Warren Barfield's sophomore album, Reach, is the result of a grueling internal struggle with catastrophic events. Grounded in blue-eyed soul and rich melodicism, it's a 10-song collection of engaging hooks and gripping vocal work that demands involvement from the listener. And the album grows stronger with successive hearings, as the complex emotions in the lyrics become ever clearer.
The artist certainly proved to reflect the work as Warren took some time out of his hectic schedule to speak with us about the process, his new album and where he's been hiding out since his debut three years ago.
First of all, welcome back. You have a new release out called Reach, which I really enjoyed listening to. What songs on Reach stand out to you? Which ones are you the most passionate about and why?
It's hard to pick favorites, because all the songs came from a passionate place for me. If I had to choose, I would say "I'll Be Alright." During these past couple of years, I was going through some trials in my life where it felt like there was no hope—no light at the end of the tunnel. "I'll Be Alright" was one of the songs that came from these experiences. Another song I would choose would be "Beyond The Walls."
It's really very difficult for me to try to answer this question. I just didn't sit down one day and try to write a song for a record—writing music is my life! Every song I wrote came out of something real in my life, and I put that song on a record.
I heard you had a pretty frustrating experience after the release of your first record and the demise of your label. What made you want to get back into the studio and record a new album?
It's what I do. I have been writing songs and singing since I was a little kid. I have found that there is something therapeutic about that. There is something about facing your fears head on. For me, when I write music and perform, I'll find myself doing just that. I'll find myself being honest when I don't want to be. I'll find myself being open when I just want to lock myself up in a closet somewhere and hide. And during these past couple of years, there were many situations that made me want to run away and hide from everything! When you're faced with adversities and given a choice, you can either run and hide from you problems, or you can step up, face you fears and work through it. I face my fears by getting behind the microphone and doing what I know I am supposed to do. Even when it gets hard—even when there are a million obstacles trying to keep me from doing it—I have to find a way to do it. So, I was excited when I was able to get back into the studio and beat all the obstacles that were trying to stop me.
Speaking of obstacles, your debut album came out three years ago, so it's been awhile since you've released new music. Can you tell us what happened during that time period?
About a year after the first record was released, I went back into the studio to record a new album, but the record label went under. Everything stopped and somehow I got lost in a corporate world where contracts were being bought and sold. There was nothing I could do. I was legally bound by a contract.
That must have been very frustrating!
Yes, it was! Imagine waking up in the morning, wanting to live your life and you come to the realization that these people are looking at you as if you were just a piece of paper. That was a hard realization to come to.
What things did you learn to let go of during the recording of Reach?
That's funny—I have never thought about that before, but there were many things I had to let go of during that time. I guess the biggest thing I had to let go of was my fear. It's possible that an artist or musician can pour their heart into a project and sometimes it doesn't matter how hard they work on it, not everybody will receive it. In the music world, if people don't buy it then they are looked at as not being successful. It's hard for me to deal with that whole concept. I don't want to create something just to sell it. I want to create something because it's real to me and it's true to me. I know what music sells in my world, and I could sit around and make that music. I could create something that would give me better odds of selling big, but it's not who I am. Instead, I have to go into the studio and try to block out all those things that would prevent me from creating something that I believe in. That was a challenge for me, but I feel like I was able to accomplish that. One of the ways I did that was to go to LA and get away from Nashville—from the constant reminders of what sells—and go to a place where I could lock myself away and create what was true to me.
I also had to let go of the baggage that was happening in my career, including all the things that were demanding too much of my time and distracting me. My number one priority is creating something that I believe in—something I want to stand behind and sing for the rest of my life. It was a hard, difficult process, but it's been a labor of love. To me, it's a special snapshot of my life.
Reach is your sophomore project. What has been your favorite part of the entire process?
I think the coolest part about making the record was finally getting to make the record. After sitting through a year and a half of label negotiations, I was happy to finally land at Provident Label Group and meet people that I totally respect. I love everybody I had a chance to work with. My producer, Marshall Altman, was awesome! I made a great friend in him and we still talk every week. When all of the business was driving me crazy, along with everything else that was going on, my favorite part about the entire process was that I was able to make music I love. It's what I want to do more than anything else.
I read that you left college to pursue a music career. What led you to make the decision to leave?
I was fifteen when I was writing songs and singing in church, and by age sixteen, I was traveling and singing every weekend. While going to school, at eighteen, I had a lot of dates scheduled, which I booked on my own. I would play youth retreats and conferences where there would be six thousand kids and youth pastors from all over the country.
As a teenager, you were booking tour dates on your own while attending school?
Yes. I would contact youth pastors and book churches to go sing at. In my first year of college I played every weekend. I traveled during the weekends; I left on Friday night, and didn't get back to school until Monday morning.
Were you tired when you came back?
Of course. [Laughter] I had a biology lab that took place on Friday evenings and Monday mornings—which I missed many times—but my professor allowed me to make up my work. I was a good student with good grades [B's or higher], but he failed me because of my absence. He didn't tell me he was going to fail me; he let me make up all that work, and then he failed me. As you can imagine, I was furious! I went home and I talked to my parents about the situation. I said to them, "My professor is putting me in a position where I have to make a decision; either quit singing and traveling, which I love doing, or quit college." I already had a whole year of shows booked and I wanted to go out, do it for a year, and see what it would be like. I didn't have any financial responsibilities, except a two hundred dollar a month car payment, and I could handle that. If things didn't work out when the year was over, I'd go back to school.
Now my mom said I could do it, but my dad wanted me to go back to college and finish out the year. I went back to school to finish out the year, but I was miserable. As soon as I left college, I began to sing and travel, which I continued doing for about four or five years. When I got married, we bought a house and I continued my pursuit of music. Eventually, my record label heard my music, offered me a record deal and I signed the contract. I just didn't plan it out. I didn't say, "I am going to have a music career" or "I am going to Nashville to get a record deal." I always did what I love to do, and it always lead me on a journey to some place new.
Do you have any tour plans?
Yes, March 7th, 2006, I start touring. It's mostly the West coast of the US, and it will run all of March through May. You can go to my website www.warrenbarfield.com and check my tour schedule, as dates are still being added.
While touring I am sure you get to meet many people who are touched by your music. Can you share a few testimonies that really stand out?
There are so many stories of people that come up to me, or e-mail me, that tell me how a song encouraged them in some way. For example: I have had people come up to me, telling me how their husband or wife was dying of cancer, and they listened to a song that really encouraged them and helped them get through such a difficult period. There's that—and that means a great deal to me. Then there is just the twelve year old kid that comes up and says, "Hey, I play guitar and wanted to know if you can give me any advice?" So, I will get to spend a couple of minutes with the guy, and that to me is just as important.
You see, when I was a kid, around twelve years old, I was just starting to play guitar too. I had these dreams of making music, and I wanted to talk to other musicians. When I had the opportunity, I would go up to these musicians that I looked up to, but most of them wouldn't be very nice to me. Most of the time they acted like jerks. I remember that so well, that whenever someone does come up to me—whether they are telling me their story or just asking for advice—I'll try to my best to give them every bit of attention I can and let them know we are both on the same level.
So what does the future hold for Warren Barfield?
I try not to think too far past the immediate, yet at the same time, I'll try to be a good steward of what God has given me. I do prepare for things that I have to do, and I have a schedule to follow, but I focus on what's at hand. I think I am a person that has a tendency to worry, so if I allow myself, I can get so caught up trying to work out the next five years in my mind, I'll end up accomplishing nothing.
I have been a full-time musician for about eight years. In that time, I have never really known what I am going to make the following month, yet God has always taken care of me. When you're an artist you just don't know. You live in a place of dependence upon God, putting your trust in Him. I don't always know what's going to happen in life, and when I think I do, something will come up which proves I don't.
It's sort of senseless for me to sit around and try to make plans, because my plans will not come close to what God has planned for me. From my experience, I've learned that it's silly to try to figure out what God is going to do.
We certainly wish you nothing but the best and are praying that God expands your ministry with your new album!
Angel, a concert photographer and writer, frequently conducts artist interviews for NRT. She loves Christian music and currently lives in FL with her husband.