Cathartic and intimate, Barna Howard’s freshman recording leaves listeners feeling cleansed. His eponymous debut was released in February.
Originally from rural Eureka, Missouri, he’s worked his way through the country, living in Chicago, Boston, and currently Portland. With lyrics that could have been ripped out of his diary and warmly honeyed vocal styling Barna Howard helps purge old ghosts. He unassumingly crafts delicate guitar melodies that would befit the bank of any creek in the Ozarks.
I recently had the opportunity to share with Barna about his music and song writing
Barna Howard: [There are] several different ways I go about writing. Sometimes, it comes from a melody I have created. Ideas will start going through my head from what I feel from that melody. About 50% of the time I do it that way, the other half, I find a word or something I heard during the day. A lot of songs from this first album were stories about back home—being home in Missouri and leaving all that. The first album for me was very transient.”
I can see into his music. It’s more than a rural background; there is a universal element to his music. There is a relief that comes with seeing your own ghosts with different names.
In “Songs for Joe,” Barna reflects over a slow-walking guitard duet: He don’t laugh now/ He don’t cry/ Wish he’d stop and wonder why/ He’s all hooked up/ On a “precious” thing/ Between a needlepoint and a rubber string
While “Songs for Joe” is a chapter out of his life, it stirs up ancient pain from friends I have lost. Feelings like this are things you seal away. To indentify with music is to see yourself in it. Barna told me his “Joe” was a combination of two specific individuals. But it could as well be anyone who has slipped through the fingers of the ones that love them.
Barna’s music is about closure through release. He told me that, “literally every song” was about a part of his life. He added, “There were so many things I just had to get out.” When I asked if there was a particular song on the album that Barna “had to write,” he shared the inspiration of the album’s first single “Promise, I Won’t Laugh.”
BH: That was a song I wrote about my first love. We had been split up for a couple years. I wrote that song about 2 ½ years after we had broken up. I just wanted to say one more thing. I wanted to use it as a redemption song. I wanted to tell her not to be sad not to be in my life anymore. I wanted to celebrate it in a way, just thank her. That was sort of the “last song” I wanted to get out about that person.
I am watching the Georgia sun squeeze out the day’s last sweat as it slides over the horizon. With my day finally done, I’ll put on Barna Howard to remember, but mostly to forget.