Country Next: James Barker Band
We take pride in introducing fans to country music’s brightest new stars through our Country Next series. Here, we chat with James Barker Band.
James Barker Band; Photo by Matthew Berinato
James Barker Band is already established in their native Canada as a country mainstay. The four-piece country music group composed of frontman James Barker, guitarist Taylor Abram, drummer Connor Stephen, and bassist Bobby Martin are now making a name for themselves in the States.
Formed by Barker, the multi-award-winning and Platinum-selling artists got their start playing gigs in the Canadian market. In 2017, their single “Chills” rose to the top of Billboard’s Canadian Hot 100 chart. Eventually, they began charting several singles, including a record-setting gold-certified top hit with “New Old Trucks” featuring Dierks Bentley.
After releasing more tracks like “Wastin’ Whiskey” and “Beer Me” and solidifying their mark in the Great White North, JBB earned well over 300 million global career streams.
In January of 2023, JBB signed on with RECORDS Nashville, industry veteran Barry Weiss’ joint venture with Sony Music Entertainment, and released its label debut single, “Meet Your Mama.” The radio-ready track is a bubbly, mid-tempo love song that finds the lead singer captivating hearts as he sings about wanting to know more about his significant other.
“Girl, I wanna meet your mama / Drink a beer with your old man / Ride all around your hometown / Fall for the girl you were back then,” Barker sings throughout the catchy chorus.
“Meet Your Mama” is the first taste of what fans can expect from the established foursome as they cement a new legacy outside of their home base and on a global stage.
Country Now caught up with JBB to find out more about their journey from Canada to Nashville, current music, and more.
Read on to find out more about James Barker Band in this exclusive Q&A below!
How did you meet each other?
The band is a little bit disjointed, so sorry if it’s hard to follow, but Connor and I met when we were in high school at a band camp. It’s not as exciting as the movies make it out to be. It’s a lot more nerdy than that. But we met at a band camp and hit it off. We’re like, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if we went and started our own band?’ So we did when we were in high school. We were playing like angry teenage rock stuff because, you know, when you are a teenager, that’s what you do. We entered a bunch of Battle of the Bands and ended up winning a couple of them. Then, one of us got a session at a recording studio, and it turned out this kid was working at a recording studio. So we stole him away from the studio. We told him instead of making a decent wage, you can come on the road with no guarantee of any money, but you get free beer and hot dogs. We used to fill in for different bands, the three of us. Then one time, we were filling in for this other singer, who had this bass player that we liked named Bobby Martin. So we stole him away from that band. That’s kind of how it all started. We just stole each other away from different places. I think that’s common for musicians, though. You find the people that you like playing with, and you think, “Well. Why don’t we do just this all the time?”
Was country always the genre for you?
How we got into country music was – well, I grew up listening to country music. I grew up on a farm with cattle. My dad’s an auctioneer. He did that for a living. All we listened to, growing up was country music. We listened to George Strait, Travis Tritt, and Randy Travis, those kinds of people. So it was natural when I got into music that it was country music. When Connor and I would play rock music, all of the songs would sound like country songs. So it was like, ‘Well, maybe we’re in the wrong genre.’
Was it ever difficult to stay on the same path as a band and not go solo?
It’s funny because ‘no.’ And that might seem counterintuitive to people, but it happened organically. I had already done the solo thing. I started to come to Nashville after I graduated high school. So before we started the band with the core group, I was playing in bars, coming to Nashville, and writing songs. Then we started playing as this group, and people started labeling us as the James Barker Band instead of billing us as just James Barker. It’s almost like people looked at it and thought this feels more like a band than just the guy in the front. And I feel like that is what made it special, and that’s what we’re supposed to do. It’s never really been a guessing game. Breaking up has never really been a conversation. We’ve always had such high aspirations. We have always said we want to keep playing and trying to get better. We want to take over the world, we want to be one of the biggest bands in the world. Because we all have that same high-level goal, you don’t get caught up in the small stuff. You keep your eyes on the prize.
Are you all currently living in Nashville?
Yes. We are all in Nashville. I mean, it took a little time for us all to get down here because of different personal family and life situations. But you have to be here. I know that some people are like, ‘Oh if you just have one member of the band representing you, you’ll be fine.’ But now, it’s like you need to be together because you need to be in Nashville to be around the talent and feel the heat, but also when you’re in a band, you need to be together. You can’t be in a band virtually. You need to be together, and you need to be working on things together. It’s like a brotherhood. And you can’t do that in different cities.
Did you experience a culture shock when you came to Nashville from Canada as a group?
It definitely is a little bit of a culture shock musically because in Canada, we were super fortunate to play, and things blew up relatively quickly. So you become kind of a big fish in a small pond. But coming to Nashville, all of a sudden, you go down to Broadway, and you can see the best guitarist you’ve ever seen playing for tips. Then you write and hear the best songwriters you’ve ever heard, who are just trying to make ends meet. You realize you need to level up and keep pushing because everybody in town is doing it. But I think that’s probably the healthiest thing because you can get really comfortable becoming the most famous person in your small town and never try to get any better. But when you go to Nashville, it’s world-class. If you want to be the best, you’ve got to be one of the best in the world.
Tell me about signing with Records Nashville. Did you receive any other offers, and how did you decide this was the perfect label home for you?
We were talking to multiple labels. And it’s funny. When you’re independent, as soon as you start building something, people come and say, ‘I want to take part in it.’ The Records team felt right because they are clearly a music-first company. They go, ‘This feels good. We believe in this, as opposed to being all about the numbers. Of course, you need people to react to it, but you also need to believe in a song if you’re going to push it. That’s the kind of company that they are. We all sit down and listen to music, and we go, ‘We think this is awesome.’ I feel like that’s where music needs to start. It shouldn’t be a numbers game. It should be a music game.
Tell me the inspiration behind your track, “Meet Your Mama.”
I wrote this song with three other outside guys. I didn’t write it with the band. I like to do that. That’s kind of the Nashville way to do it. All four of us in the band write with all different people. This song is interesting because many times in country music, people are looking for a flip on the hook or on the title. Travis Wood, a big up-and-comer in Nashville I have been fortunate to be friends with for several years, had this idea. And it was not about the flip. It was almost about making it smaller as opposed to more clever. This song is not about just meeting a girl‘s mom. It’s about wanting to know everything about somebody. This song could be called ‘I Want to Know Everything About You.’ So what is the most important thing about learning about somebody? It’s about meeting the parents, right? When you start dating somebody, you know, the make-or-break moment is when you meet their parents because you will learn so much about who this person is. You are also going to be under a microscope for a minute. I feel like that is such a big moment. The other line in that song about love is about drinking a beer with your old man. For every dude, there are two most important beers in your life. The first one you have is with your dad, and the second one is with the girl you are going to marry’s dad. There are no more important beers than those, and I feel like that’s pretty cool.
It’s such a relatable track. Do you have any personal stories about meeting parents?
It’s so funny because my wife (Stephanie Pratt) and I feel like it’s such a funny way how we met. We started talking – and I’m sorry everybody out there – but we met on Tinder. It was before Tinder was out there. It was more of a relationship-based app. But I hadn’t been on Tinder before, and we started talking, and I was like, ‘OK, let’s go on a date, so I will come to pick you up.’ So I showed up at her house, and she hadn’t told her parents she was going on this online date. So I showed up early. I wanted to make a good first impression with this girl. I’m not just going to text and be like, ‘I’m here.’ I’m going to go up to her front door and knock on the door. So she hadn’t told her parents, and I was a little early. Her mom answered the door, and she was like, ‘Who are you?’ She had thought that my car had broken down. I was like, ‘I think I’m at the right house. I am here to pick up Stephanie.’ Stephanie heard and ran down the stairs, and she was like, ‘I’m sorry. I’ve got to go,’ and she slammed the door. It was traumatizing. So I got to meet Steph’s mom before meeting Steph. But it’s funny because we look back at it now and laugh because it was hilarious. But it was like this crazy thing. And I get it because it’s like, who’s going to believe their daughter when she’s like, ‘I’m going on this online date?’ I’d be terrified, but it all worked out.
How does ‘Meet Your Mama’ prepare for future releases?
I feel like this song is definitely on the more emotional side of the spectrum – it’s funny because it’s an emotional song, but it’s not like a ballad. It’s what we would call it still slams. I feel like that’s what we try to do with all of our stuff because we want it to slam, even if it’s a sad song. I feel like there’s something that we always run through the JBB filter. It needs to have a little bit of cleverness, and a flirty little wink to it. And I feel like this song has that, and others have that too. So I feel like it can be something totally different as long as it slams and it’s got a wink.
What kind of music inspires you and the band?
We listen to everything. And that’s the cool thing about being in a band. We are all guys who love country music and all of it in iterations. We love everything from Zach Bryan to Morgan Wallen to Luke Combs. I feel like, if you don’t like current country music, you probably shouldn’t be in it. But we all listen to everything. We listen to everything from Kendrick Lamar to George Jones to Led Zeppelin to the Red Hot Chili Peppers. We listen to all of them. I mean, I feel like, if you’re going to be into music, you should be listening to a little bit of everything.
What are three goals that you want to accomplish this year?
One of them is not a crazy tangible thing, but to experience growth as artists and as a group and getting better at what we’re doing, I feel like that’s the intangible one. To hear our song on the radio would be another one. We got the opportunity a couple of years ago. We got some support on one of our older singles, but to hear ‘Meet Your Mama’ playing on US radio would be the number one goal.
What should fans look for next from you?
Definitely look for new music. We’ve been writing so much this past season. We’ve just been writing, recording, and getting ready to drop new music, which is great!
Fans can keep up with James Band Barker Band on Instagram.
Melinda Lorge is a Nashville-based freelance writer who specializes in covering country music. Along with Country Now, her work has appeared in publications, including Rare Country, Rolling Stone Country, Nashville Lifestyles Magazine, Wide Open Country and more. After joining Rare Country in early 2016, Lorge was presented with the opportunity to lead coverage on late-night television programs, including “The Voice” and “American Idol,” which helped her to sharpen her writing skills even more. Lorge earned her degree at Middle Tennessee State University, following the completion of five internships within the country music industry. She has an undeniable love for music and entertainment. When she isn’t living and breathing country music, she can be found enjoying time outdoors with family and friends.