"Be unapologetic about your art."
About Katrina by Katrina:
My name is Katrina Barclay and I am a musician/writer/wreck.
AH: I went to your CD release show at the DeKalb Theater and I was seriously blown away. I had heard from multiple people that you are amazingly talented..but I was not ready for the amount of talented you have. Before we get to your new album let’s start at the beginning. How did you get started?
KB: Thank you for coming to the CD release show. It was a small gathering, but knowing people like you were in the audience warms my soul. Good to know people are talking about the music I’m doing.
My singing and playing came at different times so I’ll start with voice first. As my mother tells it, I was singing commercials in front of the TV before I could talk. The closest thing I’ve ever had to a voice lesson was during college. I volunteered to help out with a Music major’s senior project. She had to teach me some breathing techniques and in return I would sing at her final presentation. I’m really glad I did it because I know a lot more about control and how a singer’s lungs and diaphragm need exercise to help their voice reach its full potential. Other than that, just the brilliant things you learn (mostly subconsciously) from being involved in Chorus and Show Choir. As for guitar, My grandpa showed me a few chords and I taught myself the rest by listening to the radio and watching other guitarists. I would find the notes that sounded right and then work my way to the full chord. I noticed a while back that I play a Bm (that’s the minor chord of B) in a different finger shape than most guitarists. Probably because I just matched the notes and placed my fingers on the frets where they were most comfortable when I was first learning.
AH: Every time I see someone doing what they love I always wonder what inspires them. What has inspired you?
KB: When I was young, my mother, aunt and grandfather fostered a love of performance in me. We traveled all over the map singing bluegrass gospel. However, my love of music itself came from my mom. Unlike her, I was raised to appreciate all types of music. She was into the softer rock of the 70’s. Bands like The Bee Gees, Bread, Three Dog Night, Marvin Gaye. Her dad wouldn’t let her listen to rock-n-roll. She inspired me to not be afraid to like genres outside pop cultural norms. Early on I listened to Michael Jackson, Toni Braxton, Mariah Carey…mostly pop and R&B. The moment I knew I truly loved rock music was when I was introduced to Queen at the age of 13. The song was “Bicycle Race” and my cousin was blasting it for me while she was whipping through traffic. I’d never heard anything so wild and wonderful. I bought every Queen CD I could find. I spent countless hours on dial-up internet watching Freddie Mercury interviews, obscure music videos and live performances. I joined chat rooms and mailing lists and Queen fan clubs. I searched for signed copies of vinyl on deep web sites. It was like I had found what I was looking for in the raw, operatic energy of an otherworldly vocalist. To this day, I am still both inspired and humbled to perform and sing because of my mom and Freddie Mercury.
AH: I cannot imagine the confidence it must take to get on a stage. I am always amazed that my friends can do this. How do you find confidence?
KB: For sure. Confidence is not something that just automatically happens. It’s built. And it takes time. It takes a lot of time. Getting on a stage. It’s strange. You want to be transparent, but sort of mysterious at the same time. I find I’m pretty terrible at being both, I just have a lot of practice from many years of performing. I know myself better when I’m on a stage. What I say and do are true reflections of me. I’ll spill what’s really going on inside right there in front of my audience even if I’ve keep it cooped up in my head all day long. I’m more gracious to my own demons, so to speak. My secret to confidence is never letting anyone know I’ve made a mistake. I laugh it off if I have to, but you still never know if a mistake was made or if it was just part of the show. I like that about performance. No one knows you’ve messed up unless you tell them. Once you get over the need to be like, “Man, I really messed that song up guys. Sorry.” you will realize no one thought that in the first place. But, because you pointed it out, they definitely noticed. Be unapologetic about your art. Besides, sometimes the mistakes are the best part cause you can learn from them. You can say, “Hey, now I know not to do that next time.”
AH: What advice can you give to all the people trying to find courage to pursue their dreams?
KB: Don’t ever let anyone convince you that your dreams are not worth pursuing. Simple as that. You’ll find courage in that mentality, believe me.
AH: What is your song writing process like?
KB: Good question. I wish I knew! Haha. Most of my songs come from specific interactions with people who float in and out of my life. For example, I’m sitting in a coffee house chatting with a friend when a guy I’m into comes over and braids my hair without a word. He’s got a girlfriend. He doesn’t care. The braid is proof. So driving home, I’m writing all over my hands how I could fall in love with him if I didn’t know better. When I get home, I grab my guitar and hash out some kind of chord progression. That’s my favorite part. When the lyrics find the melody. Like they met and fell in love at first sight and I had a part in bringing them together. I don’t believe in that in real life, but I know it happens in music. It’s not often that the music happens separately from the lyrics, but I can’t drive and play guitar at the same time.
Another process for me is just getting alone somewhere, playing guitar and throwing out random lyrics until I reach the point (if I’m lucky) where all the walls come down. The masks come off. The ones I didn’t know I was wearing. I’m singing things that are buried deep and I’m moving mountains to get to them. Beautiful, untamed music happens then. I’m kind of ashamed to say that I don’t share most of that stuff with the world. It’s actually a project near to my heart…to put those songs out there. The ones that really hurt, heal, conquer, love, and hate.
AH: Your album release show was magic. I was so excited for you and we hadn’t even met yet. What struck me almost as much as the music was the words you chose to speak, think it is really powerful when people use their platform to speak words they believe, and it seemed you truly believed what you were saying. Without trying to roughly summarize what you said, can you talk a bit about the message you try to present when you are performing?
KB: I don’t see it so much as an opportunity as just the way it is. I don’t try to capitalize on the fact that there is an audience in front of me. Maybe I should.
Before every show. I ask God to move me out of the way. I ask him to take over and do with me what He’s designed me for. It takes the pressure off. It’s no longer about me. What a lot of more religious people get trapped into thinking is that only a certain kind of music is acceptable to perform if you’re a believer. Like if I’m not singing about loving and praising God all day long it somehow insinuates that I’m not a Christian. That’s not true. The message I hope to present is that I am a Christian and I am real. I am not going to lie to you or anyone else and pretend that I don’t fall in love with boys or like tattoos or like discussing evolution and how science and faith work together. I’m not ashamed of any of those things. And I will continue to write music about all of it. Most of all, I just want people to experience love. I want to get on your level and take you to a place where you can learn to love yourself and be loved by others.
AH: As for the music itself, what does this record mean to you?
KB: This record is the heart of me. The songs I chose to put on the album came from a list of about 50. I pulled my favorites from that list. Gradually, my producer (the incredibly talented Austen Earp of Ethos) and I narrowed everything down to about 14 songs, which were then trimmed down to the 12 you hear on Element.
Each song has its own source of inspiration, but the album as a whole came together because I wanted to try something different. I wanted to be honest. I wanted to push my boundaries as a writer and performer. I love heavy electric guitars, pounding drums, and excruciatingly honest lyrics. I wanted to bring character to my songs with different types of instrumentation. So, the music Austen and I wrote together for Element was largely influenced by those bands I follow and love. Circa Survive and Sigur Ros had a hand in the bigger, atmospheric sounds you get from Crush, Coward, Explosions in the Sky, and Know Better, while you hear flavors of my favorite folk singers like Joni Mitchell in Money, Filthy Rags, and Trespassing. Also, Nick Riggs of Ethos brought the funk to the title track Element. I couldn’t have asked for better guys to have been involved in this project.
Element is particularly special because it turned into something collaborative between me and Austen Earp. It’s honestly quite rare to find a producer who you really connect with on a musical level. It’s crazy. In the studio, I would be sitting there trying to explain what kind of sound I wanted on certain parts and Austen would just pick up a guitar, play a few notes, and be like, “Oh, maybe like this?” and most of the time it would be exactly what was in my head! We had lots of moments like that. I think both of us realized early on that we were coming into this creative space together and that great things were about to happen. We wrote almost everything together aside from the bare bones of each song (melody, lyrics). Percussion, lead guitar, harmony vocals. And we arranged it. So what you’re hearing when you listen to the album is two artists and what they can accomplish by working together.
AH: What do you believe to be the hardest part of pursuing music or a creative medium of any kind?
KB: That’s tough because it can be different for everyone. I find the hardest part is caring about how other people will perceive your art. I can really get inside my own head sometimes and forget that it’s more about making music for the sake of music than for everyone’s approval. You’re going to create music that people love and hate or even feel nothing at all toward. It can be tough to keep that from bringing me down. I want to make music that people love! That mindset tends to hinder me and throw a huge wrench in my creativity so I try my best to gravitate away from it.
Oh yeah, something I didn’t mention. An artist’s life is a lonely one. You have to sacrifice a lot. When you’re travelling, especially as a soloist, you’re alone. When you eat on the road, you’re alone. When you’re writing new material, you’re definitely alone. And a lot of people won’t get it. They won’t understand why you don’t just give it all up and “settle down”. That’s hard too. Society wants you to believe you’re doing something crazy by just doing what you’re compelled to do. The important thing to remember is that you’re not completely alone. There are a lot of other artists who are on the same path as you and they know how you feel.
AH: Just in the few times I have been around you, I have heard you speak about your faith. I was wondering if you would be interested in sharing how your faith plays a part in your music, confidence, life, etc.
KB: I really can’t help talking about it, can I? A lot of the songs I write sort of demand it. My faith is at the core of me. Anything I say or do comes from that source. I’m a believer in Christ. I know the implications that sentence carries. I don’t pretend to be a certain way. What you see is what you get with me. I follow him and I’m not very good at it. I fall. I get up. I fall. I get up. I run away from him. I run back to him. Honestly, I don’t know why he puts up with me, but if you know anything about Jesus, you know he doesn’t leave his people. My walk with him pours into my songwriting and comes out in the finished product. I don’t have to think about it. I don’t sit down and start to write and say, “Ok, let’s write a Christian song tonight.” Nope. I’m going to make a lot of heads turn with this, but I’ll let you in on a secret – *whispers* I don’t believe a song can be a Christian. I believe people can be Christians. Michael Gungor has written a book about the parameters of genres, and it opened my eyes to some great stuff about not putting God in a box when it comes to music. Writing a song about your heart breaking is no different than writing one about how great God is. Both are songs. Both came from the heart. Neither one of them determine whether you are a Christian or not. Your life and your faith determine that.
AH: When I see you, you seem to really shine. You just carry such compassion and joy with you. I definitely believe we live in a time that compassion and joy aren’t as commonly found. What advice do you have for people who are trying to find joy within them?
KB: I wish I had gif to represent how doe-eyed I am after your sweet comments!
What is life without joy and compassion?! I agree with you. It’s kill or be killed out there. That’s how it feels. No one cares about anyone but themselves. Everyone leaves (Men & Mountains reference alert), depression and sickness encroaches on us, moms and dads desert us, friends stab us in the back, lovers nearly kill us. It can be overwhelming at times. I’m not saying I have any solid answers or advice, but I can tell you what works for me. And yes, I have to work at it daily, not always succeeding. When I wake up in the morning and talk to God and tell him how much I don’t want to get out of bed and face life, when tell him that I’m sick of living and I’m ready for the afterlife, when I can tell God that I can’t function and He’s going to have to do it all…He always comes through. I find that joy in this life is found solely in giving up control and looking to Jesus. Not inward, not at the world or the people in it. Just him. That’s hard to do. When I do that, I remember the joy I had when I first encountered him and that joy is insurmountable by anything the world has to throw at me. It just is what it is.
I’m not trying to shove my belief down anyone’s throat. I’m just telling you what keeps me sane. What keeps me from driving my car off the side of a cliff, what keeps me from trying every drug until I find something that numbs me completely because sometimes I just feel so much it’s like I’ll explode. God obviously has some kind of purpose for me or I wouldn’t be here. A lot of times life is hard and keeping faith can be even harder. But it’s worth it because in it, amidst all of the chaos, there is peace and joy.
What Katrina is listening to: