Sam Barber Is in Go-Mode

He’s opened shows for Bruce Springsteen and Ed Sheeran, has been compared to one of his heroes, Zach Bryan, and somehow made it out of a town of roughly 200 people to get to this thrilling moment in his career. But burgeoning country artist Sam Barber, who this week will appear at Stagecoach, remains a bit uncomfortable with his current position in his career.

Sitting in Minneapolis venue Fine Line’s basement, the 21-year-old Missouri-bred singer-songwriter admits it’s not uncommon for him to still bask in self-doubt. “I still get in my head like ‘Maybe all this isn’t for me,’” says Barber, who is following in the path of artists like Bryan and Tyler Childers as an earnest, expressive-voiced country-adjacent artist. After talking to him for a few minutes Barber also gives off the vibe that he appears to give zero fucks about pleasing other people.

He’s been playing guitar for five years and has only been performing for the past two, so the attention on Barber is a new phenomenon for him. And seeing as he’s given very few interviews to date, it takes a bit of prodding to get the musician to open up. But once he does, Barber makes himself clear: as much as major labels and the like would like him to do so, he has zero interest in the whole Nashville Music Row scene. Case in point: his management and record label tried to get him to write with seasoned, hit-making country radio songwriters once he proved he was the real deal. Not his thing.

“It just didn’t work for me,” Barber says bluntly, going on to explain how he finds it difficult to get on the same emotional page as another writer. “These [professional songwriters] are guys that are sitting in a room at 10 a.m. every day, three sessions [per day], and they’re just writing to write. And then they’re out of ideas and they’re just trying to throw shit at the wall and hope it sticks. When I sit down to write, I’m trying to put a thought into something.”

It’s easy for him to feel as if he knows what he’s doing by himself: after all, the first song Barber ever wrote — when he was 16 and just discovering he could even sing — “Straight and Narrow,” exploded on TikTok and has since racked up nearly 150 million streams on Spotify to date.

Why “Straight and Narrow” became his signature song, however, remains something of a mystery to him. “I still don’t understand how it happened,” Barber says with a shrug. “It’s probably the song I wrote the fastest. I didn’t even know how to write a song. It didn’t really mean anything to me at the time. I wrote a lot of old songs that I would never play for anyone that were so bad… I don’t know why that was the one.”

The song jettisoned him to where he is today. Before it took off, he was just another 18-year-old enrolled at State Technical College of Missouri. That’s when his now-managers came across his music online – almost exclusively covers at that time – reached out to him and suggested Barber leave Missouri and move to Montana where they are based to pursue a musical career. “They were like ‘You’re gonna drop out of college and move to Montana.’ I didn’t have any money. I wasn’t doing well or anything. I couldn’t even buy a Pepsi,” he says with a laugh in reflection. “I went out on a limb and moved to Montana. I don’t think my mom was too impressed by it. I was in survival mode.” 

Roughly a year passed before he released “Straight and Narrow” and then suddenly he became a known artist. 

“The ‘Straight and Narrow’ thing is weird because we posted it like five months before anything happened and anybody ever saw it,” Barber explains. “And then one day someone posted it to TikTok and it just went viral. It was so fast. It was really weird. It threw me into it all pretty quick.”

Soon, Barber was contacted by major record labels and, for the first time, realized music was indeed also a business. “Before I got into music, I didn’t even think the business side was a part of it. I thought, “I’m just gonna sing songs and people are gonna listen to them.” It threw a whole other dynamic into it that I couldn’t even imagine.”

Sam Barber
Sam Barber (Credit: Hillary Berg Harmonay)

Ask him how he feels about his brand of music now being en vogue and he’ll tell you it’s a blessing.

“The timing was perfect for me. The whole Zach Bryan thing was happening and people were getting more into Tyler [Childers]. Just more raw, stripped-back music. It was just that perfect time frame when “Straight and Narrow” came out. People were super into it. If I had released ‘Straight and Narrow’ 10 years ago, people wouldn’t have given a damn about it.”

“I think it’s the best songwriting and best music that’s come out in a while,” he continues of the genre of singer-songwriter-focused country music which he now feels he’s a part of. “It’s just real music. People talking about their lives and stuff they’ve been through. That’s what people are trying to write now. They’re not trying to write about beer on a pickup bed.”

Last fall, Barber released his debut EP Million Eyes through Lockeland Springs/Atlantic Records and, Barber says, the album was essential to his development as an artist; according to the singer, it was proof he’s capable of making a cohesive project as opposed to one-off singles.

Ask him where he goes from here and he says he’s keeping his foot on the gas when it comes to making his first album.

“I feel like it’s not time for a break,” he says without hesitation. “This all just started. Right now I’m in go-mode and I love it. Just doing as much as I can in this short time frame to seal myself as a true artist. I want to make myself a career artist. I put the time in now and I can have my fun later.”

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