In Session: Barbie Barker

TROY – For many, having one artistic endeavor is hard enough to manage, let alone multiple projects. When it comes to Caitlin Barker, however, lead singer and guitarist of local pop grunge band, Candy Ambulance, this problem doesn’t exist. Branching out as a solo artist – going by the moniker Barbie Barker – Caitlin embraces the vulnerable with her new material, crafting a whole other side to her musical identity. Mixing tender pop aesthetics with raw lyrics, it really is a whole new project unto itself.

I had a chance to sit down with Caitlin prior to her show at Nipperfest (July 22nd). What follows is our conversation.

Lucas Garrett: Thank you, Cait, for taking the time to sit down today. How’re you doing?

Caitlin Barker: I’m doing well. I have a slight migraine… but I’m doing well other than that!

LG: I think it has to be eight years ago, now, when I first heard of you.

CB: I think so. It’s definitely been a long time.

LG: When I hear what you were doing back then, it was this really raw, punk-rock thing. Then, not that long ago, I heard you doing your own solo stuff. How did that all come about?

CB: I have those two sides that call to me. I’ve never really considered myself punk, or the music that I make punk. But we get called… Candy Ambulances gets called punk all the time. I’d say we’re more pop grunge. I was raised on 1990s country music, so I really appreciate a hook, a chorus. There are things that I connect to when I write a song, and I think I sneak by writing music that’s very poppy, but because of a certain attitude that we have, it comes off as punk. And, I think the other side to that is I have a lot of sad girl songs that I needed an outlet for, and I tried to make them work in Candy Ambulance for a long time. They’re still some of my favorite songs.

Our song, “Exit,” is a really beautiful song that we never played live because it doesn’t fit Candy Ambulance’s aesthetic. We’ve got a great recording of it; it’s a cool song, but it’s just something I haven’t been able to utilize. So, I like this project as a way to bring out the sad songs.

LG: I’ve known you for a while now and I’ve always enjoyed everything I heard you and the band come up with. Then, when I saw you put out “C” on your solo project, I thought “What the f*ck am I listening to right now?!”

CB: In a good way?!

LG: Absolutely. It was one of the best things I’d heard in a very long time.

CB: Thank you.

LG: I had no idea you wrote like that – it was wonderful. It was one of the most beautiful pieces of music I’d heard in a very long time, and it really blew me away quite honestly.

CB: Thank you. I’m so humbled by that. I really appreciate you saying that – I kinda want to cry right now.

LG: I’m really glad to see you’re doing this on top of the other project. They’re wildly different.

CB: I think the response that I’ve been getting to the solo stuff is something that I’m not yet comfortable with, and I’ve been very candid about the fact that I am uncomfortable playing it. I don’t like being photographed. I don’t like being recorded – this is throughout my entire personal life, too. If I’m with friends and everyone wants to take a picture, I’m trying to sneak away and be the one to take a picture. It’s weird because of the things I choose to do in my life – I bartend and play music. Things that put you in front of people. But I actually don’t like doing those things – it makes me pretty uncomfortable. I’m usually pretty dissociated and anxious in my body before or after a show, and playing these solo shows is slightly even more terrifying and nerve-wracking for me because I don’t have Jesse (Bolduc) and Jon (Cantiello) there. They’ve been my anchors the entire time I’ve played music with… playing by myself, I have a lot of imposter syndrome. “Why is anyone interested? It’s not good enough.” Then, I’ve been having people come up to me after my solo sets and told me they cried several times during the set or connected to a certain lyric. I’m so f*cking grateful for that to happen. I’m just still experiencing not feeling connected and feeling afraid.

For the solo project, I made the agreement in my brain that if it makes me feel uncomfortable and it makes me feel scared, I’m just going to say yes.

LG: I believe this happens with a lot of people, believe it or not, especially with the imposter syndrome you mentioned. I won’t name names – it’s not my story to tell – but I know people performing in world-class symphonies that don’t believe they belong there. I think that might be a package deal when you’re a musician.

CB: Yeah.

LG: I know I’ve certainly felt that. The work I’ve heard you do, though, is definitely amazing.

CB: Thank you. I think being candid like that… you forget that people see you doing something – and this is for any skill: if people see you doing something well, or you present you’re doing it well, you forget about the self, and it’s just “Oh, I’m terrified. What’s happening to me is I’m terrified, and I must not be doing this well.” That happens a lot with Candy Ambulance, too. I feel foolish or stupid for doing what I’m doing. Then, I get a picture back, and my hair is flying in the air, and I’m jumping and playing guitar, and it looks so cool. I’d love to see that person and be there to witness that girl, but it’s not anything I ever feel connected to.

Honestly, I’m very terrified for Saturday. It’s going to be the biggest gap between me and the audience, playing solo. I haven’t necessarily done that solo yet, and it’s during the daytime. Hahaha. Obviously, I desperately do want to do this, but my instincts are saying, “F*cking run.”

LG: When you feel terrified, what makes you run into it?

CB: I might be misquoting this, but there’s a skateboarder that says, “You’re not a skateboarder because you skateboard; you’re a skateboarder because you can’t stop skateboarding.” That’s kind of the feeling. I oftentimes question myself because of how scared I am and because of how nervous I get to play. I question myself and say, “Why would you even put yourself up to this? Why are you going and putting yourself in a position to feel really vulnerable and scared?” I know I’m going to dissociate and wish I didn’t do it. I’m going to be cursing on Saturday before I go up. I’m going to be asking, “Why the f*ck did you say yes?” Then, as soon as I start, I know why I did it: I’m the happiest and calmest I’ve ever been. That’s just for the half an hour set. As soon as I’m done, I’ll be overwhelmed and uncomfortable. I honestly think I’m sounding very annoying right now, but yeah. I know I’m going to keep playing music, so I might as well say yes to the shit that freaks me out.

LG: What is one way the pursuit of music has enriched or improved your life, and what is one way it’s hurt your life?

CB: It’s definitely enriched my life because it’s a lesson in humility, equanimity, showing your depth – who you are in the moment… I look at my own lyrics all the time and think, “This is so corny… you’re saying the most silly, corny, truthful thing about yourself, putting it in a song and playing it for people.” I’ve had a lot of people say things after shows. That’s the whole f*cking point of why I’m here and why I’m interacting with people.

In the negative, I feel like I look at myself more harshly. Prior to playing music, there was no situation I was in in my life where I’d have to worry about if someone took a picture of me. I honestly f*cking hate pictures and see a representation of myself. This is obviously sounding dysmorphic or strange. You should want documentation of your life or a history of yourself, but it’s never something I connected with. So, having that be something I now look for and compare myself… it’s just a f*cking very annoying and time-consuming aspect of it. I just don’t like f*cking having to look back and go, “Oh, did someone get the song? Did someone record it well? Did I do well enough? Am I valid?” Having to look back and see if I did well, rather than having just lived the experience, is something that I get really stuck in and get fixated on. It’s not helpful to my overall well-being.

LG: Do you think there’s a way to navigate that in this industry?

CB: For any success anyone has, there are a million other ways to do it. I could say, yeah right now. That’s a symptom of the culture, and you have to adhere to it. But you could make music and not have a picture of yourself. It does help to have people see who the artist is. When they can see the band or musician, they do feel a closeness or bond, so I think it is the most helpful way to do things. But you could wear a mask and be mysterious, and that could be your mystique. Would it sell records? I don’t f*cking know. Secret shows used to be such a cool thing. Or somebody that doesn’t show their face like Sia.

LG: Aside from your set at Nipperfest, what else do you have going on?

CB: I have another show on August 4th. It will be at No Fun in Troy. The touring band is called Hot Knives. The Sugarhold and Rhoseway are also on the bill.

LG: Well, thank you, Cait, for taking time out of your day! Have a great time at the show, and I’ll be in touch soon!

CB: Thank you! I appreciate it.

Comments are closed.