FOCUS: Sam Barker
Sam Barker, a Nottingham rockstar on the rise, caught up with The Mic to discuss the composition and release of his sophomore EP, his early endeavours into the music industry, and his experience as both a student and a promising musician in Nottingham.
Sam Barker is young. At only 17 years old, he’s been involved in the creation of music for the majority of his life, but that’s not to suggest that he hasn’t got anything to say. Lyrically, Barker concerns himself with subjects of severe depth and sensitivity; subjectivity and perception, time and inevitability, and death and escapism are just a small selection of muses found on the most recent EP. At such an early stage in his career, Sam possesses a certain freedom to explore the most acute of inflections of genre. His most recent EP, Fade Away can be aptly described as a manifestation of said experimentation within the rock and blues genres, and is therefore a demonstration of Barker’s own yearning for creative and musical development.
Where the majority of the EP serves as a collection of attempts to articulate abstractions and emotions, its opening track, Message to the Media rebels in an exciting way. Barker himself said that this track “stands out because the intention behind it is quite simplistic”. Erupting with an energetic guitar solo and snare-heavy drums, the track’s instrumentation is the perfect introduction for Barker’s coarse voice. Concerning itself with social media’s potential to damage the mental wellbeing of the youth, it is clear that the sympathetic 15-year-old Barker responsible for the song's composition was a 15-year-old with his eyes wide open. Lyrics like ‘you’ve been begging for praise, trying to make yourself better than the grave’ feel as though they are squeezed from deep within Barker himself and collide effortlessly with the aggressive music that scores them - producing a particularly resonant feeling of adolescent glory.
The far more ambiguous To an End fades in fairly seamlessly. With ambiguity being far more on beat with the rest of the EP and in fact with Barker himself, this is where the listener is really able to unpick the Nottingham singer-songwriter’s sound. A self-proclaimed influencee of 20th century rock 'n' roll bands such as The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, Barker’s musical inspirations have never been more prominent than in the conflict between eloquent electric guitar solos and crashing drums. With the electricity of the track at its most intense, you can’t help but smile at Sam’s persistent nods and winks to the creators of his genre. Such an awareness of his position within the genre is perhaps a product of lockdown and what he described as “more of a chance to explore the roots of rock and roll”; something which Barker, by day a busy student at Nottingham’s Confetti Institute of Creative Technologies, is grateful for.
With the first note of Wasting Time, the third track on the EP, comes an immediate and unexpected change in tone: think Paint it, Black (The Rolling Stones) to Hurt (Johnny Cash). It is under the more acoustic and suggestive sound parameters of the second half of the EP that listeners are really able to get their teeth into the gritty topics Barker’s music is concerned with. It seems as though the less complicated instrumentation makes way for far more complex and introspective lyricism. In this section of the EP, Barker becomes an artist of contemplation and metaphysical curiosity, asking questions such as, ‘If I walked a thousand miles, would the floor still fall below me? And if I tried to close my eyes, would my shadow always haunt me?’
"Barker's gritty vocals are deeply striking when set against a swirling, psychedelic soundscape, and lyrically, topic's artists twice his age have struggled with are tackled with ease and poise"
The final track of the collection, Fade Away, serves well as a title track - encapsulating and expanding upon the majority of the EP that comes before it. Barker's gritty vocals are deeply striking when set against a swirling, psychedelic soundscape, and lyrically, topic's artists twice his age have struggled with are tackled with ease and poise. Lines such as ‘sounds of pain’ touch on the limits or, perhaps more so, the limitlessness of music in regard to emotional resonance, and therefore carry a lot of weight in terms of delivering Barker’s own passion for emotional articulation through music. Perhaps the most powerful line of the EP is amongst its most simplistic: ‘I don’t want to fade away’. It is repeated relentlessly. With ambiguity often comes applicability, and that’s exactly what the listener finds in Barker’s lyricism; if they are willing to search for it.
The idea of ‘fading away’ can be applied to many aspects of life - whether this be in life as a whole, or in the realms of consumption and addiction, for example. In many ways, to escape is to die; the question then becomes where the line is drawn. Barker’s coarse and jagged voice attempts to guide us through such contemplations or, at least, allow us to observe him whilst he attempts to work through them, and to say that such observations are a privilege would be an understatement.
Something which is unavoidable when listening to Barker’s music, and in fact, when speaking with him, is his desire to stand out. He is an ardent advocate of artists pursuing their own sound. In his own words: "if everyone did what they want, there’d be loads more interesting stuff out there. If Kanye went radio, no one would care about him anymore. At the moment, I think music a lot of music is in danger of sounding the same. Music should be an art form, not a product – so why go radio?” With this in mind, Barker’s artistic evolution is not one to miss.