Barry Gibb on Going From ‘Night Fever’ to Nashville: ‘Country Is What I Will Do From Here On Out’
“Look at the world out there.”
Barry Gibb is alluding to the several days of strife that accompanied Donald Trump’s most recent insurrection against the U.S. government. With a heavy sigh, however, the legend and last remaining Bee Gee was talking about the deaths of his brothers, Andy, Maurice and Robin, the joys and pains of brotherhood, the ups, downs and changing sounds within a long career (the Bee Gees commenced in 1958), and the newest projects in his life: an HBO documentary “The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart,” and a new solo (sort-of) album, “Greenfields — The Gibb Brothers’ Songbook Vol. 1.”
VARIETY: It’s everyone’s understanding that you haven’t watched the HBO documentary, and yet you participated in it by doing in-depth interviews. Why and why?
Though the documentary doesn’t delve too deeply in the hows of the trio’s fall from grace post-“Saturday Night Fever” or “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” it does focus on what the filmmakers felt was latent homophobia and racism at having dance music records burned, yours included. What’s your take?
One thing to be gleaned from “Greenfields,” beyond a love of country and bluegrass, is how dedicated you are to its naturalism, and to being there now. It is a very present album.
I’m up for anything as long as I have the energy to do it. When you are 30 and younger, it’s a case of animal energy. You’ll travel as far as you have to to please the people you want to please. The greatest fun in life is writing for somebody. For something. When we wrote for Robert Stigwood, if he approved, he was going to act on it. It was a matter of people you believed in, as much as they believed in you. Those are the things I sort of miss. What I’m left with is writing for myself — to please myself, my wife, my family. I don’t look to an entity to approve or disapprove of what I’m doing. And somehow, within all this, I have become a country artist — a music I love with all my heart. It doesn’t matter what happened in the past. In my heart, this where I know I belong. The shock was that the artists who appear on “Greenfields” said yes.
Your humility is admirable, but it’s hard to imagine someone turning you down. Keith Urban killed “To Love Somebody” already (during CBS’ “Stayin’ Alive: A Grammy Salute to the Music of the Bee Gees” from 2017), and dueting with you now on “I’ve Gotta Get a Message to You”… he’s a champion of your stuff.
But did you really think that you wouldn’t find collaborators?
Maybe next time. In terms of solo albums, there’s “Now Voyager.” You shelved “The Kid’s No Good,” and morphed “Moonlight Madness” into the soundtrack for “Hawkes.” Eventually, you did “In the Now” in 2016. Doing anything away from the Bee Gees — your brothers didn’t have a positive consensus on all that.
That’s where your heart is now.
You’re alone now, and yet you have chosen duets for “Greenfields.” I’m no psychiatrist, but that seems as if you’re looking for something more communal, still.
How did you hook up with Cobb?
Your vocals are still airy and beautiful. There’s also something there that’s heavier, rougher, more spectral… even spooky. How are you hearing your voice, and how it applies?
What was the toughest or most rewarding song to get through?
“The Words of a Fool,” a stirring solo track of yours from the ’80s, done here with Jason Isbell, is the best thing on “Greenfields,” but is probably the least known of your songs as it speaks of Christian faith with enormous potency.
What was the process like, now, taking a “Jive Talkin’” and a “How Deep is Your Love,” and finding its malleability so to make them country?
That’s got to be a poetic metaphor for something. Who did you like within the country/folk milieu of your early days?
Because everyone in the place was drinking.
So there’s an autobiography and at least two more volumes of Gibbsongs that you’ve alluded to, coming up. Producer Graham King from “Bohemian Rhapsody” is famously planning a musical biopic of you and your brothers. Where does that come in?
Who do you see playing you? Bradley Cooper’s name has been dropped here and there.
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