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Exclusive Q&A with Dave Barnes

On the heels of his new album release, Dave Barnes talks singing, songwriting, comedy, and his inspiration behind it all.

Written By:  Anna Kate Read

Photographers:  Robby Klein

Dave Barnes has been playing music for 16 years, and a lot has changed in that time. With his new album, Who Knew It Would Be So Hard To Be Myself, out last month, Dave Barnes is embarking on a new journey, combining music and stand-up on tour. Here, he talks singing, songwriting, comedy, friendships, and family—his inspiration behind it all.

Nashville Lifestyles (NL): How did being in Nashville influence this album or play a part in your creative process?

Dave Barnes (DB): Nashville has and always will influence all of my albums. Being in a community of people who play and write music always affects my process in so many ways—it’s so helpful, playing pieces of songs to friends as I work on them, writing songs with friends in town, having my friends here play on the album. All of my albums are made up of Nashville people—it’s one of my favorite things about making music, that my albums represent where I live and create, and how I’m influenced and inspired by Nashville.

NL: Do you have a favorite song or specific memory, story, anecdote, etc. from writing or recording?

DB: Both “Having Kids” and “Song for My Children,” I literally cried writing in my studio. Both of them! It was hysterical. I got to the last verses of each of the songs as I wrote them and lost it. “Having Kids” was especially potent—my kids were literally playing right outside my studio in the backyard, and I was writing the last verse as they were laughing and running around ten feet away.

NL: How have you changed—personally and musically—since your very first record 15 years ago?

DB: So many ways—but small ways, I think. Both musically and personally. Writing has gotten more and more dialed in. I’m more picky, harder on myself; songs seem to take longer. I’m not as satisfied as I was early on writing for my albums. I really try things on for longer than I did early in my career. I really want the songs to matter, and I also have written about so many things over the year, I don’t want to add to the noise—I want to make sure that I’m adding something to the cannon, if you will, that I hopefully haven’t exhausted before.

Personally, my life has changed so much. I am married, I have three kids, and I’ve been playing music now for 16 years. My perspective on so many things has changed! Things that used to seem so important now don’t seem as important, and things I didn’t even know mattered now mean so much. Music takes up much less space in my life, and family and friends have taken up a lot of that space in turn.

NL: What’s next for you in the coming months, year?

DB: I released my new album, Who Knew It Would Be So Hard To Be Myself, in February, so now I’m starting to play shows to support it. I’m super excited about the shows. I’m doing a combination of both music and stand-up. The show is going be part music, then part stand-up comedy—super excited to see how it goes and how people respond. (And, honestly, to see how we’re going to pull it off!)

NL: Is there a song you wish you’d written?

DB: There are so, so, so many. Man. Songs like “End of the Innocence,” “Mandolin Rain,” “The Living Years,” etc. But recent songs-wise, there is a song called “Hey, Laura” by Greg Porter that is so good. Really wish I had been in the room when he wrote that one!

NL: Who’s on your bucket list to write a song with?

DB: I’ve got a few: Bonnie Raitt, Stevie Wonder, Justin TimberlakeTori Kelly is a beast; I would love to write with her! There is nothing like writing with a Singer—like a Singer with a capital S. There’s nothing like having someone with that kind of voice sing a melody you just thought of. Goosebump stuff.

NL: You recently had a co-write with Thomas Rhett and Nick Jonas. How did that come about, and are any songs from it going to appear on Nick’s next album? *Fingers crossed!*

DB: Ha! I actually didn’t write with Nick, though he was there. Thomas just held a writing camp for his next album, and there were a bunch of us out there, including Nick. Sadly, I wasn’t paired up with him. (I kept trying to sneak my way into his writes but kept getting busted—ha!) I did get to write a few with Thomas, though, and that dude is a superstar writer. He’s written so many hit songs that other people have recorded; it’s frustrating how talented he is!

NL: You’re a husband, father, songwriter, performer, and comedian. How do you balance it all?

I’m not sure I do! I’m always going to err leaning toward family. As long as that’s good, the other will work itself out, I think. I love that I’ve been doing more comedy stuff, because it’s a huge part of my personality, and it’s fun seeing people respond to that. I was really careful for a long part of my career not letting the funny or random stuff not take over the music, but I’ve been doing it long enough now, that I think it’s the perfect time to really bring that part of who I am into my career.

Follow along @davebarnesmusic, or sign up for Dave’s e-newsletter at davebarnes.com/news.

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