In this Love Good exclusive interview, Jimmy sits down for a chat with his good friend Dave Barnes, the much-loved and extremely successful singer-songwriter. Together they discuss the inherent humility of living and working in a creative town like Nashville, the value of functional faith and approaching others with authenticity instead of strategy, and how to make the most of society’s constantly changing consumption of media.
CONVERSATION WITH DAVE [SUMMARY]
Dave Barnes grew up a pastor’s son in Mississippi. He was exposed to a wide variety of music from a young age, and embraced drums as his first instrument of choice. His high school years found him providing the beats for a band, and college years provided the backdrop for his foray into songwriting and playing the guitar. “It took me awhile to fall into a groove musically,” he says. His first EP was released in 2002, soon after he’d made the move to Nashville.
“What was that like – coming into Nashville and being surrounded by other artists?” Jimmy asks. Dave responds by laughingly reminiscing about his first couple years in town, during which time he worked a variety of odd jobs and hardly knew what he was doing when it came to networking. “The ‘Christian dudes doing mainstream music’ thing wasn’t common back at that time,” he says, and knowing who to connect with wasn’t evident. Dave worked as an errand boy in a studio and happened to connect with Matt Wertz, who invited him to do a couple weeks of touring with him. Soon thereafter, a well-recognized band asked the two of them to open for them on their tour, and from there his career continued to gain steam: as did his net of friendship. “Five years after moving to town I realized I had many wonderful friends who were approaching music and life [the same way that I was]. It had all happened organically.”
Jimmy directs the conversation back to Dave’s comment about being a Christian doing mainstream music. “What’s kept you in that balance and allowed you to keep writing out of that tension?” he asks. “Just looking forward,” Dave replies. “I had wonderful blinders and the doors just kept opening, so I didn’t feel the need to explore mainstream. The songs that came kept navigating that middle space that kept me from being pegged either way.”
Barnes’ burgeoning career coincided with the Mayer and Mraz boom. People wanted the singer-songwriter vibe, and Barnes knew he was good at that genre: the music he wrote was what came naturally to him. He explains that he wasn’t motivated by a desire to preach, but rather was simply trying to do his best at the talent he’d been given. “I don’t want to alienate anyone,” he says, “Christians or non-Christians alike.” Barnes says that his parents exemplified a “functional faith”, meaning the spheres of their lives coexisted: things weren’t compartmentalized or strategized, including living a life based on Christian virtue. “It wasn’t this – go prosthelytize and evangelize. It was – you be who you are. Let God do his job, and that’s enough. [This is] blue-collar christianity. [Being who you were made to be] doesn’t mean you have to kick down every door in the name of Jesus.”
Following this, Jimmy asks Dave how he stays humble, considering his success and evident talent. Dave good-humoredly describes the experience of being surrounded by people who are vastly more talented than he on a daily basis: knowing that the dish-washer at your favorite diner can probably pen a more poetic line has a way of keeping one’s feet firmly planted on the ground. So, too, does the reality that what’s most popular is what’s most current and fresh, and the competition to hold the crowd’s attention becomes fiercer the older a musician gets. “The new paradigm is singles and small batch songs, because people have less focus and time,” he explains. This segues the conversation into questions about media consumption in a fast-paced, desultory landscape: how are we supposed to navigate so much information, so many options?
For Dave, Spotify’s “Discover Weekly” playlist remains a constant source of inspiration. It offers a digestable sampling of the most current music (curated by your searches to match a specific algorithm), and this keeps Barnes abreast of what kind of sounds are coloring the scene. These playlists, he says, factored in heavily when he was writing his latest album: “When I listen to music, I tend to create music,” he says. “This is one way in which the nonstop availability of media is a good thing”, he says, while also admitting that it cuts both ways and can lead to a devaluing of artistic merit.
In closing, Jimmy picks Dave’s brain for some media recommendations that have fueled creativity. After some more reminiscing, a terrible pun, and some recommendations, Dave encourages listeners to follow him on social media: “Be warned: it gets weird. Come join us.”
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