Q&A: New Orleans musician Robin Barnes

New Orleans native Robin Barnes grew up in a household of musicians with her family’s jazz band, and is one of the city's brightest up-and-coming jazz stars. We got the chance to have a chat with Robin about her musical influences and the best bits of New Orleans...

Hi Robin! Could you tell us a bit about yourself, and how you started off making music?

I started making music in my family band as a child. It's funny the hold it had on me. I knew I wanted to be a singer from the age of 6.

What's your creative process when it comes to writing songs?

I often beat a tempo on whatever is near me - a wall, the sofa, a table. From there I hum and start to create a song. Improvisation is a skill that most New Orleans musicians are taught early on, and as a jazz and soul musician, it has served me well.

For your EP 'Songbird Sessions', you made some pretty impressive classic songs your own – what is it you think about when choosing what songs to interpret, and how you'll take on already well-known songs?

I chose songs that moved me at some point in my life. We have all experienced a song that has us dancing in our seat or reminiscing of a loved one. Each of the songs on 'Songbird Sessions' resonated with me. In order to put my heart and soul into singing a song, I have to relate to it in some way. It's the same in my songwriting, I want my music to make you feel something, but you better believe at some point in time, I've felt it, too.

Are there any particular shows or performances you've done that have particularly stood out to you?

Playing the Blue Note in NYC last year was especially memorable. I bring my New Orleans roots and culture into all of my shows. When it's a new audience, it takes a lot of faith in what you're doing to get on that stage and bare your soul. But each time, it's humbling and exciting. And it always makes me thankful of where I'm from.

Who are your favourite artists in New Orleans at the moment?

The Revivalists, Trombone Shorty, Pat Casey and The New Sound, Trumpet Mafia and Brad Walker.

And how about generally – which musicians, singers and performers inspire you?

Brad Walker is a saxophonist who has toured with Sturgill Simpson and performed a solo on the Grammy. Lucky for me, he's in my band's horn section, which is called The Fiyabirds. He really moves me with his playing. He's so passionate and full energy!

I love Alexis Marceau - she has an amazing voice! She connects so genuinely to all that she sings and to her audience, which in my opinion is one of the most important aspects of being a vocalist. Great chops met with real heart.

I'm also really inspired by Tank and the Bangas. They have such a unique collective voice and they are making impressive moves. I couldn't be happier to see female musicians rise up and out of New Orleans. It's a tough industry to be in sometimes, especially as a woman, so supporting one another and celebrating each other's successes is so vital.

When you're not performing yourself, what are your top spots for catching some live music?

I'm usually off Sundays so I head to The Spotted Cat to check out my husband's band, Pat Casey and The New Sound. If I'm looking for something new or different, Three Keys in Ace Hotel is always a hip spot.

As well as your impressive musical achievements, you're also the owner of Move Ya Brass – can you tell us a bit about this?

I started Move Ya Brass after overcoming a life-altering health issue while on tour in Europe. It started as a call for a running partner, and it's grown into a full blown fitness movement. We host free workout classes each week - Bounce Ya Brass, Hip Hop Ya Brass, and Stretch Ya Brass - which are our unique fitness classes set to music. And we still have weekly run meet ups, and our members love to run marathons and 5Ks together.

Now we've started taking our programs into conferences and corporate events to enhance their wellness efforts. To see how much it has grown is truly overwhelming. I'm grateful for my MYB krewe, and I hope to continue to take people off the sidelines of their life and into a New Orleans second line!

New Orleans also has a huge foodie scene – where do you go for a bite to eat?

Lil Dizzys is locally owned restaurant that I grew up going to eat at once a week with my family. Tell them little Robin sent you and they'll know! It is some of the best creole/soul cooking you'll ever have. If you've never had a snowball, you MUST go to Hansen's SnoBliz or Pandora's Snowballs.

Any other secret tips and must-visit places in your city you'd like to share?

Crescent Park in the Bywater is best place to catch a sunrise in the city. And Windsor Court's Polo Lounge is a hidden gem.

What's next for you in music?

Right now, my main focus is on cultivating my sound and challenging myself vocally and musically to create new music for my debut full length album. Of course, my dream has always been to be globally appreciated for my music and to one day win a GRAMMY, so I'll add that to my "what's next" wish list as well!

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