Magazine Feature / People

Musician-writer expresses himself in multiple ways

Duncan Barlow is a quiet and reflective man with two very different personas: creative writing PhD and front man of the up-and-coming Denver band d. biddle.

Barlow doesn’t see the two forms of expression as mutually exclusive, however. Rather, he describes them as “two different modes of operation,” which he compares to an athlete who runs and swims.

The result is a modern-day renaissance man who works and excels in a variety of art forms. Barlow’s former academic adviser, English Assistant Professor Laird Hunt, says Barlow shows that one need not specialize to succeed.

“Duncan is proof that you can do these different sorts of things and do them well,” he says.

Barlow communicates in different ways through fiction and music. He says his lyrics “embody more raw emotion,” and his fiction is an intellectual pursuit.

Underpinning both art forms is an ambition to express himself in multiple ways. Barlow says he wishes he could also paint, sculpt and even sew.

“I wish I could do everything,” he says.

Barlow got his creative start performing in punk rock bands in the ’80s and ’90s in Louisville, Ky., where he grew up. While d. biddle’s music lacks the sheer loudness of punk, Barlow says it remains political—true to a “punk ethic in spirit.”

D. biddle began in 1999 as a solo project and by 2002 was a five-member band that incorporates guitar, bass, drums, clarinet, flute and trumpet. The music usually is described as folk, but in combining pop and punk influences, it ends up a shade darker—layering percussion, guitar, brass and wind with the soft, near-raspy lull of Barlow’s voice.

“If I were in a CD store, I don’t know where I’d put it,” Barlow says of d. biddle’s self-titled debut album (Sao Bento Music).

While music dominated much of Barlow’s formative years, he says his true love is fiction writing. The same depth and near-darkness of d. biddle’s lyrics can also be found in his prose.

“I have always been interested in bizarre and dark art,” says Barlow whose novel, Super-Cell Anemia, deals with madness.

Hunt says Barlow creates “a world that is not quite our world” that reveals Barlow’s own “intriguingly off-kilter vision.”

D. biddle bassist Jeff Davenport describes Barlow as “somebody who is putting his priorities in order.” Those priorities include teaching, writing and playing music.

“I am very fortunate to have so many outlets,” Barlow says. 

This article was originally published in
The Source, October 2005.

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