At TD, we believe that music has the power to do many things, including the ability to bring people of all backgrounds together. The Bank has been a proud sponsor of the Canadian Country Music Association® (CCMA® ) for five years, supporting local and emerging artists in the genre. Recently, we sat down with one of the 2023 CCMA Award winners to hear about their music journey and what they have in store for their fans in the future.
James Barker Band is a JUNO and CCMA Award-winning country act with more than half a million monthly streams on Spotify (including more than 40 million on their hit song "Chills") and multiple songs topping the Canadian country music charts.
Yet in some ways, lead vocalist and guitarist James Barker jokes that he and his bandmates are back at the beginning of their music career.
Five years ago, the band, originally from Woodville, Ont. (located about an hour northeast of Toronto) moved south to the country music capital of the world: Nashville, Tennessee.
Now, surrounded by some of the best musicians and artists in the business, they're pushing themselves creatively with their eyes set on dominating the American charts.
It's all about the fans
On October 20, they released their latest EP (extended play, or a short album) titled Ahead of Our Time, their first album since 2017's Game On.
"I believe it’s the best music we've ever made," says Barker of the six-song compilation. He's excited to see how fans react to it – and to play it live come spring.
As huge music fans before becoming professional musicians, he and his bandmates value their relationship with their fans. They appreciate that through social media, they can connect with fans in real time, especially through livestreams and direct messages. They love reading messages about what their music means to listeners – for example, if a single was someone's wedding song or how a particular hook really spoke to someone and helped them through a tough time.
That's why they were thrilled to be the first winners of the TD® Aeroplan® Visa* Fans' Choice Award at the 2023 Canadian Country Music Awards presented by TD. It’s an award category where fans’ voices can be heard, and a deserving artist can walk away with a CCMA Award.
"Going into any award show, you're happy to win anything, but I feel like this is the top prize as an artist," Barker says, noting how fan recognition is extra meaningful because they wouldn't be anywhere without a dedicated following.
"We were pretty shocked to win that award, and when they panned to me on-camera, I'm pretty sure I said some choice words," he continues with a laugh.
The "Canadian invasion"
While James Barker Band has enjoyed a great deal of success in Canada, they're now working on gaining more recognition south of the border.
As country artists, a move to Nashville just made sense.
"It's where it's all happening," says Barker, noting that he and his bandmates miss friends and family at home – and certain iconic Canadian junk foods.
"Still, it's such an inspiring place to live because you can go out every night and see a different musician or songwriter that will absolutely blow you away," he continues, describing the vibrant local music scene.
He also appreciates the opportunity to write music with a variety of different artists. He admits that the sheer amount of talent in the city can sometimes feel daunting. But at the same time, the high calibre of art they're exposed to in Nashville helps push the band forward to continuously improve their sound.
Plus, they're surrounded by community – including Canadian collaborators who made the trek down south with them. As they make music together, many of the Canadians they work with are also achieving success individually through songwriting, producing, and releasing hit singles.
"It's this whole crew of Canadians who want to make Canada proud on a global stage," says Barker. "We call it the Canadian invasion."
Barker is consistently asked if he knows different Canadian creatives in Nashville – he says there are so many working in the city's music industry. And for him, it's not surprising, especially given the number of Canadian acts popular right now.
When asked if James Barker Band makes a particular brand of country music – perhaps inspired by the Canadian artists the band members grew up listening to – Barker says that while the Canadian country music from their childhoods is undoubtedly influential, there's not a particular sound they're trying to emulate.
"When it comes to us as musicians, or me as a songwriter, the focus isn't to be like, we want to sound Canadian. I feel like that's not how people listen to music. You listen to music. and if you hear something good, and something that makes you feel an emotion, you gravitate towards it," he says.
As they release their latest music into the world, the band is getting ready to take their latest crop of songs on tour – to connect with fans both south and north of the border. Plus, Barker knows they'll pick up their favourite Canadian treats when they're back playing at home.
Learn more about how TD connects Canadians through music at TD.com.
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