Since Gabby Barrett burst onto the country scene in 2018 – when she came third on American Idol after winning over audiences with her powerful voice – her career has gone from strength to strength.
Earlier this year she topped the Billboard Country Airplay chart with her debut single I Hope, becoming the first woman to do since Carly Pearce back in 2017. Her first album Goldmine – which saw her co-writing 12 of the 13 tracks – was released last month and had a record 15.98 million on-demand streams in its first week. She’s also opened for artists including Toby Keith, Keith Urban and Cole Swindell, and was scheduled to make her UK debut at this year’s C2C: Country to Country prior to the festival being postponed.
I spoke to Gabby recently about the album, her new single The Good Ones, the success of I Hope, collaborating with Charlie Puth, how she’s been honing her craft as a songwriter – and the advice she was given by Carrie Underwood…
Congratulations on the success of I Hope. Has it surprised you with how well it’s done? Or did you know it was something special when you were writing the song?
I mean I think so. Quite honestly of course it definitely surprised me when we first started to see such an immediate positive reaction. Because I actually released the song originally when I didn’t have a record deal or a record label, so I didn’t have any backing or anything. So for the song to just explode the way that it did showed that it’s very special. But of course when you write a song you could think that it’s hit material, but you don’t really know how other people are gonna react to it until you put it out. And so never in a million years would I have thought over the past two years the song would have did what it’s done, and it’s just been amazing to watch. So definitely didn’t know that it was gonna do all this stuff. It’s such a huge blessing.
You’ve also just released a duet version of the song with Charlie Puth. How did that come about and what was it like working with him?
Yeah, Charlie had actually apparently heard the song off of some type of streaming platform, which is crazy to me that he even heard the song. And he screenshotted it and put it on his Instagram story and tagged me. I was going through my Instagram direct messages and I saw his verified check, and so I clicked on it and it was definitely him. And he just had messaged me and said, ‘Oh my gosh this song is killer, I haven’t heard a song like this in years’ and I was like, ‘Oh thank you so much, I appreciate it’. And then he messaged me back again and said, ‘Is there any way I could remix this song? I have to remix this song’. And this was when quarantine and everything was really fresh and new, I think April. And our teams just got together – he’s also a Warner artist and I’m a Warner artist – and it came out really well. He put vocals on it and it just came out really well. So it’s fun to release a new version of the song to an even broader audience of people during such a time.
Your current single is The Good Ones. Can you tell us more about that?
Yes, The Good Ones is a song that I wrote last year and it’s a song inspired by my husband who I actually met on American Idol in 2018. We were both on the same season and ended up getting married which was pretty awesome. And the song idea kinda came about… I was thinking back to when we were dating at the time during American Idol and a lot of people didn’t know. It was just close family that knew. And they would always ask, ‘How’s your boyfriend doing?’ and I’d always be like, ‘Oh he’s good, he’s a good one, he’s a keeper’. And I would say that to people, and I remember hearing other girls say that to people when they’re asked the same question, like, ‘He’s a good one’. I’ve heard that multiple times. And so I was like, ‘You know what? Let’s write a song for the good ones out there, because there are good ones out there’, and especially writing about mine. And so that’s where the idea came from. It is a 360 from I Hope, but with I Hope being kind of a vengeful bad relationship song I didn’t want to give people false hope of never getting in a relationship, because that’s not true because there are good ones out there. So that’s kind of where it came from.
I also wanted to ask you about your album Goldmine. You wrote almost all the songs on there – was that quite a big learning curve for you in terms of the songwriting process?
For sure, yes. The writing process in total… I mean the whole album in total really was a two year process. And so two years ago was when I really started diving into Nashville and the community of writers which are very, very, very talented writers, especially in the country format that I’ve got to be around, which I’m fortunate for. But absolutely. I started really diving in two years ago and learnt so much from them. Because I wasn’t even sure myself what my capabilities as a writer were, and I think that’s one of the reasons why it took me so long and that’s why it was so difficult to get a record deal coming off of American Idol, because nobody really knew what my original music abilities were, including myself. And so being around such wonderful talented writers just really got the ball rolling for me. They taught me how to formulate a song correctly, and now I just get it more. And so thankfully I’m able to create songs that hopefully people like. So yes, I did write 12 of the 13 songs on this album and it was really fun to be a part of.
One thing that stands out when I listen to the album is that it’s very personal. Was that something you consciously wanted to do when you were making the record? Or did it evolve that way as you were putting it together?
Yeah, so because I Hope got so much attention that it has, I had not released a huge body of work and everybody was like, ‘Oh I want to hear an album, I want to hear more music’. And that was always kind of in the works. And so I wanted to make sure that with this first album being the first, and being that you can’t ever redo your first album, I wanted it to be all parts of me. So people kind of listened to I Hope and they were like, ‘Well what’s the rest of this girl? Who is this girl that’s singing this? What is she about?’
That’s why there’s so much variety on this album, really, because I was inspired by a lot of different genres of music growing up from my parents. And it has intertwined itself in different ways through my career. So that’s why you have a rocky kind of sounding song and then you have a ballad, you have country, you have pop, you have a Christian song. I mean there’s so much variety to it, but that’s really who I am as a person and I wanted to make sure that that came across with this being the first album. That was very, very important to me. I think we accomplished that and it’s gonna be something I’ll be proud to look back on too.
Were there any songs on the album that were particularly easy or particularly challenging to write?
In the writing? I don’t think so. I would say one that was difficult – not even difficult but took more time – would be Footprints On The Moon. And that’s actually one of my top three favourite songs off of the album. But Footprints On The Moon, Jon Nite who’s one of the writers on that song – actually it was the same three writers on that song that wrote I Hope. Jon Nite had come up with the idea of the title, Footprints On The Moon, and he said, ‘I’ve been holding on to this title for a long time now, and I really want to write just a really good song around it’. Because you don’t want to give up a good title that you come up with and then write a song around it that doesn’t do the title justice. And so it took longer. We had to come back for multiple sessions to write, so it wasn’t just one three-hour day of writing. It was three or four times coming back, but then we got it done and I think it came out good.
Do you ever get writer’s block? And if so how do you deal with it?
Absolutely. I am actually not one of those people that can write for days on end and goes to multiple writing sessions and do it again and again and again. I love to write but I get writer’s block very easily. So if I’m gonna have a writing session for a few days in a row, I normally like to just do one write per day. Because it’s really easy to teach your mind how to start and then run in circles with melodies and lyrics – at least it is for me. So I kind of like to limit that, so that I’m writing the best that I can.
You were due to come over to the UK and play at C2C this year. Was there anything that surprised you about the reaction from UK fans when you announced that you were coming over?
You know, I had heard wonderful things about UK fans, which was awesome because I never went outside of the United States before. So I was really sad that that did not get to happen. I was actually on the plane, at a layover in Atlanta, Georgia, about to come to London, and then we had to turn back home and that’s the last time I ever performed. So that was sad, but hopefully I can come back. But I’ve always heard really good stuff about UK fans, especially with the C2C festival, that they really hone in to the artists’ songs and learn the lyrics and love them and love their music, which I just think is so cool. You don’t get that everywhere. And I think that’s what makes UK fans very special. So I’m excited to hopefully come back next year and play for C2C. That should be fun.
What have you learnt from touring and being on the road?
Oh gosh! I have been performing and touring since I was 11 years old, and I’m 20 now, so nine years. I don’t think touring is necessarily cut out for everybody. Not everybody’s gonna like it because it’s a lot of hard working. But something that I like about touring was actually routine, if that makes any sense. When I would go on tours, it was very routine. It was just like, ‘OK, this day you soundcheck at this time then you’re gonna perform at this time, the meet and greet’s at this time’ and then you would start your day over in a new state or a new place. And so I am somebody who likes routine and likes staying busy when it comes to performing, and travelling of course as well. So it’s a lot of hard work, and you have to really pay attention to your voice depending what kind of singer you are. I sing more loud songs, so you have to be careful about those things and how you execute them. But I like routine and that’s a lot of what I like during touring, seeing new places and of course seeing all the fans sing your songs is always awesome.
Who would be your dream collaboration?
Well I would love to do something with my husband – again he was a contestant on American Idol on my season, so I’d love to do some type of duet with him. But I would say maybe Steven Tyler. Or Chris Stapleton. They’d probably be in my top two.
I also read that you and Carrie Underwood had been texting each other after I Hope went to number one and you met her on Idol as well. Has she given you any advice at all?
Yeah, she gave me some advice on the show because a lot during the show people would compare me to Carrie, and I asked her about that. And I remember her saying, ‘You know, you have blonde hair and I have blonde hair, you have a big voice in country music and so do I’. So she said, ‘Obviously people are going to compare you to me’. But she said, ‘But your voice is completely different to mine – you have more grit, you have the clear R’n’B kind of sharpness that comes out through it. I don’t really have that. There’s just this distinct difference in our voices’. And then she said, ‘I think you’re gonna be fine after American Idol ends’. And she gave me her phone number and she’s just been absolutely wonderful. So she’s somebody that I will always toot her horn, because it’s the worst when you meet a celebrity and they are rude or mean off camera than what you expected them to be, and you’re like, ‘Oh, no, I liked you! No!’ And then it’s always so nice to see when somebody is even nicer off camera than they are on, in person, and Carrie’s definitely like that.
What have you been doing to keep busy during quarantine?
My husband and I have been visiting with family a lot. We’ve really been taking this time to take advantage of the massive amount of time that we have, because performing is not exactly allowed at the moment. So we’ve been visiting family a lot. I have family in Pennsylvania, he has family in Texas, and so we’ve been going back and forth from there. I have been trying to bake and cook more. I think my next project is going to be baking homemade bread so that should be fun. And we’ve really been soaking in family time because it’s so hard to get family time when you’re going, going, going all the time. So I think this time is actually really good for artists to just sit down for a second. Because everybody’s working hard, everybody’s grinding it out constantly. So I think it’s good in a lot of ways for people.
Are you starting to think about the next record at all? Or is that way off in the future for now?
You know, for right now I have no idea of the timeline. Normally albums come in a year or two after one release. But one thing I can tell you is we had written so many songs that it was hard to narrow down this album to 13 tracks. So I have tracks that didn’t even make it on the album that I’m really excited to show in the future. So it’s exciting to know that there’s even more music already done that I can’t wait to share with people. So we’ll just have to wait and see.
Gabby Barrett’s debut album Goldmine is out now on Warner Music Nashville.