The James Barker Band needs no introduction in Canada. But in many ways, the band is preparing to start over again in Music City. And they’ve got some pretty powerful backing.
JBB signed a record deal with Sony Nashville on May 14. For Barker, it’s been a long time coming. Formed in 2014, the James Barker Band has scored a number of hits on the Canadian Country charts, as well as earning a JUNO Award (basically, the Canadian equivalent of a Grammy) for Country Album of the Year in 2018.
In an exclusive interview with Outsider, Barker discussed staying true to his roots as the band begins a new phase of its career.
“If you told us back in 2014, we weren’t going to sign with Sony until 2021, we probably would have been like, ‘We’ve got to do this for another six or seven years?'” said Barker to Outsider. “But it’s such a ride getting to play all over the frickin’ world. And getting to just write music, it’s been a blast.”
Forming the James Barker Band
James Barker has had country music on his mind since he was a kid. He is the son of the self-proclaimed biggest George Strait fan in the world.
In 2014, Barker partnered with Taylor Abram, Connor Stephen, and Bobby Martin to form the James Barker Band. From the beginning, the north-of-the-border troupe had their sights set on the U.S., too.
“Country music is American music,” says James. “And we want to be big in America. We want to be one of the front-runners down here.”
JBB played local bars in Woodville, Ontario, and backyard parties for friends. But the band quickly graduated to fairs and festivals. Soon, they were playing for 30,000 people at sold-out shows. They released three EPs and two platinum No. 1 hits in Canada. They also won several Canadian Country Music Association Awards.
Starting From the Bottom
But as soon as JBB crossed the border into America, it was back to playing bars and small venues. The James Barker Band has spent years trying to break into the American country music scene. And their hard work is finally paying off.
“We have this saying, it’s like that Drake song, ‘Started from the bottom and now we’re back at the bottom,'” Barker says.
But the band doesn’t plan to stay at the bottom for long. The James Barker Band has all the trappings of a Nashville success story. There’s honesty and sincerity to their music makes their songs relatable. As Barker says, they’re a working-class band making music about working-class people.
Barker grew up on a farm in Canada, in a long line of farmers. He often turns back to his hometown when developing ideas for songs.
“The one thing that’s so unique about country music is how it is all based in honesty,” Barker says. “It’s all about everyday life and kind of the experiences of being a human. That’s what helped us in Canada. We were just working-class dudes. And I think that comes out in our music and that was super relatable.”
‘Over All Over Again’
JBB celebrated their new record deal by releasing “Over All Over Again” on May 14. Penned by Barker, Travis Wood, Gavin Slate, and Todd Clarkfelt, the songwriters were inspired by Ronnie Milsap‘s “Smoky Mountain Rain.” Barker says he wanted to create a “2021 Beatles meets country music” version of the song.
James views the song as their big introduction to Nashville, as they prepare to enter a new stage in their career. It’s also a reintroduction for the James Barker faithful who have been following the band since the very beginning.
“It’s got a similar vibe to what we released in the past trying to stay to what the James Barker Band sounds like. But it’s kind of a refreshed version of that,” Barker says.
It’s been a long road to their big Nashville debut. But Barker isn’t forgetting the fans that supported him and the band along the way. Barker believes loyalty and staying true to themselves is what carried them this far and is what will propel their careers going forward.
“We got a team that wants to make good music we believe in and treat people well,” Barker says. “As long as that’s your team, I see no reason to need to switch.”