behind the album art with Andy Bar: 'Going Home' by The Children's Hour

behind the album art with Andy Bar: 'Going Home' by The Children's Hour

A very special interview on the blog today...a tale of an album release 20 years in the making...friends reuniting to make music...a heartwarming story...imagine me with sort of a movie trailer voice saying all this stuff.

Last time on Behind The Album Art, I interviewed Nicole Rifkin about her illustrated cover art for Water From Your Eyes' Everyone's Crushed. This time, I talked to Andy Bar, who plays guitar in the group The Children's Hour, and who drew a comic that became the album art for their recently released album Going Home.

The story of Going Home is all there in vibrant, poignant detail in Andy's comic, but to recap: twentyish years ago, The Children's Hour—Andy Bar, Josephine Foster, and David Pajo—went from scrappy local Chicago dive bar band to opening act for Billy Corgan's post-Smashing Pumpkins group Zwan, of which Pajo was also a member. The band recorded an album with Kentucky studio legend Paul Oldham in 2003 before dispersing to work on other projects, but the album was never completed.

20 years later, the tapes were unearthed, mixed, mastered, and released by Drag City, and now you can go and listen to this unlikely musical time capsule, which is pretty amazing.

Going Home, by The Children’s Hour
8 track album

For me, it's hard not to dissociate the songs on Going Home from the lost-and-found narrative of their release, but something about their tenderness—soft drums, springy acoustic guitar, Foster's lilting voice—felt like a transmission from a different version of the world, asking you to slow down and enjoy the little things.

Right before The Children's Hour played a handful of reunion shows, I got to ask Andy Bar a bunch of questions about his background in art and music, the process by which he narrativized the band's tale into a comic, and the emotions of the album release. Below is our lightly edited chat...

How are you? Where are you? Are you in Chicago?

I'm in Nashville today. I just arrived yesterday. We're practicing for the upcoming shows.

Hell, yeah. How many shows do you have on the books?

Three coming up, plus a listening party.

How are the emotions as you're gearing up for this stuff?

Pretty excited, and happy to be playing with Josephine and David again. And we're working with this bassist Sabrina. Just really happy to have this opportunity. A little more thankful this time.

Now I feel like it's weird for me to ask, you know, What have you been up to in the past 20 years since you put out the album but—have you been playing music since that particular project wrapped?

Maybe 10 or 12 years ago, I got a little bored with the Cleveland regular open mic scene, the one with guitars. Cleveland has a cool open mic comedy scene, and I started doing comedy open mics with comedic music, just trying to push myself a little bit. As a writer of lyrics, I don't know, it's like I can't come up with serious lyrics. They always come out funny.

You've got the music, the comedy thing, and then you obviously did the comic art for this release. I saw from the album liner notes, you went to the Art Institute of Chicago, right?


When did you start making visual art, and when did you start making music?

Visual art, I guess I've done it since I was little. I was the "art star" at my school, the kid who would draw Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for other kids. I always liked fine art, of course, but then I glommed onto comics right away. I have an older brother who influenced me a lot with music, and he liked comics. I went and visited a few art schools and SAIC accepted me. If we take away the cost, it was a great school [laughing], in terms of opening up your mind and enjoying some of the more abstract stuff, the stories behind art.

When I was 16 or 17, I started playing guitar, drumming and writing songs. And I sort of got addicted to music. I played violin in the orchestra, I was last chair second violin. Playing an instrument, I was going through it like a zombie. But finally music clicked with me, and I was like, I love this. It was easier than I thought, even though it takes a lot to learn. But if you can strum a few chords, you can write songs.

Before this album art, did your music and visual art ever intersect?

I think this is the first time I took a bigger whack at it. I did fliers and stuff for shows. When we heard that this record was going to be released and we started talking about art, at first I was just going to do a comic book for an insert. I probably would have ended up doing the cover too, but it wasn't going to be a comic book thing.

I had drawn the comic, and then we really liked this one panel that we used. So then we decided on that for the album cover. Getting to re-release this album, I thought I might as well knock a few things off my bucket list. I always wanted to draw a comic and have it distributed. So that's cool. When the comic got upgraded to the cover, then I got to do a pretty in-depth coloring of it, which was a lot of fun.
People say I use pretty vivid colors, and I guess that's right. I just want to use, like...

The full spectrum?

Yeah. Like, I feel like purple will be mad at me if I don't use enough of it.

[laughing] I love that. As you were drawing the comic, did you have any particular visual inspiration in mind? Or did it feel like it was its own thing?

It was its own thing. But, for instance—the Hideout in Chicago, that's the setting, even though it's my fuzzy memory of it. The clothes are pretty accurate because I got photos from the old days of us dressing up, so that's our stuff that we did wear. And I had fun drawing the audience.

My favorite panel was the one where you started opening for Zwan and everyone's saying "Hey, they're not bad!"

There wasn't enough room in the comic to talk about how we got this Jeep for the tour. We basically traded Josephine's car with this friend of a friend who came to our show. That night she was like, "Hey, why don't you just take my Jeep on the North American tour and I'll drive your car around?" There wasn't enough room to put that in. but there were little in-jokes or references—I have her handing the keys, and then I have this one friend behind her, Kate, who is one of our best friends. So there's friends in there. There's some secrets, I guess.

I was going to ask if there were Easter eggs in there. How was the Jeep as a tour vehicle?

It was great. It was the time I was that elevated in a...I don't think I had rode in many trucks before, because once I was in that Jeep, it felt like were 50 feet off the ground. At one point the window broke, and it was going to rain. I went to this dealership and convinced them to fix the window for free if I got them backstage passes to the show. It worked out. I have a rough draft of a comic of that story, but I haven't finished it.

I want to ask about the panel that depicts Paul Oldham finding the old tapes of The Children's Hour album. What was it like to think that that recording would never be found again in that format, and then getting those tapes back?

We had a really bad mixdown version on tape that we were listening to before we got those. I think Paul had looked once, and it didn't look like he was going to find it. That was a special treat. I don't know if I could call it a miracle, A Children's Hour miracle. Josephine called me and she was excited and I was like...some things turned out better than I thought they would, you know? It was a great moment. It felt really good.

Have you seen a physical copy of the album yet?

I held it in my hands for the first time yesterday. It was such a great moment. And Josephine was around. There's a picture on our Instagram of me holding the album for the first time. I was afraid that it would be blurred out or something, which happens whenever you're working with a computer. They did a great job.

I know what you mean, going computer to real life. I just sent a file that's going to be printed in a zine and I'm like, I hope this looks good. So I feel like for an album release that's this long in the making, does it feel like everything's finally coming full circle?

It feels like it's full circle. And actually, going back to the art, my confidence in art was beginning to slide as I got older. I felt like I'd better grow up a little bit, I'd better do this or that. And then I got this call and I was like, I can do art again. You know? And I kind of like it being rediscovered. Blues artists, like Mississippi John Hurt, who I'm not comparing myself to at all, but he got rediscovered as a sweet little old man and he got to play his guitar. I don't mind coming back as an older artist.

What do you hope to get out of these reunion shows?

I guess a good amount of audience, people buying and liking the record...some people are coming up to me saying "I'm a longtime fan." I couldn't tell if it was in the dustbin of history or whatnot. A lot of this is a confidence builder, and that just makes me feel great. And then it's also old friends coming together.

It feels like right now I'm scheduled to have a midlife crisis, but somehow this came about.

This is like a reverse midlife crisis.

I feel like a midlife crisis should be, like, me buying a motorcycle and trying to fix it. But instead of an old motorcycle, I was delivered a nice new motorcycle and I'm allowed to drive it.

A nice new motorcycle...or a Jeep again! You're playing Chicago, Nashville...

...and Louisville.

Are you flying between them? Or are you gonna get that road trip feeling back?

Now I have a minivan. Last month it was funny, because I was in the minivan, and it's such a minivan. It's not cool at all. And I was like, "Hey, you're going to be a big shot next month. You're going to be an actual tour van. Other vans are going to be jealous of you now."

Thanks Andy! Listen to Going Home by The Children's Hour, out now. And thanks for reading I Enjoy Music. If you like it, tell a friend about it.