Singer-songwriter Gabby Barrett recently spoke with Billboard to discuss writing her own songs, finding her voice in a gospel choir at a young age, and more. Read the full interview below and check out a new photo shoot with photographer Tracy Allison.
GABBY BARRETT ON WRITING HER OWN HITS AND MSG DREAMS: ‘WHEREVER THE LORD LEADS, I’M HERE FOR THE RIDE’
Billboard’s 2022 Women in Music Rising Star recipient says the misery that inspired her breakout hit has long since passed.
Earlier this winter, Gabby Barrett and her husband, guitarist Cade Foehner, went skiing for the first time, not far from where she grew up outside of Pittsburgh. “No bones were broken,” she says, giving two thumbs up over Zoom, though she admits with a light chuckle that Foehner “fell down a lot… I also fell down.”
Mountain missteps aside, Barrett has been soaring lately. The 21-year-old’s career took off in 2020 with “I Hope,” a seemingly sweet love song inspired by a cheating high school boyfriend that delighted listeners with its left-turn knife twist at the chorus’ end. It landed Barrett a deal with Warner Music Nashville and hit the top of Billboard’s Country Airplay chart, while a remix featuring Charlie Puth rose to No. 3 on the Hot 100. “I Hope” would also rule Hot Country Songs for 27 weeks — the longest run by a solo female artist since the chart launched in 1958 — and helped Barrett snag three trophies at the 2021 Billboard Music Awards, including top country female artist.
Billboard’s 2022 Women in Music Rising Star recipient, who welcomed daughter Baylah last year, says the misery that inspired the hit has long since passed. “I don’t think I could write that now,” she says. “I am in a very happy marriage, so I think I would write that a little bit differently.” But contentment has served Barrett just as well: Her follow-up single, “The Good Ones” — the thematic opposite of “I Hope,” released in April 2021 — became the first song by a woman to rule Country Airplay for three weeks since 2011.
Barrett’s next coronation moment will come March 7, when she and Jimmie Allen co-host the 57th annual Academy of Country Music Awards with Dolly Parton in Las Vegas. The icon and newcomer happen to have a lot in common: Both come from big families and married young, both are guided by their faith, and it was Parton who inspired Barrett to write her own truths in her songs. “She’s always writing about her life and honest instances,” says Barrett, who has covered both “Jolene” and “I Will Always Love You.”
And that is Barrett’s focus as she works on the follow-up to her gold-certified debut, Goldmine. “I don’t know what the theme exactly is going to be,” she says. “I do know that I’m a country gal at heart, and that’s definitely always the kind of music I’m going to make.”
You write your own material, which is rarely the case for new country artists. Why did you decide to do that?
After I had come off American Idol [Barrett competed in 2018] and got to Nashville, none of the labels wanted anything to do with me, so I decided to work on my writing skills. Some wonderful songwriters taught me how to write songs and showed me what I was capable of doing. I just felt this urge to not sing somebody else’s story, but to sing mine.
Your father encouraged you to join a Black gospel choir growing up. How did that experience help you develop your sound?
It impacted me a lot. I originally figured out how to sing R&B music and gravitated to that first. I was 9 years old and ended up joining a gospel choir and staying there for two years. A group of women would work with me every single week. They helped me find my voice and show me what I was able to do with it. Not long after, I fell in love with country music. I think you can hear both — R&B and country — in my vocals.
You’ve been performing since you were 11, and over the past couple of years, you’ve opened for acts like Keith Urban and Thomas Rhett. What have you learned from them?
Thomas came [backstage] for almost all of my shows on the entire tour. He didn’t have to do that for me. I’m nobody. And he was just very, very kind. It puts me in the position to make sure that I’m doing that for others if I ever get to that spot someday.
You posted a picture on Instagram recently of yourself cooking at the stove with a full laundry basket in front of you. Does home life keep you grounded?
I’m a very Bible-centered person. The Bible does speak about how that’s what I’m supposed to be doing — taking care of my household first and foremost. So I take care of my children, and I take care of my husband. I find it joyful to fold the laundry even on a tired day.
Warner Music Nashville chairman/CEO John Esposito has said he could see you having an international career like Shania Twain. Do you see yourself balancing that kind of potential future with your faith?
Wherever the Lord leads it, I’m just here for the ride. I would love to eventually sell out Madison Square Garden one day. That’s definitely a bucket list goal. But my role first and foremost is being a good mother to my daughter and raising her correctly and to love the Lord. I think everything just follows the way that it’s supposed to be.
Esposito wanted to sign you so badly that he had former Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher call your father, who is a huge Steelers fan. Did that help convince you to join the label?
My dad was a big part of the journey coming up for me. When Coach Cowher gave him a call, he called me freaking out. He was like, “Do you know who just called my phone? Coach Cowher! He’s iconic.” So he was all for my signing with the label after that. (Laughs.)Billboard