The first time one listens to the James Barker Band, their palate for traditional country blended with their own unique vibe, is apparent almost immediately. Following a string of success in their native Canada, topping the country charts with current single “Chills” which was preceded by a top 5 and top 10 hits with “Lawn Chair Lazy” and “Just Sayin’” respectively, the James Barker Band is working to achieve that same glory in the U.S.
Eclectic is just one word to describe the group’s sound, who blend traditional country music with clever, and even humorous, lyrics. Whether singing about the excitement of new love on “Chills” or dropping a tongue-in-cheek party song with “Living the Dream,” the group knows how to deliver a one-of-a-kind country song. Their 2017 EP “Game On,” created from leadman James Barker’s expansive song catalogue, embodies this sense of uniqueness.
“It’s got a lot to do with picking the ones that work together,” Barker says of how they select a collection of songs for a project. “We really just kind of built them one at a time and then it kind of went from there, which I think is a little different than what we’ve done for stuff in the past or the way most people do it, but it was kind of nice because we had the freedom to choice whatever songs we wanted.”
And for the band, comprised of Barker, Taylor Abram, Connor Stephen and Bobby Martin, audience reaction is key when determining what songs to include on a project. “One thing we always use as a gage for when we’re picking songs – for everything we do – is we always try them out live first and basically gage the audience reaction and that’s exactly what we did with this,” he explains of the selection process for “Game On.”
That’s where “Chills” comes into play. The catchy track has been in the band’s rotation in their live shows for years, and the excitement the fans had for it the first time they heard the song still lives up today. “People just completely exploded, they love that song, and to us, that’s a pretty good sign that maybe you should record that song. If people react to it, then that means it’s doing something right,” Barker says of “Chills,” which hit No. 1 on the Canadian country charts in 2017. “It’s got a really cool vibe to it. It’s almost got a darker vibe but in a romantic way, which is kind of different. It’s like that love story, first time meeting or going out with someone, but in a really dark way. And I think that darkness and emotion side of it plays off each other so well, I think people really connect with that.”
While their roots lie north of the U.S., Barker has spent many years writing in Music City, calling the city’s pool of talent a “major influence.” “Most of our work, kind of learning we’ve done, has been in America,” he says. Like most Nashville natives and newcomers alike, Barker is aware of the vast array of talent that is drawn to the town, allowing the city to churn out hits and non-stop creativity, which is thrilling for Barker. “[It’s] almost like there’s inspiration in the air, just from being around there,” he explains. “So just being around that all time, it forces you to want to practice and get better so much harder when you’re in the thick of it.”
And some of Nashville’s greatest are his biggest inspirations. Speaking on behalf of the band, Barker claims Eric Church and Keith Urban as their most prominent influences when it comes to making music. “He does do such a different, diverse style of music, but then he can bring it right back and do straight up traditional sounding country and soul ballads and emotional stuff,” Barker says of Church. Another country giant also appears at the top of the list. “I know like every word to every George Strait song,” he laughs. “So I think that’s a subconscious thing in my mind too when I write that comes in.”
All of these influences come together in the group’s music, with Barker humbly saying that their goals for the future involve continuous growth and making music their fans love. “I think the one thing for us as artists and just musicians and creators in general is we just want to make sure that we’re always pushing our own personal boundaries and pushing musical boundaries and finding ways to do things differently or do things new,” he describes. “If all these people like it and we enjoy playing it, I think that’s really the only guide you can use for it.”
“Game On” is available now.