Hannah George 29/12/2023
At just 20-years-old singer-songwriter Spencer Barnett already has an impressive discography with three albums including his most recent EP ‘Elements’ released earlier this month.
Whilst on our trip to America this past month, HATC had the pleasure of sitting down with Spencer in his home city of New York to talk everything music. Spencer began his career in music as a teenager, making his breakthrough with his single ‘Whatever’ in 2017. Wanting to know more about how his passion for creating music started at such a young age, I asked Spencer to reminisce on his earlier experiences with making and listening to music.
Spencer: “I started with both guitar and piano. My dad played piano around the house a lot and I definitely looked up to him in that regard. My grandma was also a professional, she taught music here in New York, and I, you know, looked up to both of them, and from a young age, because of that, I really gravitated towards the keys.”
Rather honestly and with a laugh, Spencer later recalled how he then decided to learn guitar via YouTube tutorials claiming it was a bit more “badass, before telling me how it was producing music that forced him to experiment with a new range of instruments."
Spencer: “Kind of midway through high school, I was probably 15/16, I got my hands on Ableton (a music software app) and I started producing, just to record some ideas that I had, and to bring to people that I was working with at the time. I wanted to play other instruments on it, II wanted there to be bass on my tracks, and I wanted the drum to sound a certain way. So I kind of picked up these other instruments just by needing them to put in my songs for production.”
HATC: Do you find this helps you in communicating exactly what you want your music to say or sound like?
Spencer “Totally. I mean, there's this big argument where some people are like, I don't want to know music theory because then I can't experiment as much, and my stuff is gonna be more rigid but I totally disagree with that. I think I've gotten better as a musician, because I still practice and try and hone my skills just like a traditionally trained musician. I think it's been super helpful to make more original stuff because then I can hear something in my head and I just know where to go automatically. At the core of it all, I love playing music and making music”.
Being that we were in New York, I wanted to know what brought Spencer here after being in San Francisco for most of his life.
Spencer: “I was actually in LA for probably a year and a half and, and then after the pandemic had hit, and my lease was up, I think it was the end of June. So July 2020. I had been going to New York here and there for photo shoots or for a show or two, one of my closest friends had lived here before and introduced me to a bunch of really cool artists out here. I really loved the sort of diversity of kind of culture and interest here. I've also been able to score two or three shorts out here, which has been really exciting. And I've been able to do production work for other projects, which has been really exciting and put on these different hats, which kind of all translates back into making some of the best stuff for my own project, which has been great.”
HATC: How has it felt being able to create this music knowing that it is being listened to by all these different people from different walks of life who enjoy it in a way that is so personable to them?
Spencer “It's a super cool and super weird feeling. Because I put out the songs and I have an emotional connection to them, whether it's the lyrics and the story, or the music or both. It's so cool to see something that is this very private thing that happened, at my house, or amongst very, very close friends, and see it kind of in the pocket of someone else, with their own meaning to it. I think that's such a beautiful thing and the songs, they start as sort of this seed, and they grow into a song and you go through the details, and you cut a baseline or a vocal take and make sure it's mixed properly, and everything sounded really cool and then you put it out, you deliver the song. You have no control, but it fully takes on this whole life of its own, it's scary, but it's super beautiful.”
Talking more about agency over art, Spencer also had his own interesting take “It's the same thing with art, like my friends who are artists, you know, paint something, create a sculpture, and then itI gets sold and someone else owns that piece of work and can do whatever they want. They could literally cut it up, or they put it on a wall or it could go to a museum, that sort of uncertainty is kind of cool.”
HATC:What are your expectations when you release your own music then?
Spencer:" I think expectations are weird and change. And I don't think that my expectations, or the ones that I focus on, when I put out music are necessarily directly linked to a certain number or certain outreach. I hope more than a certain number of people, that people connect on a deeper level to my music. I'd rather have like 100 people, or even 10 people that listen to my music, that are really kind of in touch with it and really connect to it."
HATC: What is important to you about writing these life moments into your songs?
Spencer: “I get a hard time from a lot of my friends for being a compartmentaliser and I don't think that's necessarily fully the truth. But I think that maybe it just takes me a second to process things, and to, really understand what's happening in my own head. I've found that it's really difficult for me to write a song right after something happens. I really need to kind of take a step back and sit on something and reflect on it before I feel like I can put it into words or music.”
Talking about these processes behind the creation of his music, especially the more emotional processes behind songwriting got me thinking about Spencer's most recent release ‘Elements’. The music video for his single (also named ‘Elements’) takes Spencer's already emotional lyrics and gives them a whole new layer- aptly with puppets. Learning of his love for production I asked Spencer how he navigated this more visual creative process.
Spencer: “For the video, I wanted to do something a bit more unorthodox.Forages, I have wanted to work with one of my friends, Lucas Ansel, I met while I was in school in Providence, actually, I went to Brown and he went to RISD for for film, specifically animation. I was always a huge fan of his work and wanted to work with him for ages. I wanted to do something that's kind of cheeky. That video is such a labour of love, all of the puppets were created by hand by Lucas and this guy, super-talented puppeteer and artist, Eli. Everything was kind of done from scratch and shot in Lucas's basement and Shelter Island, I drove up and shot a bunch of it and it was a really cool process. It's really fun and I’m super proud of it. Stoked it's out.”
Talking more about Spencer's successes, most recently with his billboard recognition as top 10 new pop songs I asked Spencer how it felt to receive such high acclaim.
Spencer: “It's very flattering, it's definitely cool, more than just the publication to see yourself on the same list as another artist you really like is, is always really cool. I think though, you know, as I've continued to put out music I've been able to write and create, outside of that and it's definitely been easier to do since I've been on the East Coast. But I think that the best music isn't necessarily made with a defined end goal in mind and it usually just comes from writing whatever feels right in that moment, with every little decision even while you're recording. So, I think that ironically, some of the songs that have gotten more praise from publications, critics or even kind of fans and friends have been the ones that, I was trying to least to do that. And so it's dismantled the whole notion that one can even write for that or try to emulate that.”
HATC What can we hope to hear or see from you in 2024?
Spencer “I've been working on a project. I'm not sure exactly what form it's going to be. And it's not 100% done yet. But it's music, a collection of songs, we'll call it for now. And that's been the last sort of year or two of my life. I've been working on this, and I'm really excited that it's finally taking shape and about to cross the finish line. So I've already started out two songs from that sort of idea of work, ‘Swank’ was the first to come out and now ‘Elements’ just now both of which I'm super excited about, but I have a tonne more on this project sort of like body and vibe. And it's definitely, you know, the next chapter sonically, and visually I'm super excited for, the visuals and I really, really hope to be able to bring it on the road soon. Because I think this music, you know, well, not even think this music really came from a very live place. A lot of the ideas started as jams with my friends. And we just hit record and jam for an hour or two and see what comes out of it. So I think the live show is gonna be awesome”
Well, we certainly are excited to see what Spencer has to show us in 2024. For now, you can stream ‘Elements’ on most music streaming platforms!
Words Hannah George
Creative Alice Gee
Photography Alexis Rosario
Styling Kirsten McGovern
MUA Ariana Sakcedo-Gonzalez
Hair Johana Castillo