Artist Interview: Dave Barnes

The first slow dance at my wedding reception was “On a Night Like This,” by Dave Barnes.  My wife and I chose that song because it not only happened to be released right around when she and I started dating, but also because it’s one of the prettiest ballads either one of us has ever heard.  I couldn’t tell you how many times she and I have listened to it over the last five years, but it never loses its potency.  It’s a great song.

Considering the whole point of Fresh Scouts is to push and support lesser-known artists that we believe in, there was never a question that Barnes would be one of our first features.  Tank, KC, and myself all have seen his concerts multiple times, and we’ve been staunch supporters of every single thing he’s done from the time that we first started falling in love with his music.

Barnes is now wrapping up his fourth album, to be released this coming March, and he’s evolved as an artist since the days when he was writing “On a Night Like This” and similarly successful slow hits.

db2“Five years ago,” Barnes told Fresh Scouts, “if I was going to sit down and write a song, that’s what I’d sit down and write every time.  But it’s just not something I’m that attracted to anymore.

“This new record I’m putting out in March,” he continued, “I’ve kind of gone from writing those me-and-a-guitar ballads to a little more mid-tempo songs that are band-backed.  It’s a really fine line you have to walk because you don’t want to be known as the guy who just does that.”

He explains the change in his approach to songwriting simply by pointing out the maturity all adults experience in their last twenties and early thirties.  “I wrote so many of those songs when I was single and engaged,” Barnes explained, “and being married is just a different thing.  You look at life differently and write songs that are a little more in-depth.”

Plus, there can be too much of a good thing.  According to Barnes, “You start hurting ‘On a Night Like This’ when you write another song like that.  It’s one of the disciplines you have to have as an artist.  You almost have to tell the masses that, ‘Hey, I know you want more of that, but if I give you more of that, it’ll actually be less potent.’”

So this new album is moving away from Barnes’s bread and butter—the slow jam—but if Jim Carrey could do “The Truman Show” and “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” we’re pretty sure Barnes can handle slightly more up-tempo pop music.

“I finally feel like I can write songs that have a broader appeal,” he said about the new record.  “I’m hoping to create melodies and choruses that you would sing very quickly.

“There’s a really cool quote I heard that says, ‘The verses are for me, the choruses are for them,’ and I think there’s some real wisdom to that.  How do you write songs that you like playing a million times, but also that when you’re playing them in front of new crowds they can hear the chorus one time and the next time they’re singing it with you?

“It’s a funny record because it’s kind of half of that, but it’s also my most soulful,” Barnes said.  “Even the songs that are more poppy, I think there’s still a bend towards the more soulful, groovy stuff.  It’s the record I’ve been wanting to write for a really long time.”

The evolution of this young man’s music has been both entertaining and enlightening to watch over the years.  He’s not on a major label and doesn’t want to be, which means you’re not going to hear his songs on the radio you would a guy like John Mayer or Jason Mraz.  But he’s just as talented as those guys, and just as driven.

We all know how picky women can be about every mundane detail of a wedding, and for my wife to have green-lighted this guy’s song for our first dance really says something.  He’s Gabe-tested, Wifey-approved.  It’s hard to argue with such definitive acceptance.

About the Author

Joel Brigham writes about stuff. It’s pretty much all he cares about. Stuff like music and more music. But he mostly cares about music. And also music.

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