Quick Q and A with Barnaby Bright

Barnaby Bright has been one of my most favorite musical finds in the past couple of years.  I’ve had the opportunity to see them several times and each time the experience is magical.  You can’t often say that about every performance by the same musicians.  Becky and Nathan Bliss have received praise for their songwriting and their original sound.  Becky’s voice is a powerful instrument for its grace and subtleties and Nathan’s phenomenal instrumental talents and harmonies are beyond compare.

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Could you explain the origin of the name Barnaby Bright for those who don’t know.

Barnaby Bright is a medieval English name for the summer solstice, the longest day of the year; June 21st. In those days, life was very much governed by the rhythms and rituals of the Church, and the longest day of the year was also the Feast Day of Saint Barnabas. A limerick of the day went “Barnaby Bright, Barnaby Bright. The longest day, the shortest night!” So, we actually have our own day…pretty cool.

I love the quote in your bio that says that ‘Barnaby Bright creates a sacred, magical space for their audiences with unique instrumentation, powerful harmonies, intelligent lyrics, and genuine warmth of stage.”  To me that is the PERFECT sentence.  It wraps up your essence in 22 words.  In a blog I wrote about you earlier this summer, I wrote about how astounded I was when you were able to quite a very loud bar within minutes and have everyone sit there in rapt attention.   It was a magnificent event.  Can you sometimes feel that shift in energy in the audience when you’re up on stage?

Yes! And that’s when the magic happens. Lately I’ve been realizing that every performance is a little miracle. So many things can go wrong…sickness, car trouble, bad weather, gear malfunctions. To be in that moment of connection with an audience, sharing the same space, breathing the same air, focusing on the same sound…it’s almost otherworldly.

You’ve had some fabulous experiences in the past couple of years–winning songwriting awards, being chosen as Most Wanted Artist at Falcon Ridge Folk Festival, and having your EP Gravity placed in Amazon’s top 100 recordings of the year.  Pretty heady stuff.  It must be rewarding to see your hard work appreciated in a number of different ways.

Very much so. It’s a strange kind of life, with some very high hi’s and very low lo’s. Sometimes in our lowest moments we’ll receive an email, or someone will come up after a show and say how much our music means to them. Or we get a royalty check in the mail! Helps keep us going.

How many miles do you rack up per year as you travel from place to place to pay your music before new and old fans?

Since last April we’ve racked up over 40 thousand miles!

Your choice of instruments is sometimes surprising to some people who aren’t familiar with you.  Becky, how and when did you start playing the harmonium?

Actually it was Nathan that introduced me to the harmonium. He grew up with one as sort of the family piano. The sound is so rich and ancient and has a sense of history to it…one of our friends said it sounds “like an old ship.” And since there’s usually just two of us, it helps give us a fuller sound.

Nathan, you have a degree in jazz composition and saxophone performance from Berklee. Those are two items that you don’t generally see on a “folk” musician’s resume.  Do you attribute some of Barnaby Bright’s different sound to either of those two skills? 

I’m sure the influences of my heroes have a place in our music…Ellington, Mingus, Monk, Coltrane…I’m sure it’s in there somewhere. But it’s a funny thing. I generally don’t like to employ jazzy sounds into our arrangements. My love of Jazz has definitely “stretched” my ear, you might say, and I do seem to gravitate to the more colorful and dissonant tones as a songwriter, but for me the two are very different styles. Like Scotch and Ice Cream…best enjoyed separately.

For more information about Barnaby Bright, check out their website.  Barnaby Bright will be playing at the me&thee in Marblehead, MA on Friday, September 21.

Enjoy this video for “Gravity.” 

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