In a world where it feels like there’s not much to celebrate, the uplifting, thoughtful pop of New York-based five-piece Barrie is sure to put a skip in your step

Pop music that’s full of summer sunshiny sweetness, but also slightly oblique – that’s Barrie. Theirs is the kind of intelligent pop that should be top of the charts, and not the Auto-Tune manufactured, bland trance electronica that currently dominates.

“Most of the Top 40 is faceless producers making mass factory music,” says Barrie Lindsay, who is speaking from Brooklyn via Skype and is just as amiable as her songs might suggest. “It’s funny, it feels like everything drifted to the left, and the space that indie music occupies now was formerly pop.”

Barrie’s beautifully crafted and wonderfully optimistic debut album ‘Happy To Be Here’ carries all the promise of what the greatest pop – from The Beach Boys to Britney – used to be about before it all started sounding like 1990s Euro trance. Proper “can’t get them out of your head” hooks and melodies, unexpected textures and sounds like warm old school analogue synths, and whimsical lyrics inspired by everything from great art to teenage crushes. Her Brooklyn-based five-piece have come along with shimmering, classic songs right from their first singles and EPs, and now their first LP illustrates the full potential of this happy go lucky outfit who just want to put a smile on your face.

“I think at its core I’m just naturally optimistic and happy, I can’t help it,” says Lindsay, who at 29 seems quite unsullied by life’s vicissitudes thus far. “I have to deliberately think about making sadder, slower music, but when it comes out it’s just happy and poppy. It’s funny, everyone in the band is a musician and writer and producer in their own right, with their own separate projects, and some of them make sadder stuff. But when they come to this project, they filter themselves through this vision and bring out the most optimistic side of themselves. When we’re all together, it’s kind of a prism which concentrates that feeling.”

I wonder if it’s difficult for her to write an original melody in this postmodern day and age where everything seems to have been done and pastiche so often rules the roost. The gift of ‘Happy To Be Here’ is that like all the best pop it sounds so fresh, easy and effortless, even if a lot of effort has gone into crafting it.

“I think about that a lot,” says Barrie of the originality conundrum. “I think what comes most naturally to me is melodies. They must be coming from somewhere, I must have heard something somewhere even if I don’t realise it. It feels like a patchwork quilt of all the stuff I’ve ever heard.”

When you delve deeper into her influences, it’s obvious that her subconscious is suffused with pop of the very greatest calibre. I wonder if she’s a fan of Steely Dan, because her melodies have already been compared (and in this very publication) to the great 70s jazz funk and pop crossover outfit…

“I do love Steely Dan,” she says.“‘Dirty Work’ is one of my favourite songs of all time.”
So who else has formed the melodic mix she draws upon for inspiration?

“Well, this is kind of obvious, it’s like saying bread is your favourite food, but I love The Beatles. They’re my ultimate – Paul McCartney is my hero. Also Joni Mitchell and Stevie Wonder – all of Motown. I mean, Motown has generated so much. That’s like the foundation of American pop music.”

It makes sense: after all, Barrie seems to follow on logically from the canon of classic pop, and by rights their catchy melodies should be at the top of the charts. But she does also listen to contemporary stuff, most recently Andy Shauf, a Canadian singer songwriter.

“I also listen to Fleetwood Mac, and we all love Brazilian and world music. People in the band are pretty involved in the electronic scene. That comes through in the production and experimentation.”

Strangely for an album so suffused with these influences, melodically they manage to come across as fresh and original and, unlike a lot of contemporary music, not too obviously indebted or in thrall to the hegemony of yesteryear or today. She’s also very much influenced by film and trying to create filmic moments and stills or sequences in her tracks.

My first thought was that the title ‘Darjeeling’ reminded me of a Wes Anderson film. ‘Clovers’, one of the singles from the album, depicts a moment when Barrie was working in an art museum in Boston, her home town, and was mesmerised one night by a Japanese print of the same name.

“While I was working for them,” she says, “there was this overnight party with all these interesting, cool young DJs. I was working that night and as I was leaving at 5am the museum was all empty. I was walking through this hall, there were these Japanese prints and there was a print called ‘Clovers’, I can’t remember the artist. I was just trying to recreate this moment where I was in this grand marble hall looking at this print, and there was faint techno off in the distance. I think a lot of the songs are about those vignettes, trying to capture a little moment.”

‘Saturated’, another single from the album, is a strong song where the lyrics speak quite obliquely about being in love or infatuation in an off kilter way. “I am saturated with you” initially seems like a slightly weird, but sweet way of describing being suffused with the essence of another person. But it works well as a rather indirect metaphor.

“Yeah, it’s kind of a crush song,” says Barrie. “The thing about saturation with a sponge, eventually the liquid will leave, and right now it’s full and overflowing, and something needs to give. It’s a bit too much.”

Finally, I can’t help wondering about the band’s lives in Brooklyn. Their backgrounds may be disparate – Barrie from Boston, Sabine from Brazil via Berlin, Dominic from Wakefield via London, Noah from upstate New York and Spurge from Baltimore – but living in Brooklyn’s melting pot, they cohere. I’ve got an image of New York’s answer to Hackney, full of musicians, artists and writers all hanging out drinking cocktails from jam jars, craft beer in bars and cafés full of upcycled furniture… or eating vegan and organic food in shabby chic brownstone co-operative cafés – a kind of paradise for young trendy creatives.

“Brooklyn’s very dirty, a lot of it’s very ugly,” says Barrie, “especially the places where we can afford to live. It’s kind of a lot of industrial warehouses and stuff.”

But it does have its upsides, namely the people.

“The thing that surprised me about it was a lot of people are intimidated by New York, and imagine it’s very ambitious and driven and cutthroat, but the scene that we’re part of is lovely and very supportive – we invite each other to shows together. It’s communal.”

Happy music from a supportive community – no wonder Barrie’s music is so infectiously upbeat. May nothing wipe that smile off their faces.

‘Happy To Be Here’ is out on Winspear

You May Also Like
Read More

The Originators: Origin Of The Species

Think Altern-8, Unique 3, Forgemasters, LFO and Krush. The bleep sound of Sheffield spawned an entire genre, not to mention its own label, Warp. Now the makers of many of those original tunes have mobilised once again as The Originators…
Read More

Tunng: Out Of This World

With ‘Dead Club’, Tunng have been on a journey that’s taken them beyond the album, beyond music, beyond life itself. Sam Genders and Becky Jacobs explain why they’re tackling death head on
Read More

Factory Records: The Durutti Column

First published in New Musical Express on 2 February 1980 under the title ‘The Emaciated Line Between Art And Ambience’, we’re heading into the eye of the Factory Records storm… or in Tony Wilson’s car on our way to meet The Durutti Column’s Vini Reilly.
Read More

Maria Uzor: Deep Cuts

Eclectic and esoteric, pinging from Aphex-esque techno to Zapp-style funk, the debut solo record from former Sink Ya Teeth vocalist Maria Uzor is an irrepressible statement of intent