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Breanna Barbara really wears everything on her sleeves when it comes to making music. Her songs aren’t your typical narrations of stories told over and over again, they take the listeners on a journey through newfound emotions and exciting adventures—you can’t help but feel a connection!
Her first full-length album “Mirage Dreams” was released just a couple weeks ago on No Roads Records (featured on this week’s Discovery Corner) and has already been left on repeat here at BTRtoday. It’s like an F-5 tornado picked up Kitty Wells, Robert Johnson, Janis Joplin, and Patti Smith, spun around rapidly for a lifetime, and then dissipated to leave Breanna Barbara, sitting there all alone with a guitar in the middle of a cornfield.
Before “Mirage Dreams,” Barbara had only self–released a few rough singles on her Bandcamp that weren’t getting much attention. One day she thought, “what the hell,” and sent a few demos to Andrija Tokic at The Bomb Shelter, producer for groups like Alabama Shakes, Benjamin Booker, and Hurray for the Riff Raff. She had nothing to lose, so why not?
Well, to no surprise, Tokic loved what he heard and extended an invite for her to come record at The Bomb Shelter. She packed up her guitar, went down to Nashville, and recorded “Mirage Dreams” in only two weeks. Barbara tells BTRtoday that it was like a dream.
Artwork courtesy of Breanna Barbara
“I came out of it after the two weeks and I was like, ‘whoa, what just happened?’” She describes. “It was so surreal and fun—I didn’t want to leave!”
In tracks like “Daddy Dear” and “Mirage Dreams” her voice beautifully transitions from tragically woeful, to a warrior’s war cry with accompanying melodies that make your heart just drop. She confesses to BTRtoday that her favorite songs to play live are “Daddy Dear” and “Nothin’ But Your Lovin’”—the explosive ending in “Daddy Dear” and the build up in “Nothin’ But Your Lovin’” are her favorite parts to perform.
Barbara is no stranger to live performances. As a teenager, she attended a performing arts high school and studied musical theater. Though she admits she always felt her voice was inadequate compared to the other students, she can’t ignore the life lessons she learned there. “I always call theater school ‘identity school,’” she laughs. “It just helps you really get in touch with how you feel and why you feel things.”
She eventually found her voice after getting into writing some of her own songs. “I think I was comparing myself to these kids with vibratos and such,” Barbara explains. “I finally sang a song I was emotionally connected to and belched it out, and it just felt right.”
Even though many of the tracks on “Mirage Dreams” deal with mature subjects, a few of the songs were actually written when Barbara was around 18 or 19-years-old. To her this album is extremely personal.
“I think something really punctured through when I wrote the song ‘Mirage Dream’,” she conveys. “I was like, ‘god, I’d rather make people dance and scream with my music!’ So once that song was born I wrote a few more in that vein.”
As a solo artist it’s easy to get stuck in that one instrument phase, but once Barbara was exposed to the slide guitar, she couldn’t get enough of it and a band had to be introduced, though every now and then she still performs solo. During her record release show she played with a band, but then performed solo for the encore song.
“I had just started playing with a full band, and I was like, ‘yeah!’ It felt really really good,” she says. For the record, Tokic got members of Clear Plastic Masks to help out. However, recently she was able to form a full band to back her—guys she met while doing a side music project with her boyfriend Mike Brandon (The Mystery Lights).
Gabe Katz (drummer) and Peter Arthur (guitarist) are part of another band called Greasy Hearts—after playing just one show with Barbara, they were down to stick around. They recruited their friend Stephen Mersch (bassist), who was playing in another band called Sun Voyager. Then they found their keyboardist, Evan Heinze, in the midst of the audience at a few of their shows and then viola! Breanna Barbara had a band.
Photo courtesy of Sacha Lecca.
Now that she plays with a band, her music leans more towards the rock and roll side, rather than the kind of slow melancholy side she admits to starting out as. “I was just sick of playing that kind of stuff live, I just felt like it was kind of a downer,” she confesses. “I was like, ‘god, I’d rather make people dance and scream with my music!’”
In fact, at her show with Margo Price and Deer Tick, after her performance a little girl came up to her and explained to her how her “rock” songs were very influential to her as a blossoming lyricist. Barbara, the sweetheart she is, was very supportive of the girl and took photos with her, talked to her about music and her inspirations, and even took a few Snapchats with her.
Indeed, tracks on the album, like “Salin’, Salin’” and “Go Back” have a much harder “rock” theme, as the little girl would’ve put it, than other tracks like “Wood Demon” or “I’m Alright.” The two minute track “Salin’, Salin’” is fast and loud and makes you want to jump up and shake your head around. Where “I’m Alright,” though still influences your hips to sway, it gives you a chance to think deeper and helps your mind to wander.
Just check it out for yourself! Listen to (or better yet, buy it!) “Mirage Dreams” on Bandcamp, and follow Breanna Barbara on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to see what she’s cooking up next—cause we can tell you already, it’s going to be good!