by Cindy Collins
Bryan Barnett sells “large pieces of iron” (cars) far more easily than the small discs of plastic holding his songs. “I honestly live the songs, which makes it hard to detach,” he explains. “It’s not just playing songs for fun or a hobby. It’s part of my life. I’m a pretty miserable guy (laughs). Actually, I hope someday I will write a record of all happy songs, but I want to do it when I feel that way.”
At the Chatterbox Pub, he talks about living in South Minneapolis and the hopes, fears and inspirations for his music. Barnett’s songs are filled with longing and regret, but gaze toward hopeful and resolved futures. Listening to Barnett’s emotive voice and guitar pulls me into his world, so much so that on first listen I had to take breaks every 20 minutes to go out in the sun.
Download an mp3 of Bryan Barnett’s song “What You Do.”
acutely self-aware Barnett continually raises his own musical bar and strives
for connectivity by sharing his perspective on life. An array of stellar local
musicians support this earnest and charming singer/songwriter and acoustic guitar
player who possesses a sweet (sometimes self-deprecating) sense of humor.
His forthcoming (and as-yet untitled) CD features three-fifths of the Olympic
Hopefuls (keyboardist/vocalist John Hermanson, guitarist/vocalist Eric Applewick,
and drummer Eric Fawcett) and many other guests. Brenda Weiler sings on an ethereal
song that’s also one of the most hopeful on the album, “Beauty in
the Rain.” Weiler also sings on “Ugly Boy,” a bitter song
Barnett first recorded in 2001, and revisits here. “One A.M.” features
Angie Solomon, although it’s a song Barnett feels conflicted about including.
He feels it’s the best song he’s ever written, but he realizes its
length (11 minutes) and level of honesty could upset the balance of the CD.
Barnett’s relationship with the album’s producer, John Hermanson,
began after Barnett moved back to Minneapolis from Portland, OR, where he lived
for four years while in college. Hermanson played 15 instruments on the new
CD, including violin, piano, bass, guitar and Rhodes, in addition to adding
back-up vocals. According to Barnett, Hermanson is “a super-cool guy,
and really cares for what he’s doing. He’s very good at giving input.
He’s always good about asking how I feel before we make changes.”
new album features more rock than his last (2003’s Two & Out),
and songs such as “Without You,” (one of Barnett’s favorites)
are more hopeful. “Sad Song #112” has banjo, tambourines, spirited
violins and even handclaps! It’s upbeat, but the dark vocals are tinged
with some bitterness. There’s an interesting juxtaposition between the
upbeat energy of the instrumentation and the bittersweet lyrics. Erik Applewick
plays lap steel on the new CD, sometimes more traditionally and sometimes more
dirty as on “Far From Gone,” a country rock song heavy with grungy
guitars and vocals reminiscent of Cat Stevens.
Discussing his influences, Barnett recounts seeing Mark Eitzel (American Music
Club) and Elliot Smith in Portland several times, and while in London for a
semester, he saw each of them perform in The 12 Bar Club, “the smallest
bar you’ve ever seen in your life.” He loves Eitzel, who’s
“prone to meltdowns. But if he’s on, your jaw can just drop; he
has amazing, kind of in-your-face, gut-wrenching stuff.” Barnett also
likes Mark Kozelek of Red House Painters and caught a Nick Drake tribute at
The 12 Bar Club. Barnett acknowledges name-dropping Drake has “ become
a cliché. But I was, for whatever it’s worth, a fan before the
Volkswagen commercial (laughs). Actually made the trek to his grave.”
much as Barnett loved Portland, where he had many good friends, it “never
felt quite like home,” he said. “The only problem with going to
school far away is that all my friends are scattered. It’s hard to call
them up and go have a beer.” He moved back to Minneapolis because he relishes
the familiarity from growing up here.
A favorite song on Barnett’s new CD, “Princess,” is dedicated
to his grandmother. “She’s 87, and has been the happiest person
I’ve ever met, [but] who had this recent tragedy with her sister dying.
For the first time in my life, I saw her sad and depressed and I was like if
she’s sad and depressed, then . . .” He laughs and shrugs.
Barnett shared another vulnerable moment about singing the gently pensive, yet
hopeful “Where Do We Go” for his brother’s wedding. “They
didn’t have much to choose from (laughs). Most of [my songs] are so miserable.
I was right in front of them, very close. It was really hard. I often have my
eyes closed when I play and I looked up and the bride was crying and I almost
lost it. I had to catch myself.”
Barnett, who recently turned 28, is anxious to get the forthcoming CD out to
listeners. He feels it’s a big step ahead of Two & Out. “Of
course I was really happy with the last one at first. I always think, ‘That’s
the best record that I’ll ever make,’ and hope people are happy
with it.” Maybe he can find a bright musical future ahead, if his beautiful
new CD is any indication. ||
Bryan Barnett performs on Thu. July 14 at the Bryant Lake Bowl with John
Ostby of Spy Mob. 9 p.m. All Ages. $7. 810 W. Lake St., Mpls. 612-825-8949.
Find out more about Bryan Barnett on his official website
on over to our mp3 page to download hundreds of tunes, including of Bryan
Barnett’s song “What