrial metal band Ministry, Barker has left an indelible mark on the genre. Now, with his side project Lead Into Gold, he has released his third album, The Eternal Present, a work that defies genres and challenges listeners to rethink their beliefs.
In an exclusive interview with The New York Times, Barker opened up about the writing and recording process behind The Eternal Present. “I did 99.9% of it myself,” he shared. “I decided to change my writing process because it was so belabored. A friend suggested a 30-song in 30-days challenge, where the goal was to drum up ideas. After 30 days, I ended up with 30 kernels of ideas to work on. The transformation from those initial one- to two-minute ideas into full songs was incredible. In many cases, only 10% of the original idea remained.”
For Barker, the creative process is akin to building a wall brick by brick, constantly evaluating and refining each element. “I come up with ideas, work on them, and then walk away from them,” he explained. “I return to see if there’s anything usable, and if not, I strip things out and start again. Deadlines are my friend; they’re the only way things get done.”
The press release for The Eternal Present describes the album as genre-defying, a characterization that Barker embraces. When asked about the sound of the album, he described it as “slow, brooding, and heavy, with sprinkles of melody.” He emphasized that the album is intentionally narrowly focused and stylized, a deliberate artistic choice.
The album’s title, The Eternal Present, caught the interviewer’s attention, and Barker’s enthusiasm for it was palpable. “I love that title,” he exclaimed. “It’s a trod for anyone who cares to think about what they’re doing. It challenges us to examine the beliefs we inherit from society and accept as reality. It’s a bottomless pit of discussion, but that’s the inherent purpose of the title. Plus, it has a goofy double entendre that I adore.”
The lyrics on The Eternal Present reflect Barker’s fascination with personal challenges and breaking belief systems. He sings about urging individuals to examine the world from a different perspective and question their own preconceptions. It’s a call to constant growth and self-reflection.
When asked about specific music influences on the album that might not be obvious to listeners, Barker acknowledged his wide-ranging musical taste. “I listen to a lot of different music,” he admitted. “I won’t explicitly reveal those influences because it’s more fun for listeners to figure it out. There’s a lot of music out there, and repetition can be boring. I have my favorites, of course, but as much as what I like influences me, what I don’t want to do—what I’ve already done—is equally important.”
When asked about the difference between working on Lead Into Gold compared to other collaborations, Barker emphasized the freedom and autonomy he experiences in his solo project. “Lead Into Gold is my own thing. And when you work with other people, there’s a certain amount of compromise that you have to make,” Barker explained. “But when I’m working on my own stuff, I only have to satisfy myself. And therefore, you have to have a deadline. Otherwise, it’ll never be finished.”
The conversation delved into the expectations for Lead Into Gold’s live shows. Barker described his intention to envelop the audience in a “low frequency blanket” and create an intense and dynamic experience. He acknowledged that while his music may not always be considered “fun,” he aims to deliver a memorable and immersive performance.
Reflecting on his time with Ministry, Barker reminisced about the early days of collaboration and experimentation. “You start working with someone, you barely know what you’re doing. You’re just doing it, you know,” Barker shared. He emphasized the constant drive to explore new ideas, be inspired by other bands, and embrace technological advancements. The enthusiasm and naive energy of those formative years continue to resonate with Barker, even after decades in the industry.
When asked about the impact of his experience with Ministry on his musical, business, and personal growth, Barker acknowledged the profound influence it had on shaping his life. “We only have one life, so I can’t compare it to anything else,” he reflected. “It shaped my life 100%. I decided when I was a kid that I was going to be in the arts somehow, and that’s what happened.”
Barker admitted that while he has made mistakes along the way, he continues to challenge himself and embrace growth. The legacy of his work with Ministry holds significance, particularly when interacting with fans on tour, but Barker emphasized that it is the present moment that truly matters to him. “When I’m home in Portland, all that shit means nothing. The only time those historical elements come to bear is when I’m on tour and people talk to me,” Barker expressed.
Barker’s journey into the realm of guitar effects pedals and synthesizers began with a serendipitous collaboration. Living in Austin, Texas at the time, Barker met Josh Hawley, a fellow synth enthusiast, who proposed they create a pedal together. Barker recalled, “We started doing that, and then it just snowballed from there.” With the addition of talented engineers, they expanded their offerings to include synth modules and the Manthor tabletop synth.
Malekko’s pedals stand out in a crowded market due to their unique approach. Barker explained the two distinct aspects of their product line. The first consists of digital signal processing (DSP) based pedals, allowing for unparalleled creativity and experimentation. Barker expressed his passion for developing innovative products, stating, “We rather make interesting products than clones of other people’s products, you know, clones of sixties and seventies products.”
The second aspect involves classic pedals, which Malekko is no longer actively producing. Barker emphasized the importance of voicing these pedals to add a personal touch, as the underlying circuitry has remained largely unchanged for decades. He noted that while numerous companies offer clones of these classics, only a few manage to produce pedals with a unique sound by massaging the circuitry. Malekko aims to strike a balance between classic and cutting-edge designs, catering to the preferences of guitarists, keyboardists, and other musicians.
Balancing his roles as a musician and a business owner can be challenging for Barker. He confessed, “For me to work on music, I have to force myself to do it because it’s too easy to not do it.” After a long day at work, he finds it tempting to engage in other activities. However, he recognizes the importance of dedicating time to music and adopts a disciplined approach to ensure progress. Despite the difficulties, once he immerses himself in the creative process, Barker finds inspiration and fulfillment.
One remarkable aspect of Barker’s career is his work on film soundtracks, including notable films like “Natural Born Killers” and “AI.” When asked about the experience of creating music specifically for movies, Barker highlighted the absence of vocals, which simplifies the production process. He compared it to composing instrumental music, though he acknowledged the challenge of crafting music that supports the visuals without overpowering them. He described the intricate balance between overproducing and providing a supportive musical backdrop.
Regarding the creative process for film soundtracks, Barker explained that the extent of information provided varies. Sometimes, he receives the script alone, while other times, he is given specific scenes to compose music for. The limited time frame within which music is requested can be daunting, especially considering the years invested in the film’s development. Nevertheless, Barker’s expertise and adaptability allow him to deliver remarkable compositions even under tight deadlines.
As Lead Into Gold continues to gain recognition with their recently released third album, “The Eternal Present,” and Malekko Heavy Industry Corporation continues to innovate with their groundbreaking pedals, Paul Barker’s contributions to the music industry remain as influential as ever.
Visit Paul online: www.paulionbarker.com.