Grit and ‘Gold’: As She Releases Her Debut Album, Gabby Barrett Looks Back to Her Beginnings
There’s a very specific reason why Gabby Barrett selected “Goldmine” as the title track of her debut album. For her,…
Gabby Barrett; Photo by Robby Klein
There’s a very specific reason why Gabby Barrett selected “Goldmine” as the title track of her debut album. For her, it represents both the hard work that she has put into her career and the sweetness of that hard work’s rewards.
“When I would think about people who worked in goldmines, it was always notoriously known to be very hard work,” Barrett explained during a virtual album release party the day before Goldmine came out. She was joined in the conversation by Red Light Management’s Tom Lord, who has worked with Barrett throughout every step of the process of making her album.
“I know it sounds cliche, but over the past two years writing, I really feel like I dug for these songs and this music,” she goes on to say. “And with these 13 tracks that we narrowed it down to, I feel like I’ve just struck my own little mine of gold. So these [songs] are my little gold nuggets.”
Of course, long before she made this album, Barrett was intimately familiar with what she refers to as “the grind.” Many fans got acquainted with the singer when she signed on for a stint on American Idol, ultimately placing third on the show in 2018. But although she was only 17 years old when she was scouted to audition for the show, she had already logged several years as a performer by that time.
“I played my first show at 11, and then in those six years from 11 to 17, I just performed and grinded out everywhere that I possibly could,” she continues. “I mean, like, four shows a week, wherever I could. Grocery stores, you name it. Giant Eagles were my thing.”
Barrett was one of eight children, and money was tight. However, she found an early fan in her dad, who prioritized her musical career — often at the expense of the household’s financial comfort.
“I remember getting the power pulled on my house multiple times, just because my dad was pooling all his money toward everything I wanted: Gas to get here, car problems to get there, all this stuff. So I understood what the grind was from a very young age,” the singer recalls.
Even after Idol, Barrett’s career wasn’t a sure thing. On the contrary, she says that all the labels she initially approached after leaving the show turned her down.
“A lot of people assume that yes, it’s very easy for someone on a platform so big. Like, after the show, you’re set. You’ve got a label, you’re famous, you’ve got everything happening for you. And that’s not the case at all,” she points out. “You go back to almost square one of building your team, building your music, building everything as an artist apart from a TV show.”
Only this time around, she had the help of Lord, who she jokingly refers to as her career “dad.” (“Older brother,” he laughingly protested during the virtual release party.) With help from Lord, Barrett released “I Hope” independently as her debut single in early 2019, all the while honing her songwriting skills and doing the hard work that ultimately result in the track list of Goldmine.
By now, “I Hope” has become a massive hit for Barrett. It became a No. 1 single, got remixed by pop megastar Charlie Puth, and made Barrett the first female country artist to top 10 million single-week streams.
In the weeks and months after she first released the song last January, all of those major accolades were still far in the future, but “I Hope” had already started making waves. It got the attention of some of the same labels that had passed Barrett over initially. However, Lord points out, the singer didn’t jump at the chance to sign the first label deal that came along.
“Early on, when we weren’t getting a lot of record company traction, but when you released ‘I Hope’ and the success had started to come, some labels outside of Nashville started calling,” Lord remembers. “And I think [Barrett] said to me, ‘Hey, listen, I’m flattered, but I’m a little cautious about that because that’s not where my roots are.’”
The blend of musical styles on Goldmine makes no secret of Barrett’s diverse influences — she got her start singing in a gospel choir, after all, and has always been inspired by R&B and rock — but country music has always been closest to her heart, and she wanted her label home to reflect that.
In fact, there was one particular artist whose career struck a chord with Barrett, in terms of staying grounded in a country foundation while still taking time to explore other musical genres.
“Growing up in the country realm, I really liked Shania Twain. She was somebody that I always gravitated towards,” Barrett says. “She loved country music and always wanted to be rooted in country music no matter what. It wasn’t like, ‘Oh, let me get my foot in the door anywhere and then go off in a different direction.’ She really liked country music and wanted to establish herself there.
“But at the same time, if her music was overflowing and wanted to spill out into pop, it was okay. That’s kinda how I feel about my music,” Barrett adds. “If your music wants to spill out into something else, don’t turn down another blessing. But always [be] rooted in country music first. That’s how I wanted to be with stuff. Country music first and foremost. Forever.”
The singer ultimately signed with Warner Music Nashville, a label that she says she “naturally gravitated” toward from the beginning. The grind she learned early on taught Barrett to take her time, both in selecting a label home and in creating her debut album. While making Goldmine, she held every stage of the process to a high standard, knowing she wanted to put out a body of work that truly represented her as an artist.
“I really wanted to make sure it was everything I wanted it to be and [said] everything I wanted it to say,” Barrett says. “I’ve heard artists talk before, like, three or four albums in, like, ‘Oh, my first and second albums weren’t really what I wanted to say.’
“I didn’t want that to happen. I really wanted a solid body of work about me that I would be proud of to look back on,” she continues. “Because you can’t ever redo your debut album.”