Interview: Canadian Country Performer Owen Barney

20-year-old Owen Barney From Toronto hasn’t let lockdown prevent him from creating terrific music. Following up on the success of his sophomore EP  No Road Too Long the singer/songwriter released Tough Times, a three song collection Featuring the single “You Make Me Wanna (Brown Eyed Girl” a song which showcases the performer’s talent for adding a modern twist to the genre of classic country love songs.

Barney has earned over 10.7 Million global streams and a 2020 chart-topping smash with “Thank Her For That.” His follow-up single “Pour Me,” reached Top 40 on the charts with 1M+ streams and counting. Named the Amazon Breakthrough Artist of the Month (September, 2020), Barney has garnered over 330K views for the music video for “Thank Her For That”, topped the Shazam charts and landed a partnership with iconic Canadian brand Roots. Barney spoke to me about his journey from playing in restaurants to becoming a chart-topping success.

Jason: Can you begin by taking a little about your background?

Owen Barney: I’ve lived in Toronto since I was born. My mother is from Alberta, so we spend half the year there. I started playing guitar when I was seven years old. My first introduction to country music was playing with my grandfather and I began taking guitar lessons, learning a thing or two. When I was 13-years-old I wanted to go out and play and to sing for people at first in different restaurants wherever I could. I started emailing different places in Toronto looking for gigs and would get a few shows here and there, on a Thursday, Friday or Saturday at least once a week until I was 15.

Jason: How did you come to the attention of and land your record deal with Wax Records?

Owen Barney: I was playing a show where Jamie Appleby (Creative Director and Owner of Wax Records) said he’d be happy to see me, and I started working with him. For the last five years, I haven’t stopped and the last three years we’ve been putting out music, which people seem to be happy with. People seem to love it, so I’m just going to keep doing it. I Hope for the best and hope to get some music out on the radio this year.

Jason: What is your primary reason for wanting to perform? Were you inspired by other artists?

Owen Barney: I just always loved performing. When I was a kid, anywhere we went, my family loved hearing music. So anywhere we’d go, we’d try to find someone playing. And no matter who was playing or where we were, I would leave the dinner table and sit down right in front of whoever was singing. I just loved it. Every time we went to some music festival, I’d be sitting on the grass like a caged animal up against the stage. As soon as I could play the guitar, all I wanted to do was play for people. Our living room fireplace had this little mantle on it, so I used to stand on that and sing for my parents. I’d go into school and do a talent show, get the odd gig here and there in Toronto, and kept doing that and loving it more and more. I started playing with a band and then it all just came together and I haven’t stopped.

Jason: Were you nervous starting out and if so, what was your process for in overcoming anxiety and nerves?

Owen Barney: I was, and I still get nervous when I’m driving to a show. I get nervous and anxious sitting in the car and I get tired, but I always know it will not kill me. However, once I walk out and the boots hit the stage, I’m in it and don’t even think for one second about how nervous I was. Once you hear the people in the crowd and they’re super excited to see you walk out there and you’re ready to play, it all goes away. You’re just in the moment performing.

Jason: Would you say your songs are primarily your personal feelings or are there elements of imagination within them?

Owen Barney: In my songwriting I like to show emotion in every song. And I’ve definitely felt all the emotions that I sing my songs, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to sing about them. But where I draw my inspiration from for each song changes whether it’s a story about me, whether it’s about relationships or things like that. Those would definitely be personal experiences but for a lot of songs that I write, especially now as I’m growing as a songwriter and learning more ways to write songs and get messages across, I write a lot of stories, and one can call them “fantasies” but I would definitely call them stories and I really like to do that. If I see a man on the side on the street somewhere, I’ll maybe write a song about him. I’d do not know who he is, but I’ll make up a story for him.

Jason: And songwriting is storytelling really, isn’t it? How would How would you describe your work ethic?

Owen Barney: I’ve always been super driven for my music. I’m playing and writing every day so I’m never thinking, ‘Oh, man, I have to do this and I have to do that,’ It doesn’t really feel like work for me. It’s never a question of ‘are you working hard enough? Are you doing this?’ Every day I get up, pick up my guitar and whether it’s just one or two little riffs that I come up with, I’ll record them and finish them later. Especially these days being stuck at home. I’m always working and when I’m not working on music, I work in landscaping most days of the week from 6:30 in the morning until seven at night. That’ll fill my time when I’m not writing.

Jason: Is there anything you enjoy doing completely outside of writing or practicing such as playing video games, playing sports or anything else along recreational lines?

Owen Barney: I’ve never been a big video game guy, but I’m really close to my brother, we’ve always been best friends and he lives up north a couple hours outside of Toronto in the Muskoka area and especially in the last year I’ve loved going up there. My grandfather’s had this place up 80 acres so my brother and I go out on the tractor, down a couple of trees, come home, make a fire and have a couple of drinks. That’s one of my favorite things to do. Just hanging out with my brother up at the cottage.

Jason: Is there a particular piece of advice, or best piece of advice passed on to you? Since you’ve been performing? Since you’ve been getting your name out there?

Owen Barney: I had a guitar teacher as a kid, and I still see him all the time and still one of my best friends. He used to gig during the ‘70s. He was a musician his entire life. I was 13-years-old playing in loud restaurants, playing song after song and it felt like nobody’s listening but he’d clap with nothing from anyone else. He always said, ‘just look for the one guy in the restaurant that’s looking at you and actually sitting there listening.’ Because there’s always going to be one of those guys, no matter where you go. And I’ve noticed that everywhere I play, there’s always at least one guy or gal listening. Even if nobody else is, there’s always one person there who’s going to be listening to you.

Jason: Do you have a favorite and least favorite aspect about your work, whether it’s performing or just getting prepared? Just booking shows.

Owen Barney: I think my least favorite thing is that I’m not very good at opening up my personal life and sharing a lot that’s going on with me. I’m not a big ‘take your phone out and take a video of whatever I’m doing’ sort of thing. I find the social media aspect of being in the music business and any business really these days, very difficult, because it’s so natural for people in my generation to take a photo of whatever they do for Instagram. That’s just not me, and it’s so hard to change that mentality to live that life and just make it happen. It’s something for me I really have to think about and remember to do.

Jason: It’s interesting, because right now, and over the past while this is the time where you’ve been receiving a lot of attention and a lot of attention from listeners, the public and media and people in the industry. How do how do you deal with that?

Owen Barney: It’s one of those things where, especially this year, I’ve heard myself on the radio at least consistently. All this attention that I’ve been so fortunate to have, it’s the first time it’s ever happened. It’s like nothing I’ve experienced before. So I sit here and keep going, not get too excited. I just keep working, keep pushing forward and hope that it keeps happening.

Jason: And do you hope that the focus is more on the song itself, rather than on you personally?

Owen Barney: I hope people focus on the music. It’s not that I can’t sit there and tell you all about myself because I’ll sit and tell you stories all day long. It’s hard for me to do it when I’m not in front of somebody. If I’m at a show, I want people in the crowd to see me and sit and listen to and love every song, but in between songs I’ll sit down and tell them ‘Oh, I wrote this song about this and I’m going to play it for you now’, just do an acoustic song for them. I want to be at a show where everyone’s invested in me and my music. They’re there to sit and have me play for them and talk to them.

Jason: That’s a brilliant answer. And it again ties into whole COVID situation of performers not being able to share an in-person

Owen Barney: To go out there and show your face it’s all about that for me. It’s always been a huge part of my life since I’ve always been playing shows. That’s how I get my face out there. That’s how I get people to know me, they go to my shows, and I make them laugh. I talk to them and become friends with everybody in the room as best I can.

Jason: What have you learned about yourself since your journey began?

Owen Barney: I’ve learned that no matter how tough it gets, no matter how long of a road it may feel the journey is, I’ll always be picking tunes on the guitar. It never gets old, and it’s all I want to do. Hopefully, you’ll see me around for a while.

Owen Barney wearing jeans and a leather jacket sits in an armchair looking to the side

Jason: How does it feel when you work on something and put it out there and it receives a third of a million views and people really respond to your work, which came from your mind and your heart?

Owen Barney: I feel a strong sense of pride and it’s a tremendous accomplishment. When you’re a musician and songwriter, all you ever want is for people to hear your music and have it speak to them the same way that it speaks to you. Maybe not the same way but that feeling you get when you hear a special song, but It’s your music doing that to somebody else. There’s nothing else I could compare to it.

Jason: Is there a particular song your most proud of? I know you just released a song titled “You Make Me Wanna (Brown-Eyed Girl)” recently.

Owen Barney: I think one song I’m most proud of is a song I wrote called “Tough Times.” When I wrote that song, it was an exploration of songwriting for me. I was driving to a show two summers ago and remember I saw on this gas station sign the price of gas and then beneath that some fella or gal climbed up there and wrote right beside it “too high” and I thought that was funny. I wrote this song about a guy going through some tough times, and that’s the song. I wrote that song myself and I feel that really shows who I am and who I can be as a songwriter.

Jason: Thanks so much for speaking to me today.

Owen Barney: Thank you very much for your time.

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Written by Jason Sheppard

Entertainment reporter living at the end of very cold Canada. Proud owner of a diploma in journalism and just about every CD by John Williams ever released. Favorite directors are Spielberg, Scorsese, Kubrick, Tarantino, Fellini, Lynch and Fincher. Twin Peaks, Sopranos and Six Feet Under are the greatest TV dramas ever crafted and I love 90s sitcoms such as Spin City, Sports Night, Newsradio, Seinfeld and even that one with Deadpool working in the pizza place. Click linkies below to follow me.

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