Spencer Barnett is covering all his bases. Having grown up between the East and West coasts, recorded in Nashville, L.A., and New York, and touring intimate U.S. venues, his hard work as an independent artist has proven fruitful.
We catch up with Barnett, 22, via Zoom, as he is in his studio in Providence, Rhode Island, where he went to school at Brown University. Though he studied Cultural Anthropology at uni, music was always in the back of his mind. He satisfied his creative cravings by forming a community of fellow artists and musicians comprised of students from Brown University, as well as its neighbouring school, the Rhode Island School of Design.
“Being an artist is very intellectually stimulating in some ways,” says Barnett.
“But also leaves a gap in other ways. So it was great to tap into this community of academics and have incredible conversations with people about the way that the world works.”
Barnett says he didn’t grow up in a “super musically-oriented family.” He and his family lived in Manhattan until he was around “three or four years old,” before moving to San Francisco. Though he remembers his father playing “a little bit of piano,” he doesn’t recall moments when his parents shared or passed down some of their favorite music.
On car rides, Barnett often argued with his siblings on the way to school, as they insisted on listening to Top 40 radio. But when he was alone with his mum, she would often play the Beatlemania station, which, as its name suggests, heavily rotated the music of the illustrious UK band.
When Barnett was 13 years old, he got his first Spotify account, which opened even more doors for music discovery. Like his mum, he became quite fond of The Beatles – George Harrison being his favourite – and found inspiration from the likes of Alabama Shakes and Radiohead.
“I saw the vast wealth of music that exists out there in the world and really dove into,a bunch of different artists that really inspired my love for music, and opened my eyes to how much different music existed in the world,” says Barnett, “which I just wasn’t really exposed to at a younger age.”
While his music taste and travels span all over, Barnett, to this day, still considers himself “a West Coast boy at heart.” Some of his fondest memories include walking around in parks, taking in the sights, smells, and sounds of San Francisco.
“I had this slower pace of growing up, because I was in San Francisco, and I think it let me hold on to my childhood naivety and curiosity a little bit longer,” Barnett says.
But despite his affinity to take things slowly, much of Barnett’s music has come together fairly quickly. When crafting his last three EPs – Reckless, I’m Fine, and Welcome To My Mind – Barnett would begin writing and producing songs at the beginning of the week, then finalize the body of work at the end of the week.
However, this time around, Barnett’s upcoming project features him taking a different approach. “For this project, I really wanted to take a beat slow down, have time to experiment sonically and lyrically,” he says.
His latest single, “Swank,” features Barnett letting go, and inviting a loving feeling in.
“Always / I want to have you always / You know you want me always / Gotta have it always,” he sings over thumping, groovy drum loops.
“Swank” came to Barnett by way of a jam session with producers John Hill, Alessandro Buccellati, and Luca Buccellati. He felt inspired to name the song “Swank” (as he originally titled the audio file in Ableton) by the style of the sound.
Before its release, “Swank” lived many lives. “Some of the melodies were killed, then never came back,” says Barnett. But he remembers falling even more in love with the song after driving cross country from Los Angeles to New York with one of his best friends, photographer Bellamy Brewster–who shot the cover for the single. When he got to New York, he remembers standing on the roof of his apartment, reading the words he had written while looking out to city, and feeling a new sense of freedom.
“The song was kind of born out of this nomadic spirit, and I think you can hear it and feel it in the song, and in the lyrics, and the message,” Barnett says. “And there are a lot of nuances about the song that, surface level, is about a relationship with someone, and it being kind of tongue-in-cheek, fun, and exciting. But I think there’s also a deeper element that speaks to life itself, and your relationship more broadly to life, which is most certainly what I was feeling in that moment. It was a really exciting time, and it’s very uncertain. And that was exciting to me. I didn’t know what tomorrow is gonna bring.”
Barnett’s upcoming EP – which is arriving after two years of Barnett not releasing music – is the result of him taking time to stop and smell the roses, taking the time to travel and work in Joshua Tree, Nashville, and nearly every city in America where great music is made.
The past two years have been some of the most formative of Barnett’s life, which is what he wants to reflect in his upcoming project – the gift of time, and the beauty of allowing yourself and your art to breathe.
While he remains tight-lipped about the upcoming project, he is excited to talk about the genesis of EP. Making the EP, he was considering going one of two ways–creating a concept project, with an overarching theme throughout, or putting together a collection of songs, and allowing them to interact and correspond with his previous songs. He opted for the latter, as it would allow him to better display the wisdom he’s gained over the course of creating the EP.
“All of the songs are talking about like a similar experience different ways,” Barnett says. “And with this [EP] because [the production] spans a longer period of time, I really wanted to focus less on one lyrical theme, and have each song kind of live in its own world slightly in that regard. With the through line across all the songs being the instrumentation, and also this like, newfound sense of rawness and exposure, it’s kind of like, ‘boy meets world, boy learns something new about world, and boy changes.’”
Photo/Directing: Effy Feng @effylm__ Styling: Savannah Avant @slimsavvy
Makeup: Anna Kurihara @annakuriharabeauty Using MAC Cosmetics @macpro
Hair styling: Yukie Yamasaki @yukikie
Using Oribe @oribe
Words: Alex Gonzalez