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A global trip from CFRC to the Junos

A global trip from CFRC to the Junos

Fresh off a musical tour Down Under and now working on his fifth CD, critically acclaimed pop singer-songwriter Matthew Barber, Artsci’97, finds himself in a newly mellow mood.
Matthew BarberWith a string of well-received CDs – and a Juno nomination – already to his credit, Toronto singer-songwriter Matthew Barber is winning fans far and wide.
Photo by Georgie Binks

Queen’s is becoming known for the growing number of alumni enjoying successful careers in the pop music field and, well, rocking the world.

Following in the musical footsteps of Blue Rodeo founder Jim Cuddy, Artsci’83, Sarah Harmer, Artsci’93, movie musician-songwriter Lindsay Fellows, Artsci’86, and three members of the Tragically Hip – Rob Baker, BFA’86, Gord Downie, Artsci’87, and Gord Sinclair, Artsci’86 (to name just a few), Toronto singer-songwriter Matthew Barber, Artsci’97, is busy carving out his own niche.

In a recent review of his latest album, Ghost Notes, the influential Huffington Post on-line newspaper calls Matthew an “intelligent, acoustic artist” whose latest album, Ghost Notes, “merges old school Harvard Square with a hipper Washington Square Park vibe.”

But it’s to Queen’s, not Harvard, that Matthew traces his musical roots. “I was definitely influenced by the music scene in Kingston,” he says.

Matthew says he learned a lot about music while working with Andrew Shaver, Sc’96, on their CFRC show called Orphalese Bend. Playing guitar and writing his own tunes, Matthew morphed from fan into performer, playing venues both on and off campus.

He was influenced by mainstream artists such as The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, and Tom Petty. “But my favourite album of all time, lyrically speaking, is Joni Mitchell’s Blue,” he notes.

Song writing has always been therapeutic for me, but I’m trying not to write about affairs of the heart too much anymore; I don’t want to be a one-trick pony.

Matthew went from his Queen’s BA to an MA in philosophy at McMaster. While living in Hamilton, he immersed himself in his music, performing and writing songs, and in 2002 he released his first indy CD, Means and Ends. It was eventually picked up by Paper Bag Records and re-released nationally. His next two CDs were on the Warner label – a short one with just six songs, called The Story of Your Life, and the full-length Sweet Nothing.

Concurrently, Matthew boosted sales by touring extensively in Canada. Ghost Notes was released in Canada in March 2008 by Outside Music and in the U.S. in April of this year.

Matthew, who’s 32, recently returned from a musical tour of Australia, where he shared the spotlight with his younger sister, Jill Barber, Artsci’02 – another of Canada’s brightest young singer-songwriters. “We complement each other pretty well,” says Matthew, “and I think we influence each other.”

While touring Australia, he found audiences every bit as enthusiastic as those back home. And the timing of his travels (December and January) was a bonus – Australia’s summer being a nice respite from the Canadian winter.

There will be no tours of sunnier climes for a few months, though; Matthew is hard at work on his next album. “Usually the tune comes first and then, if I’m lucky, the lyrics almost simultaneously,” he explains. “When it all happens at the same time, I feel those are the best songs. Song writing has always been therapeutic for me, but I’m trying not to write about affairs of the heart too much anymore; I don’t want to be a one-trick pony.”

He’s happy with his albums so far, but acknowledges his music has changed of late. “As I’ve gotten older and more experienced, I like mellower sounds. I don’t feel I need to beat the audience over the head with loud guitars and drums,” he says.

Last year, he broadened his song-writing by composing for a play called The Haunted Hillbilly by Sidemart Theatre of Montreal–and performing in it. Matthew and fellow musician Joe Grass were awarded the Montreal English Theatre Critics’ “Best Sound” award for their efforts.

Earlier this year, with Ghost Notes nominated for a Juno as Best Roots/Traditional Solo album, Matthew traveled to Vancouver for the awards ceremony. While he didn’t win, he did play in the annual Juno Cup hockey game, which pits musicians against ex-NHLers to raise money for Music Counts, a charity working to save school music programs. “For the first time ever,” he laughs, “the Rockers beat the NHL Greats in an overtime shootout, and yours truly was the goalie! That’s something I’ll be telling my grandkids about.”

With any luck at all, he’ll also be telling them about winning a Juno Award… or maybe two or three.