By Mike Dunn
EDMONTON – Anyone who pays attention knows that even the moderate success of building a career as a working artist in Canada is a hard run. Some artists aren’t content with creating something that’s reflective of their own reality, and would rather focus their own efforts on appeasing their ego by seeking the validation of an industry that is often content to move on from them as soon as they’ve served a temporary purpose. Even the highest wave breaks eventually, and crashes back to the surface. Manitoba singer-songwriter Del Barber caught a run of breaks for a time, and while he looks back on the experience fondly, he realized that he might never be exactly what the industry was looking for.
“It’s something I’ve wrestled with for three years,” says Barber. “Since I got the call from my management saying they weren’t willing to work with me anymore, and then the same call from the label a week later. Up until that point, it was all positivity, and there was all this money for promo and touring, and then the well was dry.”
Barber adds that his personal choice of where he calls home might have had something to do with those business decisions, and it might have been deeper than that. “I have this really idyllic home here in Manitoba, out here in the sticks, and maybe part of it was that I wasn’t really visible in the scene. I wasn’t at all the shows, I didn’t move to Toronto. More likely though, and this is a hard admission, I wasn’t really selling many records, and I wasn’t selling many records because I wasn’t good enough.”
While a number of artists work through self-doubt in different ways, Barber’s approach to admitting his personal faults took a more healthy approach.
“Clearly, I’m not as good as John Prine, and I’m not as good as Tom Petty, or any of the other artists who’ve shaped my approach to music. And I want that motivation. I want to know that the people who made me become an artist are always going to be better than me, so that it continues to push me, it keeps the willingness to keep working alive.”
Barber’s latest record, Easy Keeper, due this spring, sees him refining the country-folk sound people have come to expect from him — folksy, charming, with the happy-go-lucky-through-a-whirlwind humour that has defined his previous work. Barber co-produced Easy Keeper in Edmonton with Grant Siemens of The Hurtin’ Albertans, and veteran Alberta roots music engineer Scott Franchuk. While getting to the actual recording process involved some soul-searching, and the swallowing of some hard truths, Barber is proud of the work, and of continuing to grow into the artist that reflects the man he is.
“Sam Baker told me that the songs are all we’ve got. When you’re gone, no one’s gonna remember that show where you said something dumb, or the tweet, or the Instagram post. There are a lot of ways for artists to detach themselves creatively from who they really are. That’s the deepest evil for artists today, that the opportunity for insincerity is as easy to grasp as it’s ever been. That’s not what I want to do. I want the music I make to be a part of me, of who I was, who I am, and who I’ll become.”
Del Barber plays at The Station On Jasper in Edmonton on Jan. 24.Del Barber, The Station on Jasper