In New York City, a place where hunger for success and trading love for fame is as common as pretzel vendors and Starbucks, the discovery of a duo pure of heart, mind, and talent is both refreshing and inspiring. There’s something so natural and uncontrived about the music and harmonies seeping out of these lyrically-driven folk artists, that you’ll find yourself mesmerized by the soulful intricacy of power couple Nathan and Becky Bliss, better known to audiences as Barnaby Bright.
A modern-day fairytale that began in the heart of Kansas City and culminated in our very own concrete jungle, Nathan and Becky met through a booking agent and immediately linked up musically, playing mostly cover songs together at local bars over the course of a year. Both attached to other people at the time, Becky decided to move to NYC to pursue music and put out an EP, and Nathan remained in Kansas City, each unaware of their mutual attraction and instead nurturing a friendship, keeping in touch despite the distance. “A year after I moved to New York he came out to visit. We’d both since broken up with our significant others, and that’s when we finally got together,” Becky recalls.
Adds Nathan, “I had actually retired from music for a brief period of time, just gave it all up. Of course it didn’t last. When I heard Becky’s EP I knew I wanted to be a part of that music, so I came up to New York to play a concert with her, and it was magical. We both realized what was happening and just said, ‘Let’s do this. Let’s make music together.’ “
The duo dove head first into the industry, developing their sound and writing, and eventually coming up with a name that embodies their spirit and uniqueness: Barnaby Bright. The medieval name for the summer solstice, the longest day of the year, seems fitting for two artists that are destined to shine well into the twilight of their careers. It was Nathan’s love for dictionaries and mythology books that led him to that choice, as well as a quirky-yet-inspirational dream. “I liked the name Barnaby Bright but I wasn’t sold, so I started asking around for opinions,” he admits. “When I went to bed that night I had a dream where Bob Marley actually appeared and said, ‘Barnaby Bright… it’s a good name!’ Sounds crazy, but it’s a true story. When I woke up I knew that was it.”
Working together in every way possible this team takes their job very seriously, guiding each other when needed and always open to ideas and suggestions. More often than not they start out a song separately and later come together, sitting down on the carpet in their Brooklyn apartment and working through it on their guitars, not stopping until it’s done.
This level of perseverance is exactly what placed Barnaby Bright in the Top Ten Finalists of the New York Song Circle Contest two years in a row, and awarded them the Grand Prize winner this past November. After their nomination for “Gravity” last year, a beautifully heart-wrenching song that explores both the concept of being pulled towards something and away from it, the duo approached this year’s contest with a new attitude and sense of gusto. “We learned a lot over the past year,” Becky reveals humbly. “We’ve probably played about a hundred shows, and we had never really toured before that. It changes things. You learn to feel more comfortable onstage.”
Nathan nods, chiming in, “You truly yearn to connect with the audience. After awhile you just walk into the room and you are ready to make something happen. I think last year I felt a little shy, and we didn’t really step up. Our performance was more about the song. One major thing we’ve realized since then is it’s never just about the song. It’s about the audience. That’s the biggest lesson I learned over the past year.”
So what’s up next for the newly crowned Songwriters of the Year for their song “Don’t Look Down”? In addition to the beautiful Gibson “Songwriter Deluxe” guitar and eight hours of studio recording at Morning Star Studios in Philadelphia with Glenn Barrett, the pair received a generous check that will go towards the purchase of a new touring vehicle. For the past few years Nathan and Becky have been sweating their way across the country in a beaten down two-door Chevy Cavalier with no air conditioning. “In the summer we have specific outfits that we wear called our ‘sweat outfits’ because it gets so hot in the car,” Becky says laughing at the thought. “Ultimately, it’s just not safe.”
It’s that sort of positive, gracious attitude that lures audiences from all over the world into a Barnaby Bright performance, captivated not only by the gorgeous melodies they produce but also by the simplistic spirit of two musicians who truly love their art as much as they love each other. Wholesome to their core, Becky lists being a cook and Nathan a counselor for the handicapped as alternative career options had music not worked out. “There’s something so pure in that exchange,” Nathan explains. “In the music business we have so many faces, but in helping others you have the chance to take yourself out of that.”
Crediting influential organizations such as New York Songwriters Circle as being a staple in building their NYC career, Nathan and Becky are also eternally grateful to friend BJ Barratt for helping them book their first European tour and their first performance at Song Circle, which has led to a good amount of press and recognition. Additionally they have been moved by the community in New York, citing their colleagues as not only inspirational musicians, but also genuinely nice and approachable people.
Whether playing local venues like The Living Room in NYC and The Tin Angel in Philadelphia or international staples like De Waag in Harlem, Netherlands (where Simon and Garfunkel once played), Barnaby Bright pushes forward with determination and resolve. Motivated by the quote, “Success is moving from one failure to another without losing your enthusiasm,” Becky and Nathan speak realistically about their journey thus far.
“We have paid our dues,” she admits. “We’ve played terrible shows, lugged enormous amounts of equipment up three flights of stairs, traveled in that car… we’ve really had to work hard to not get discouraged.”
“There’s been a lot of failure,” adds Nathan. “But you know, performances are built on that- lessons learned the hard way. You just have to continue working hard. And always say yes.”
Between Becky’s angelic voice, enchanting audiences with the same command as Sarah McLachlan and Carole King, and Nathan’s brilliant mastery of multiple instruments, including some tantalizing saxophone skills, the folk-driven Barnaby Bright have certainly set out to show the world they mean business. Carrying themselves in the most professional and classy way possible, this normally introverted pair is motivated to show up and push themselves purely for the audience and fans. “It’s always worth it for that one person who comes up at the end of a show and tells us how much a song meant to them,” Becky admits thankfully.
It’s the audience who should feel grateful to be part of such a magical experience and energy that Barnaby Bright exude from the moment they belt their perfectly pitched harmonies onstage, to the warm handshake and embrace they bestow on fans at the end of a show. Be sure to catch their next full band performance at The Living Room on January 20, sharing the bill with friends and fellow artists Caleb Hawley and Liz Longley.
Category: Exclusive Interviews
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