On the night of a new moon, NYC-based singer-songwriter Breanna Barbara looked up at the dark sky with teary eyes and an occupied mind distracted by confusion. Several successful years behind her as an artist, thoughts of never being able to write music again suddenly began to flood her thoughts; unsure of her future, she set out under the stars as the harsh realities of the music business threatened to wreak havoc on her greatest passion in life. An ethereal deliverance of her inner monologue, Barbara plays out the moment she felt her artistic purpose slipping through her fingers in her latest single, “New Moon,” released June 28.
“I was going through a lot personally,” she says. “I think I was just confused if I wanted to share my music any more and keep hustling in this business.” Sinking under the pressure of maintaining a presence in a competitive, cutthroat industry, practically robbing her of the joy musical creativity once brought her, Barbara throws a plea to heavens: “Dear muse/Why don’t you let me sing/Out there?”
“I am definitely very influenced by the moon. New moons represent new beginnings, and it’s good to set new habits and intentions on those days,” Barbara says. “Looking back at when I first wrote the demo, I was feeling kind of sad. There was something in the air that night, and I felt like I wanted to just think it out until I felt better.”
Upon moving to NYC to pursue theatre school years ago, Barbara continued to gravitate toward the guitar, naturally choosing music as a means for creative expression. As early as 2013, she began releasing self-produced tracks recorded on her iPhone, eventually sending the demos to producer Andrija Tokic at The Bomb Shelter in Nashville. This resulted in Barbara’s first record, Mirage Dreams, independently released in 2016. This was, of course, a significant milestone for a developing artist, but it brought new anxiety, too – that of keeping audiences coming back for more.
Following the momentum of her first record, Barbara hit a wall. “I was attempting to get back to that place of – I just want to play because I have to play, not because I have to write another record,” she says, nostalgic for the time when she wrote freely and recorded as she pleased. “I just wear it because I must. Getting higher and higher on social media, being in this whole new world of it and having to promote yourself – I think I got a little lost.”
Although the hustle of the business presented a roadblock for the artist, most of that anxiety was self-induced. “It was almost like I was putting pressure on myself. I saw that people had listened to my first record, so I knew that people were going to listen to my second record and judge or compare it to the first one,” the singer-songwriter describes. “I feel like there [was] a ghost of the past surrounding me.”
Breanna Barbara expresses her feelings on “New Moon” through the dreamy, whimsical effects of the omnichord, an ‘80s electronic instrument she hadn’t used before. The slow tempo adds intimacy to the track, giving listeners a window into Barbara’s inner thoughts and deep longing for the past. She draws in listeners with straight-forward, stream-of-consciousness lyrics (“Holdin’ on to old memories/Down inside, through all of me/I’m just trying to get to where I’m going/Without falling on the floor”), her impeccable talent for capturing and evoking emotion stemming from her affinity for soul-wrenching talents like Jessie Mae Hemphill and Bessie Smith.
“New Moon” follows two other recently-released singles: the languid “Big Bang Blues” (available on 45RPM 7″ from Freeman Street Records) and the smoldering, minimal “The Way Out.” She will debut her newest material live with a rooftop show at Our Wicked Lady in Brooklyn on July 18 – evidently, calling out to the moon for healing and inspiration proved to be helpful in moving past her mental blocks.
Barbara also cites Rainer Maria Rilke as a huge inspiration, particularly Letters to a Young Poet, which famously details the dilemma of deciding between a path as an artist or following “less-creative” pursuits. Rilke concludes in his correspondence with aspiring poet Franz Xaver Kappus that art is only worth pursuing if the would-be artist feels an intense pull to do so – if they cannot live without creating, if there’s a void in the soul that can only be fulfilled by making art. “It’s something that I’ve always taken with me as an artist,” she explains, having picked up the book in theater school. “It’s like the lid is going to pop if I don’t get it out somehow.”
Moreover, her urge to write music, coupled with her gravitation toward spirituality, keeps her going through tough times. “In those times of desperation when nothing’s really clicking for you, it’s really good to sit down and do the things that make you come back to yourself,” she says. “For me, that’s definitely tapping into that spiritual side of myself. That seems to be a theme in my philosophy: learning what I believe in, questioning why I’m here and how complex human beings with all these emotions can be.”