Interview: Young, talented, genuine – Spencer Barnett

I had the absolute pleasure of conducting my very first phone interview this past Thursday. Sitting on the floor of my bedroom here in Bozeman, MT, I called Spencer Barnett who was an hour behind, in San Francisco. I shyly admitted this was my first phone interview and he humbly responded it was his first interview about music BUT had just finished doing a handful of interviews for various San Francisco high schools. Spencer Barnett is 14. Being a “rock star” has always been a dream of his but he never really expected this incredible opportunity to fall into his lap. I told him it was inevitable considering how naturally talented he is. I think I could feel him blushing through the phone. It is so TRUE, though. Listen to his cover of “I Will Follow You Into the Dark” by Death Cab For Cutie, below:

Not only is that one of my favorite DCFC songs, but Spencer’s voice just tugs at my soul in a way that even the DCFC version does not. Chatting with Spencer was a wonderful experience and gave me hope for our musical youth, though I’m not sure if all 14 year olds are as mature and clear-headed as Spencer! We talked everything from being nervous about playing live shows, his idea for a creative and thoughtful record label and how it all started. Some of my favorite parts of the conversation you can listen to and all of the other bits (which are equally as awesome) are written up below:

You’re 14, right? Tell me about high school.

Yes, I am. I start high school this fall. I, I am going into a different school so I’m applying to schools and I’m really excited. It’s going to be a change but mainly, yeah, I’m super excited.

Are you going to do music? What do you do in school in terms of music? Do you do choir or band?

Yeah, I think I’m going to do jazz band next year. Which is going to be exciting. I haven’t had too much experience with jazz but the little I’ve had has been really fun.

 But obviously you’re a fantastic singer as well. Is that just on the side?

There’s singing in that too but also I’m doing a lot of music at home, too and practicing and I’m working on my singing.

I was curious about the fact that you are so young but you’re obviously propelling yourself towards a musical career. How did that even start?

Chuckles: Well, my parents have this friend, Stephan Jenkins (we’re talkin’ Stephan Jenkins from Third Eye Blind) for awhile now and he came over to dinner one night and I thought it was so cool. He was a rock star. I was in awe (chuckles) and I played him “All of Me” which is one of the tracks on my album and he really liked it. And we ended up going to Malibu and recorded these 5 covers that we both picked together and it kind of all fell in place after that. It’s been really exciting.

How did you decide to go the playing covers route? Do you write your own original stuff too or was that just a fun way to dive into recording?

Yeah well the first EP is mainly a cover album because it’s a good way to get some music out there whereas an original album would take longer. But I currently am working on an original album that will come out next year.

How did you guys pick those songs? They’re all from such different artists. You take all of these styles that are very different from each other and you put your twist on them. They’re unrecognizable in style compared to the original artist but the melody is totally there.

Chuckles:  Thanks. Well, Stephen and I both picked these songs together. We felt that we needed to have a diverse group of songs inside the album because it’s important to not have to listen to the same songs five times (chuckles) but each song has a different meaning and we tried to pick songs that have deeper lyrics. I prefer songs that have deep lyrics and make you think more. We did some classics like “Hallelujah” and some that are out today like” All of Me.”  At the time, it was one of the biggest songs and yeah we tried to have a lot of different genres represented.

Listen to the short clip below when we talk about how Spencer started playing music:

Has it been a dream to do this kind of thing or was it a surprise? It seems like it was kind of a surprise!

 It’s been a goal. I’ve always wanted to be a rock star. When I was little, I wanted to be a rock star and everything  but you never really think, like, the chances are so small of it actually becoming a reality. I just had the opportunity to start around the track to that and it’s really exciting. It took me by surprise at first but it’s been so fun. Kind of a shock but it’s been really exciting and fun.

 Those are excellent words to have associated with this experience. Whenever the words stress and frustration come in its not so fun but that’s great you’re enjoying this opportunity that sort of fell into your lap. You’re obviously very talented so I think this whole thing would have been inevitable!

Have you played live? Or, are you mostly doing the recording thing or playing with your family?

I’ve been trying to do more of that. Actually, this summer I’m going to open for Third Eye Blind in San Francisco at the end of their tour which is super exciting. I’m super stoked for that. This show will either be July 25th or 26th, it’s TBD but it will be at The Masonic in San Francisco!

Are you naturally a performer? Do you get nervous? Is it one of those where you’re very nervous before but once you get going it kind of wears off?

 I think the most important thing is practice so I think I’ll grow as a performer the more I play. I don’t know, I do get a little nervous but the first five min are the hardest part and then it’s really fun (chuckles.)

 I can imagine. I’ve been dancing for almost 20 years but before I go stage I literally feel like my heart is going to fly out of my mouth because it’s beating so fast and my muscles are all shaking but those are not good things for dancing! But, after a second or 30 seconds, I kind of fall into it. The nice thing about dancing though, is that the theater is dark and you can’t see anyone in the audience so you kind of feel like you’re not performing for anybody. I don’t if you get that opportunity or if you can see everyone’s faces.

 Yeah, I know what you mean. I find it easier playing for more people than less because, like you said, you don’t see them. It’s just a big blur of light but when you play for very few people, I get way more nervous because it’s fewer people and you can see every face and identify people and it’s a lot more nerve wracking.

 Did you grow up in San Francisco or is that just where you live now?

 I guess you could say I grew up in San Francisco. I’m originally from New York. I was born in New York. I lived there for 5 years and then I moved to San Francisco when I was about 5.

 Talk about opposite ends of the country! Have you gone back to visit New York at all?

 Yeah, I’ve had the chance because most of my family is still in New York so we go and see them occasionally which is nice.

It’s almost kind of distracting, too because it’s like that person’s picking their nose or that person is yawning or that person’s texting!

Where would your fantasy places to tour be? If you were to pick a few cities to play live where would they be?

 I haven’t’ thought about hat before! In the country, maybe New York, LA, Chicago, and Miam? But out of the country, I think Japan. i think that’d e really cool. I’ve seen a lot of videos of concerts in Japan and the fans are pretty crazy I’ve heard.

What’s your plan for this summer? Recording your new album?

 Hopefully, yeah. I’m going to do some writing this summer and hopefully finish the album and if we get around to recording it that’d be great. If we can get it out early next year if not maybe mid next year. Definitely next year, though.

My next favorite part was when we talked about balancing school and music, his other hobby, tennis AND a really great idea for a record label:

It doesn’t get much more motivated than that. We talked a bit about Spencer’s EP, ’13 Summers In’, which came out this spring and he recorded last summer, literally when he was “13 summers in” to his life. Pretty amazing young man if you ask me. His EP is available for purchase on iTunes. Check out one last taste of the EP. This is Spencer’s take on Bon Iver’s, “Blood Bank”:

HUGE thanks to Spencer Barnett for talking to me. I’m really looking forward to his new album which (HOPEFULLY!) will be out early next year, but he promised next year, no matter what! He also shared a few press shots and photos of him in the studio. For more about Spencer go to his Facebook page or official website.

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