The singer proves she's got the chops on her latest EP, "Me."
[Updated] For New Orleans’ Robin Barnes, life has been exciting since the July 10 release of her new EP, appropriately titled Me. More gigs fill her schedule, fans have begun recognizing her on the street, and funding for a full album looks promising. But more than anything, Barnes is thrilled to be taken seriously as a multi-genre artist. “It’s really cool because people are starting to catch on that I’m not just one type of music," she says. "I have my weekly gig where I do a lot of jazz, but when people go to festivals or to my more high energy shows, they’re like, Whoa, she’s everything else too.”
Part jazz, part R&B, a touch of pop and a little of rock n’ roll, Me establishes Barnes' potential as an artist, each song representing a different facet of her personality and past. The track “Running,” for example, is a soft, soulful piece that contemplates frustrations in the industry and a mom’s advice, while “What I Gotta Do,” Barnes' favorite track on the EP, boasts about the pathetic attempts of an ex-lover trying to win her back, set against a background of funk riffs and a wailing organ. The diversity of songs on the EP stems from her rich musical past.
“Growing up in New Orleans,” she says, “if you wanted to learn jazz, you were going to learn funk too. You had to learn the transition for a particular set. But also, being an MTV kid, I was exposed to a lot of different music on television that inspired me.” In addition to participating in the church choir and studying opera for seven years, Barnes sang with her family band, The Soul Heirs, and performed at church functions, jazz clubs, and on Frenchmen Street. The experience taught her early that versatility and flexibility were the foundation for success in music because, she says, “you never knew what audience you might have.”
For a long time, a career in music was not in the cards. “My family’s hesitation was that they wanted me to do music as a hobby,” Barnes says. “My other siblings got to do music as a career, but they were like, You’re the girl; you can just sing with your dad and brothers, but go to school for business. After earning a Masters degree and locking in a 9 to 5 job, however, she still wasn’t satisfied. “I was great at my job, but I just didn’t enjoy it. I asked myself, What makes me happy? and it was music, so I decided to give it one shot to see what might happen.”
The business degree wasn’t a total waste. Although it took over a year to find a steady paying gig, Barnes found modest success by packaging herself as an entertainer for special events such as New Orleans Fashion Week. “I would say, I hear Kanye West is on the Victoria's Secret stage; do y’all have a singer yet? I wasn’t going to hustle or put myself out there in an inappropriate or immoral way just to get a shot.” It wasn’t until she achieved her dream of playing Jazz Fest that success in the industry finally seemed attainable.
“My goal throughout life has been to sing at Jazz Fest. Not as a backup singer but as Robin Barnes. So when they told me that I got the Congo Square Stage at Jazz Fest, I thought the woman on the phone was lying; I went crazy.”
As a performer, Barnes enjoys challenging herself as well as her audience. When singing “La Vie En Rose,” for example, she changes the range of her voice in each verse to test whether the audience is paying attention. “I’m having fun up there, but at the same time, I’m singing a lot of alto songs, so I like to mix things up, just because that’s my personality in general. I usually start most of my songs in an alto, but then change to a soprano to see if people even notice.” Her approach to songwriting is just as spontaneous and unorthodox. “Every song I write, I’m in my car and I hum a little bit. If I hear a melody, I’ll hum it, and I’ll start tapping on my steering wheel. When I think it’s good enough, when I think I can sing to it or make up words as I go, I turn on memo on my iPhone, give it one shot and sing it the whole way through.”
Updated July 26, 1:01 p.m.
The release date for Me has been corrected to July 10, and photo credit has been added, along with a link to Barnes' website.