A balanced life for Barrett

Laura Barrett juggles new found fame with stretches, tours and little help from her kalimba

Laura Barrett has made her name by way of her quirky instrument and unique music.
Laura Barrett has made her name by way of her quirky instrument and unique music.

You may not have heard of Laura Barrett and you may not have heard of her preferred instrument, the kalimba. Together the two have hoisted each other to unknown heights of popularity. The kalimba—otherwise known as the thumb piano, an African instrument—certainly helps Barrett stick out among her quirky indie rock contemporaries. In return, the little instrument has received its fair share of press thanks to Laura Barrett’s stunning first EP Earth Sciences.

Like all couples, Barrett and her kalimba have got their “how we met” story.

“It’s just kind of story about the synchronicity of the Internet. I was looking on eBay for midi controllers and a kalimba came up in my search results. It was a very serendipitous meeting,” Barrett said. “I figured out my own way of playing it.” An authentic kalimba is essentially a box with a metal bridge that suspends a series of metal tines, which are struck to create different notes. The kalimba is normally played with thumbs and fingers. Barrett prefers to uses her thumbnails. Through trail and error she figured out her own unique way of playing the instrument to create sounds completely her own. Undoubtedly, this uniqueness lends itself to Barrett’s original and other worldly songs. Among some of her most imaginative songs are “Robot Ponies” and “Deception Island Optimists Club,” both content with their quirks and futuristic visions.

“I don’t have a set method when I go to write a song. I approach the songs as short stories. Sometimes they are from the point of view from an inanimate object and sometimes not,” she said. “Usually it’s a phrase or word that I like and then I try to point out contradictions—but I don’t really have a set routine.” If there is one thing Barrett tries to stay away from, it’s getting into a musical habit. Sticking mostly to the piano and kalimba doesn’t sound like something she will be doing for long. Already, her full-length Victory Gardens has seen Barrett shift and explore other instrumentations.

“Kalimba and piano can get you into a structure. The guitar is more unfamiliar to me and so I want to use it more,” she said.

“I try to vary my instruments so I get more interesting melodies and sounds.” Participating in various musical projects also helps Barrett with the musical diversity she enjoys. She’s part of the Hidden Cameras, as well as Henri Faberge and The Adorables. Although she loves these two projects, they don’t sound as stable as Barrett’s solo set up.

“The Hidden Cameras has a unique set-up because some of the members are geographically sensitive. Joel [Gibb, the front man of The Hidden Cameras] is living in Berlin right now. He’s touring in Europe with European musicians, which is good because it’s environmentally and cost effective. I would say that I am a semi-full time member of that band, which is great. It doesn’t offend me,” Barrett said with a laugh.

Barrett let out a small sigh at the thought of all her musicial projects and then quickly added, “Hopefully I can handle it all. It’s a lot to juggle—but I love it.”

Perhaps a little overwhelmed, Barrett said she’s looking forward to touring and seeing Canada.

“A lot of times I’ve been able to tour with my boyfriend so that was fun. It was like a road trip, but he won’t be coming on this tour,” she said.

“You need to be careful about what you’re eating and being relaxed. I’m going to be vigilant about doing stretches this tour.” It’s all about a careful balance for the musician, even if she feels like she hasn’t quite mastered how to manage everything perfectly yet.

“I’m a full time musician, which means I tour and touring is hard because I don’t have a schedule. It’s also important to me that I stay grounded and stay connected to my community. I haven’t figured that one out yet,” Barrett said.

But something tells me that as a recent graduate of University of Toronto, composer for musicals such as Maggie MacDonald’s The Rat King, member of three different musical projects, and volunteer tutor, Barrett won’t have any problems figuring that one out.

Laura Barrett plays at The Artel Saturday Oct. 11 with Ghost Bees.

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