Del Barber

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Del Barber

I am the son of a draft dodger. I grew up in southern Manitoba, balanced on the line that separates town from country. My heroes yielded hockey sticks and fishing rods. I was and still am reckless in everything that I pursue.

I woke up one morning at 19-years-old and I began to run. Any train, bus, road or trail, fuelled my desire to see more at whatever cost. I traded my athletic heroes for writers that died young. I chased Jack Kerouac's ghost across the continent, working dozens of jobs to get there. I planted trees in northern B.C., I served coffee and breakfast in Georgia, and I drove drug addicts to their court dates in Winnipeg. I've worked as mountain guide, a janitor, a construction worker, a groundskeeper, a landscaper, a farmer, a counsellor, an ice-maker, a teacher’s assistant, a driver, a roofer, a fisherman and more. I've worked in 15 states and 8 Provinces.

I chased after grandeur, found it fleeting. I tried to be a Buddhist, I tried to follow Jesus. I grew tired of rambling, I turned 23 and sought shelter in one of Chicago's north side neighbourhoods. I became addicted to open mic nights, embarrassing myself in front of strangers, singing half-cut versions of John Prine and Townes Van Zandt songs until way past last call.

I would leave the bars feeling free and hopeful, clutching my guitar and my suitcase, smelling of cheap beer and stale smoke. It was always late and the streets were always vacant as I made my way, too late to catch a bus or train and too broke to call a cab. On one particularly long walk home in late October, I was bombarded by a smell and a feeling from my childhood, one that brought back memories that had been stowed away somewhere on the back pages of my subconscious. The wind came in hard off Lake Michigan and snow began to tumble out of the Chicago sky. The nostalgic tinge of home hit my gut and birthed in me a realization that I was somewhere I didn't belong. I knew at that very moment, all at once, that I would never be able to do anything but write songs and sing them from stage. I had charted a course and without any thought of consequence I drew the first draft of a dream. It was a hunger that ran so deep that I would do anything to make it happen, and that nothing would stand in my way

I left Chicago in a hurry, desperate to lean into home and the familiarness it brings. I began to remember who I was, and thus, began to write. I wrote hundreds of songs, I wrote with fever, urgency and naivete, as if no one had ever written a song. I fell in love so many times, wandering and wondering around small towns trying to live like the characters in my favourite songs, wildly romantic, eager and full of youthful guile.

I became increasingly obsessed with narrative and the cinematic quality of songs, the way they can give a person a definite sense of place, in a world built on alienation. I settled on twelve songs and in the winter of 2009, with the help of my old friend Jean-Paul Laurendeau and his makeshift basement studio, my first effort Where the City Ends was released.

I hit the road again and was baptized by it. Instead of trying to find meaning, I was trying to give it. From towns and cities, in churches, bars, lounges, basements and street corners. I told stories and jokes, I preached and professed, singing songs for anyone who would lend me their ears.

I wrote more songs and better songs. I went back to my old friend and in June 2010, Love Songs for the Last Twenty was released. I continued to play anywhere I could, for whoever I could. Hundreds of shows were logged, and hundreds of thousands of kilometres were driven. My world turned into a dashboard, a radio, a guitar and a pen.

I began to rub shoulders with my heroes. I traipsed across the stages of some of the country’s finest music festivals. I’ve warmed up crowds for the likes of James McMurtry, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Taj Mahal, Richard Thompson, and John Hiatt. I found confidence, I began to learn how to captivate crowds, I leaned into the craft.

Winter rolled into Winnipeg like a freight train. Brimming with the confidence of a child, I put my trust in a young producer from Maine named Sam Kassirer. I put pen to paper and I put the hammer down. I recorded rough takes of 30 plus songs and with Kassirer's help I whittled the list down to 10. It was an exercise in carefulness and intentionality. It needed to be traditional, contemporary, fresh and urgent in its scope. I sharpened the songs, I honed the narratives and the vision of the record became clear. We assembled a brilliant group of musicians and we pressed “record.” The process was raw, honest, electric and pure fun. I put my faith in everyone at the table with me and revelled in the process.

At its core Headwaters is about searching for the source of our desires, and the freedom that comes from understanding the ways in which the sources influence our directions. Rivers can't change where they begin, or where they run, neither can we change our histories or escape their influence on us. Headwaters is a collection of parables, hymns and manifestos, stories of love and loss, sadness and joy, threaded together by the search for an ultimate source. Headwaters is my third record in four years, and I'm as excited about music and songwriting as I've ever been.

I'm 28-years-old, I'm a guitar player and a songwriter. Sometimes I preach, sometimes I rhyme. I know that I will never do anything but this. My world has turned into managers, agents, airports, festivals and promoters, but her source is still just a dashboard, a radio a guitar and a pen.