When the world shut down, Barrie found herself at home in Massachusetts with her family. “I found myself kind of lucky that I had a place to go to around people whom I loved,” she shared from her home as we talked in January about Barbara, her sophomore record that’s out today via Winspear. After touring heavily for a year off of 2019’s very strong debut Happy to Be Here, the songwriter (whose full name is Barrie Lindsay) found herself at a pivot point; she felt burnt out amidst the demands of the industry and the specter of her father’s long battle with cancer at home, and also felt the pressure of existing within the confines of a band that disbanded amicably and became Lindsay’s solo project amidst the hype. Suddenly, she was alone creatively, grieving the impending loss of her father and also falling in love with her wife Gabby, whom she married in the pandemic. This tension and full-throttle emotion is fully explored in Barbara, which accentuates itself on Lindsay’s incredibly personal songwriting that spans the gamut from recollections of youth in Massachusetts to full-blown realizations of love within its 35-minute runtime. It’s the type of record that exists in a nostalgia-colored hue while describing a feeling that you’ve yet to feel. Barbara is a stunning step forward for Lindsay — as someone who wore out Happy to Be Here on my turntable, it’s easy to see this album’s ability to win over the masses thanks to her remarkably precise grip on melody and the dense arrangements of these songs. The 80s textures of songs like “Quarry” and “Concrete” exist in tandem with echoes of early-2000s NYC art-pop on “Dig” and “Frankie”, and it creates one of the best listens of 2022 so far. When reflecting on the album, Lindsay was thoughtful and pensive — carefully intentional about each step, and seemingly ready to take on the next chapter of Barrie:
There’s a fascinating fusion of identities that takes place on this album. You go by Barrie in both a literal and artistic sense, Barbara is your legal first name and the title of this album, and Barrie was also the name of the band that recorded Happy to Be Here. What is the separation for you between Barbara and Barrie?
It’s funny, that’s something I’ve been trying to work out since I came up with the name Barrie. I just sort of assumed that I’d figure out as I got into it — sussing out and disentangling why it feels right. There’s something about the distance and professionalism that I’m trying to keep and remind myself of in that, yes, music is about connection and vulnerability, but it’s also a job. As with any job, I think that it’s important to have a separation between your personal self and your professional self. And you know, people might say “well, yeah, but you titled your name after your nickname” in an effusive way, but it just felt fitting for what I was trying to create. Barbara, in particular — I love that name. It’s my maternal grandmother’s name, and my whole life I’ve gone about trying to live up to the idea of that name; I’ve felt a bit of imposter syndrome in trying to live up to that heavy, 1950s-femme name, and now felt like a good time to own it and come into my adulthood.
Now’s the time to embody Barbara, I suppose.
Yeah, now I can put on the shoulder-padded suit of that name (laughs). I can think back to when I was, like, twelve years old and being a little tomboy — I haven’t quite figured it out, but I told myself that I was going to figure it out over the course of this record. Talking about it in this context helps me figure that out a little bit more every time.
You know, weirdly enough, I can relate to that. I’m named after my paternal great-grandfather who was a pretty wild dude — grew up in rural Alabama, whiskey-running, bear of a guy. I’m not a junior, because my name skipped a couple of generations; but there’s this realization as you’re growing up that maybe you don’t want to carry family names for the trauma and emotion that it brings.
Right! It’s incredibly heavy, especially when it intersects with the spheres of white fragility and the reckonings that we have undergone in the past couple of years. You have to step up and own it, even the bad parts because that’s how reconciliation can occur. For all of us, it’s an opportunity to accept that unpleasant part of family history and say “I’m going to change that for my family going forward.” That’s better than just saying “fuck you guys”. (laughs)
My favorite track on the album is “Bully” — it’s so wildly different from anything you’ve done. How did that song come into existence?
“Bully” happened after I picked up a dulcimer at my parents’ place. I grew up around my dad with him playing the dobro and these old folk instruments, and I was trying to find a way to wedge dulcimer into my music without it being super tacky. This was the first song where it felt like this could be a good way to do that; I wanted to make it like a “Teenage Dirtbag” type of song, where it’s not full-blown folk. There’s just one dulcimer (laughs). The rest of it is just a guitar song, but there’s something about the drone of the dulcimer that tugs at your heartstrings and imbues this bittersweet, nostalgic feel that other instruments can’t achieve. I’m glad you like that one; it’s really fun to play.
This is easily the most diaristic music you’ve ever created. For the first time, I’m listening to this album and really understanding what’s going on in your life, and I think that reflects the album title and its personal nature. Was there a point in the creative process where you decided the album title and the general direction of the record, or did that come naturally?
You know, I’ve only made two records, and I think the hardest part is coming up with the album title (laughs). You always think “I’m going to figure it out — it’s just going to come to me” and then at the end your label is telling you “okay, Barrie, you have to give us the name now” and you’re like “oh fuck” (laughs). I was just talking with my wife and asking myself what could encapsulate this record, and I realized it just felt like a self-titled album. I’m actually talking about my life and I made it — and then it occurred to me that a self-titled album carries significant heft, and Barrie was already loaded enough because it’s the band who made the previous album, and I realized that Barbara was the purest self-title I could think of. My manager sent me this clipping in the UK where they wrote about the album and said something along the lines of “Barbara is titled after her wife” and even though that’s not true, I kind of like it in that people can get confused about it. I like the idea that I fell in love with Barbara and married Barbara, because I think I definitely learned to love myself in the making of the album. In that way, I don’t mind the confusion.
You say something interesting that I want to dive into — Barrie was a band. I loved Happy to Be Here so much, and I feel like every bit of press around that record focused on the closeness of the band and this group of people that united to make a great record. When the band disbanded and this became a solo project, I remember feeling surprised despite the amicable nature of the disbandment. What happened there, and is there any apprehension or fear in making this a purely solo endeavor?
That was like our whole pitch, you’re right. “There is this group of people from around the world that love each other and get along.” And that is completely true, and it’s still true – the group of people that made that record are a special group of people, and I love them dearly. At the beginning of the project, I was a little shy of the spotlight; I really enjoyed the group dynamic because it deflected some of the attention off of me and into the rest of the group. Changing that was lowkey terrifying, because suddenly that attention is all on me now. I can remember asking myself “can I handle five times the attention I was getting before?”
It’s a tricky thing, because I’m the only one you’re talking to, so I’ll give my perspective on what happened — I’m sure if you asked everyone else, there would be a slightly different take. So I try to be careful and diplomatic about it, but there’s nothing to be diplomatic about! It’s a great group of friends. Basically, I’ve always made music by myself; I started making music on Logic and GarageBand when I was fourteen and wouldn’t show anybody what I was doing. That’s primarily how I’ve made music for my whole life, and I’m 32 now. The idea of doing it collaboratively seemed appealing, and then I just realized that I really love making music by myself. Everyone in the band is a super talented musician and producer, so it just didn’t feel right to ask them to just slot in for the live show after I make records. It felt exploitative to be the bandleader in that type of environment, because they’re all such incredibly talented people. Once we had that realization, it was incredibly easy to share that because, again, they’re all talented and had their own projects to focus on. The arrival of COVID was lucky in that it gave a natural breathing period after that transition; when you’re a new band that starts to get a little hype and a little momentum, there’s a period where everyone’s asking you to do everything all at once. In that vein, it was nice to just relax for a bit and do things on my own after that transition. I’m still learning what it means to be a solo artist — I’m brand new to doing this in a public setting completely on my own. When you’re in a band, you have to be cognizant of when you say or do things and understand that it impacts everybody; there’s a certain freedom in being able to 100% own what you do and what you say.
I think that freedom does fuel the personal nature of this record.
Totally. It’s been very interesting doing press for this versus the last record because I can just speak more honestly from my heart about the experiences that created Barbara.
Those experiences were both incredibly high and incredibly low — the press release details that you lost your father to cancer and got married to your wife around the same time. I’d love to know about how each of those experiences influenced Barbara.
Before COVID, I was on tour and I remember talking with my friend who’s a tour manager and he asked me “what do you want to do?” I was feeling stressed and weird because my dad was sick — he had cancer for five years at that point, and it was basically scan-to-scan on if he was good or not. If you make it to the fifth year of cancer, there’s some sort of stat that says you’re 90% more likely to die. And I told him that I didn’t want to be on tour and, like, wait it out for my dad to die. He told me “You’re your own boss – just go home.” And I was like, “Oh yeah.” So I did that. (laughs) I went home to Massachusetts and just told myself that I was going to be home, and if I write, I write, and I didn’t want to apply any real pressure to myself to make music like we were talking about earlier. That lack of pressure is very unusual in this industry — my label is wonderful in that regard. That experience gave me space to dwell and a sense of “who fucking cares?”; when you’re that close to death, nothing else really matters. It’s not that music is pointless, but who cares about your voice being pretty on an album or getting on a certain playlist when your dad is dying? I decided that I wanted to do what made me happy instead of feeling this pressure to create something commercially important; I was with my parents, and then my wife, both of whom I love so much, so that enjoyment and looseness definitely found its way to the album.
As for getting married, my wife Gabby, who’s a genius musician and producer in her own right, really inspired me to accept collaboration in that solitary time. Like I said, I do things alone in a “don’t look at me” way, and when she came into my life, I just realized that I could show her things and feel safe doing so. Love songs aside, just having her listening and caring about what I was making made it a totally different record than what it would’ve been without her. She’s the executive producer on this record, and I can’t be more grateful for her.
Is this newfound vulnerability comforting to you? I could imagine that going from the solitary process of making a record to suddenly talking about these very heavy life events could be tough.
That was something that we talked about a lot when we were getting ready to announce the record. My management and label were very adamant that I didn’t have to talk about any of this if I didn’t want to, and admittedly, I didn’t. You know, who wants to talk about their father dying? But the closer I got to it, I got more comfortable in my ability to really process it in a more public way. For years, I dreaded the idea of all of these people reaching out to me — like random aunts and cousins — when my dad died. The pity and reminder that something devastating happened to you seemed like a nightmare to me, but when it was actually happening, it was actually very wonderful. The people that collect around you in times of sadness are actually really important to make your way through it. The more press that I’ve done for this album, the more I’ve realized that it does feel good to talk about it. My dad died in October of 2020, so it’s been a year plus a few months — if it was six months after, I think I’d give a very different answer. But right now, it feels good, and I would’ve never expected it either.
Stream or purchase Barbara here.