CityNews — Eef Barzelay has been processing the world through music for a long time. Most known for forming and fronting the American band Clem Snide, Eef is the driving force behind a body of work that already exceeds most singer songwriters in terms of quantity, but maintains a brilliant ability to articulate just how absurd, hilarious and sad the human experience can be as we bumble about trying to get what we want out of this world.
Eef and Clem Snide can’t really be regarded as traditionally successful in the music business sense, but Eef finds beauty in how he navigates the world as a performing musician these days. After a tumultuous history with Clem Snide; breaking up and reuniting several times and struggling with frustrating management and record deals, Eef has found himself in an autonomous position that lends him the freedom to wind up in random places, such as Papa Rock, just south of the international airport, in Mae Hia, Chiang Mai on a Saturday night.
“I was doing a wedding in Amsterdam, and I got the call from this guy Matt who owns a place in Bangkok, and he asked me if I wanted to come play some shows in Thailand, and I was like, ‘definitely’.”
Outside the venue, we chat and drink Beer Laos, Eef puffs at a cigarette, clad in long pants, a black T-shirt and thick-rimmed black glasses, he looks just like a singer songwriter that flew from his home in Nashville to play some songs and take a look around.
“I don’t really know where I am,” he admitted, chuckling, “I’m having a great time. This is my first time in Asia, I’ve never been anywhere near here. I love travelling, and seeing the world this way. I like to have a local person take me around, and then I get to play music at night. That’s pretty ideal.”
These days Eef continues to produce new material through a variety of different channels. He performs solo, writes music for film and TV, and has started a subscription service called Eldorado. With Eldorado, fans receive an EP of new material, usually around five songs, every month.
“I started doing this thing a few years ago, I basically made my services available to anyone that’s interested. So I said ‘send me $200 and an email with some personal information, and I’ll write a song for you’.”
Since then, Eef has written over 200 songs for Eldorado, and the project has gained him more than just a monetary return. “It’s turned into kind of a barter system as well, I have a guy that does all of my emails, and a guy that does my website, and it’s also just a wonderful connection to make when you write a song for someone.”
We finish up our drinks, the sound of the opening blues band wafting out into the street, it’s almost time for Eef to go on. The crowd inside applauds as a song comes to an end, and Eef looks back at the bar.
“There’s a kind of gold mine here,” Eef theorises. “There’s a lot of musicians in the states like me that would come out here and play, just to have a reason to come to the area and see it. I think if some more of the Southeast Asian promoters in this area tapped into them, there would be a lot of interest.”
Eef heads inside, steps into the corner where the bands perform and throws his acoustic onto his shoulders. It might sound a bit cheesy, but there’s something that happens when someone that’s been performing for over 25 years starts a song and takes over the room, something that comes out of them besides the notes and words they sing, a sort of force that they can only emanate through song.
Eef plays for about an hour, the room quieting down as the drinkers and chatters start to figure out that this random guy from Nashville is actually pretty damn good. Eef’s set, a mish mash of unreleased material and dusty songs plucked from his decades of archives, takes us through a lifetime of clumsy romance, reckless curiosity, and narratives of human experience that make you want to laugh and cry simultaneously. His playing style is relaxed, like a guy that listened to too much Buddy Holly and Chuck Berry but also had too much to drink; the strum of his guitar often times dwindling down to silence as his raw but intriguing voice tells a story that seems to encapsulate a lifetime of emotion through a single one night stand. The protagonist in his story has successfully bedded a woman that he found incredibly beautiful despite her being totally intoxicated, and Eef articulates perfectly the feeling of them waking up together.
“So I woke with the dawn to fix you breakfast, I served it to you right there in your bed, but your blood shot eyes addressed me like a stranger, as if I caused that pain inside your head. You see I wasn’t really drunk I was just pretending, because I wanted so much to feel the way you do, and now this party it seems never ending, I would gladly sip my champagne from your shoes.”
As Eef plays, I order another beer. An older man with his arm slung over a woman’s shoulder leans over and speaks into her ear, “I like this guy,” he says.
As Eef finishes up his set to scattered applause and a few hoots and hollers, I turn my attention back to the conversation at my table. Before I get a chance to wish him luck, I catch a glimpse of Eef ducking out with his guitar, leaving us with his stories, and something like advice, or questions, but mainly the reassuring feeling of hearing someone else trying to figure out what a kiss means, or why people like to get high. He doesn’t give us any answers, but tonight, this little bar in Chiang Mai felt good just knowing we weren’t alone. Cheers Eef.
To keep in touch with Eef Barzelay, see Clem Snide’s Facebook.
Check out Papa Rock for great live music Thurs-Sunday every week, featuring the house band, the Black Martini Band and touring acts from all over the world. Their menu of insanely filling burgers, pizza, sandwiches and Thai food is something you can’t miss either.
Thanon Somphot Chiang Mai 700 Pi
Open Daily 1pm – 12am, close at 10pm on Wednesdays and Thursdays