On The Cusp: Dollie Barnes
Dollie Barnes. Photo: Daniel Jackson
There aren’t too many times you can say that you were a fan from the beginning with pretty much any artist. And while I somehow missed the time when singer songwriter Haley Barnes was a member of Buxton, and it took me a while to catch Ancient Cat Society in person, I can honestly say that when Chase Hamblin suggested that I check out Dollie Barnes that I was a fan from the first note. The Dollie Barnes sound is hard to describe not unlike her signature voice. Singer-songwriter John Evans said it best when he told me that her voice only works for her, and no one else could have her sound. Because I’ve been lucky enough to be around Barnes, I’ve gotten to see that she’s a savvy, intriguing, and multi-layered individual who just happens to be one of the most engaging artists I’ve seen in a good while. Her debut album, due in the fall of this year, has an all star team on it and behind it, and it just felt like the right time for people to hear more about who she is, where she’s been, and where she plans on going.
FPH: Your name isn’t actually Dollie, is that something that people become confused about when they meet you? Where does the name come from?
Dollie Barnes: “Dollie” is actually a family nickname given to me by my Uncle Roly when I was about two years old and it just stuck. When I started this project, I thought I would run with it.
But yeah, it’s definitely a little confusing for people when they first meet me. Since everyone here has always known me as Haley, it’s a little difficult to make the transition into “Dollie” but I think it’ll be easier once we’re playing in other cities.
FPH: You have a pretty storied past that leads up to this project. A brief period where you were a touring member of Buxton, attempts to do this as a solo project, and finishing college. Do you want to elaborate on all of that and how this group came to be?
Barnes: I went to college for two years, then dropped out to join Buxton and go on tour with them. During that time, Sergio, Austin, and I also started Ancient Cat Society on the side. At the end of 2 years though, I felt the need to return to school. It was just personal goal of mine and felt like it is was a “now or never” type of thing.
So I left the band, spent a few months in Austin and then moved back to Waco to go to Baylor University to study Speech Pathology. There’s not much to do there besides go to class and study since it’s such a small town, so I immediately began writing songs again. Luckily I had some friends who were in a wonderful band, called Lomelda, come to my rescue and helped me make Dollie what it is today. Their record Forever, released by Punctum Records, is phenomenal. And they actually played on half of the Dollie record.
FPH: Your backing band, and due to scheduling, even your fill-in members are both kind of a who’s who in the Houston music landscape. How did you come together on this project?
Barnes: I think the overarching reason is that I kept up my friendships with everyone here. I would go see them play when I would be in town for the holidays or they would ask me to sing with them or open for them. I did a couple different Christmas shows with Sergio Trevino, Kelly Doyle and Geoffrey Muller. My first big Dollie show in Houston was actually opening up for in Buxton for their Half a Native album release. So even while I was gone, I was still actively playing in Houston.
FPH: I’ve found myself having a hard time describing the Dollie Barnes sound, so I always just tell people that they’ll like what they hear. How do you describe your overall sound?
Barnes: I usually tell people that it’s 60s/70s inspired pop rock with a spaghetti western vibe, Fleetwood Mac type backing vocals with some modern touches. I don’t know if that makes any sense but that’s all I’ve been able to come up with.
FPH: For about the last year, your live shows seem to have larger and larger crowds in attendance, is there a secret to attracting such a following or are you baffled by the size of the crowds who see you?
Barnes: Yeah, I’m usually surprised by the size of the crowds. I’m not too sure what the cause of it is, but I know part of it is that I have some well-respected Houston players in my band. I’ve got Tank Lisenbe and Geoffrey Muller from Robert Ellis’ band, Austin Sepulvado and Jason Willis from Buxton, and my fiancé Tom Lynch from Vodi. I’ve been very fortunate.
FPH: The new album, hopefully set for release this fall was done with Grammy winner Steve Christensen and mastered by Heba Kadry. Did you think in a million years you’d get to work with such top name people?
Barnes: Oh gosh no! I knew that I’d be making music in some form or fashion my whole life, but I never thought I’d be as active as I am today and working with people of such high caliber. Steve Christensen has engineered for Steve Earle, Robert Ellis, Khruangbin — who are currently killing it worldwide with their latest album, The Universe Smiles Upon You — to name a few. And Heba Kadry at Timeless Mastering in New York has mastered records for Beach House, The Mars Volta and Future Islands, among many others. It’s been a surreal ride for sure.
FPH: That album, is one of the most beautiful releases I’ve heard in a long time, and people like John Evans even sing your praises as an artist. Who inspires you as a musician and as a songwriter?
Barnes: Oh man, thank you David! I love John Evans! The most recent musician who actually inspired me to start writing again was Angel Olsen. Her album, Burn Your Fire For No Witness, got me out of writer’s block. But Paul McCartney, Stevie Nicks and Françoise Hardy play the biggest part.
FPH: You’re also in Vodi with your soon to be husband Tom Lynch and you’re in Ancient Cat Society with Sergio and Austin from Buxton. What’s more fun: leading a band or being part of a group? Is there more pressure in Dollie Barnes because it has your name on it?
Barnes: I feel like they’re both equal in terms of the amount of fun. I really enjoy singing harmony, it’s always been my favorite thing about performing. But yes, definitely I feel a lot more pressure in Dollie because these are all my songs, and what I’ve experienced or been through. It’s my first solo full-length album, so I want to do the best that I can in promoting and getting it out into the world. I’ve been working on this record nearly 2 years now and we just got the masters back. So I’m ready! I want to release it.
FPH: In a perfect world, where would Dollie Barnes be five years from now?
Barnes: In a perfect world, we’d be on our third record, touring all over and playing on Jimmy Fallon or Saturday Night Live. I just want to see if we can do it. But if not, Tom and I have our eyes on becoming professional songwriters.
I’d find it hard to believe that anyone who catches Dollie Barnes perform isn’t an immediate fan. There’s a subtle beauty underneath hints of rock and Southern charm that dance all over the songs found here, and it only solidifies the strength of the band that those songs are written by an artist with realistic goals and the talent to achieve them. While you wait for the album to drop, you can catch Dollie Barnes tomorrow at Axelrad Beer Garden at 8:30 pm, or at Satellite Bar July 14th with Boosegumps, Microsoft Saint, and Rose Ette.