On ‘Barbara,’ Barrie Weighs Privacy and Truth

An interview with the multi-hyphenate artist on letting romance and grief into her music

On March 21, 2022
Photo by Alexa Viscius

When would the touring stop? Barrie Lindsay was getting tired. If you don’t actively take a break, she told me, “It’s just going to be shows forever.” She was touring with WHY? in fall 2019 when she made the conscious decision to get off the road for a while. She stayed in a family friend’s empty cottage near her parents’ house and gave herself permission to not write; primarily, to spend time with her family. Her father, who had cancer, had taken a turn: She wanted to be around him before that “final, traumatic” moment where her mom would say, “You have to come home now.” 

At the same time, Lindsay — who performs as Barrie — was having a romantic shift in her life. On tour with WHY?, she met their hired gun Gabrielle Smith, known under the moniker Gabby’s World. They only overlapped for a few hours, all told, but they kept in touch when they returned to Brooklyn; now, they’re married.

Going into her latest album, Barbara, Lindsay faced two life-shifting situations: Her relationship with Smith and the imminent passing of her father. “Those two things made me reset my priorities, and so I had a much more patient and reflective approach to making music when I went into writing this,” Lindsay said. But despite their impact on Barbara, she didn’t necessarily intend to share either event in the album’s rollout.

“I was very wary of feeling disingenuous and talking about vulnerability and making sure that it didn’t feel like I was just using [my situation],” Lindsay said. “I was afraid of sacrificing privacy … the currency of offering up little tidbits about your life in music.” 

She said her friend Greta Kline of Frankie Cosmos uses the phrase “the Trauma Olympics: like making your trauma into currency” for validity or acclaim. If Lindsay didn’t present the album with its surrounding circumstances, would it not be considered as seriously? Of course, if she did share her story, then the album might be shoehorned into that diaristic genre where so many female musicians get shunted, and who wants that?

“I was not confident that I was going to even mention my dad’s death or anything when I put out the record, or Gabby’s name, but it’s proven to be really good and special,” Lindsay said. She’s not sure what she was so worried about before, and it feels better for everything to be on the table for listeners. Especially because, when writing the lyrics, she felt compelled to write certain lines “because [otherwise] it feels dishonest. It feels like writing about a sunny day in the middle of a rainstorm or something, where it's like, who am I kidding?”

On Barbara, Lindsay sings, employs a dozen different instruments — including dulcimer, mandolin, cello, trumpet and her late grandmother’s harp — and sits in the producer’s seat, too. Buoyed by a sort of ’90s after-school warmth, Barbara hearkens to childhood even as it expands far into maturity.

Lindsay wrote Barbara with a “less cerebral approach like I've had in the past, the lyric-writing where I’m like, ‘What’s cheeky and what sounds good in the mouth to say and what is fun and accessible?’” Instead, she looked to what she wanted to say over anything else, moving from “hearing lyrics from outside of my head, basically, when I'm writing them, to hearing lyrics inside of my head and just being like, ‘What's on my mind, because I don’t really care about what other people are thinking right now, because what I’m thinking about feels so much more immediate.’” 

Though she put herself in a “music desert” while writing, she found inspiration in artists who worked or dressed or lived without caring for others’ input, like artist Louise Bourgeois. In other words, Lindsay said: “I aspire to not give a shit.” 

That’s why, on Barbara, she went more direct: No more overthinking feelings, no more camouflaging herself behind her words. On distant, electro-pop album closer “Basketball,” she croons to herself directly, repeating: “Come on, Barrie, do it right, come on.” It’s on par with the desperation and intensity that thread throughout an otherwise sonically bright album. (For example, “Quarry” is equal parts love song and gruesome accident, but the layered vocals lend a cheer that emphasizes the former.)  

A number of songs bear the distance often inherent to electronic production, but “Bully” and “Jenny” are fingerpicked outliers, striking in their simplicity and cut by lyrical cheekiness.  

   Photo by Alexa Viscius  

When Lindsay moved to New York, she became part of a band named Barrie — the band has since parted ways. She credited them with a newfound confidence. At the same time, that made a self-titled album, called Barrie, feel somewhat incorrect: “Barrie still felt like the previous iteration of the project. And I was like, well, Barbara is me, actually me, not this band.” 

“And also, I like the formality of it. In the same way that I believe in keeping a healthy distance between your own self, your own life and your professional life,” Lindsay said. “Yes, it’s my name, but it’s my legal name. And I have a bit of distance between myself and Barbara…  it’s sitting as a reminder to be like, ‘Yes, this is you and you’re talking about your life, but remember to keep it at a certain distance.’”

Still, the personal can’t help but bleed in. Lindsay recalled a Beach House song, “Walk in the Park,” that she covered often while touring. Its second verse starts: “The face that you saw in the door isn’t looking at you anymore / The name that you call in its place isn’t waiting for your embrace / The world that you love to behold cannot hold you anymore.” 

“Every time I sang the line about ‘The face that you saw in the door isn't looking at you anymore,’ I was just picturing my dad in my bedroom doorway. And I had to stop singing that song because it just made me sad, imagining him not being there anymore,” Lindsay said. 

When she wrote “Harp 2,” she thought: What’s my equivalent line? My version of that idea? It became: “Saw your face in the doorway / When you were coming back the other way / You said, ‘You should try to be good, and if you can’t, be careful.’” The track itself is warm and echoey, propelled by gentle fingerpicking: nostalgic and summery with a slow build. But its tone belies its mourning.  

“If I couldn't even sing the Beach House line when he was still alive, I’m not gonna be able to sing my version,” Lindsay said. “I think when it comes to actually playing the songs in front of people, I might be surprised by what becomes happy moments and what catches me off guard.”

SHARE THIS ARTICLE email icon
Profile Picture of Caitlin Wolper
Caitlin Wolper

Caitlin Wolper is a writer whose work has appeared in Rolling Stone, Vulture, Slate, MTV News, Teen Vogue, and more. Her first poetry chapbook, Ordering Coffee in Tel Aviv, was published in October by Finishing Line Press. She shares her music and poetry thoughts (with a bevy of exclamation points, and mostly lowercase) at @CaitlinWolper.

GET THE RECORD
VMP Exclusive Pressing
$30
Join the Club!
Join Now, Starting at $33
Hmm, no results for this search. Try again or browse the store.
Shopping Cart

Your cart is currently empty.

Continue Browsing
Help Us Support the People of Ukraine
Donation for the People of the Ukraine
Other Customers Bought

Free shipping for members IconFree shipping for members
Safe & secure checkout IconSafe & secure checkout
International shipping IconInternational shipping
Quality guarantee IconQuality guarantee