Durham, NC (by way of Michigan) flatpicking guitarist and songwriter Alan Barnosky is known for his expertly crafted Americana songs that detail the life of a modern troubadour. His critically acclaimed debut Old Freight, which was noted as being “a fantastic album, full of clever guitar work, excellent vocal performances, and punchy arrangements“ put him on the map as an artist to watch.
Since its release he’s been a festival and showcase regular, appearing at the 2018 IBMA Songwriter Showcase, receiving an honorable mention at the Telluride Troubadour Contest, showcasing at the Southeast Regional Folk Alliance conference, and opening for genre mainstays The Steel Wheels, Robbie Fulks, and Charley Crockett. In addition to his work as a solo artist, he has performed with bands at the IBMA World of Bluegrass, Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival, and Bristol Rhythm and Roots.
2020 sees Barnosky poised to build on this momentum with the release of his sophomore work, Lonesome Road, an EP that spotlights instrumental prowess while remaining true to the honest songwriting, authentic delivery, and no-nonsense production for which he has become recognized.
Can you talk to us more about your song “Might be A Call”?
This song highlights the experience of grief, the feelings of confusion and uncertainty that come from loss. After someone has gone it can still feel as if they are incredibly close, and this song explores that idea. It focuses on emotion rather than a specific storyline, and that has allowed me to relate to and find comfort in the lyrics for differing situations. Like the grieving process, the song progresses from despair toward acceptance through each verse.
Did any event, in particular, inspire you to write this song?
Not a particular event, but around the time when I wrote this song I was listening to a lot of Bill Monroe, the so-called Father of Bluegrass. His songs that are most memorable to me have strong modal melodies and themes of grief or loss. I feel like this song borrows from the ideas in some of those songs – “Walls of Time,” “You’ll Find Her Name Written There,” “Memories of Mother and Dad.” I didn’t really intend to mimic that sound and I think the end result is very different, but listening back I can hear the influence is there.
What can you tell us about your new album coming in 2020?
My first album, Old Freight, came out a few years ago and was very much a stripped-down folk songwriter record. The entire thing was recorded live and the tracks at most had two people on it. The album represented who I was then as a songwriter and captured how I performed my solo material. However, some songs I write are just better suited for a band setting, so the songs on this new EP feature those specific “band” songs. I gathered up a few great musicians who also happen to be good friends and had them help out on this recording. The songs on this EP really shine with the added instrumentation and harmonies.
How was the recording and writing process?
We planned to record in the early Fall of 2018 with two weekend-long sessions. After good progress during the first session, I came down with a bad cold that brought on vocal issues and made it difficult to sing or even talk comfortably for several months. I had to cancel that second recording session and was left to wait it out, hoping that my voice would improve. I finally felt well enough to resume recording in Spring 2019. It has now been over a year since we started the process, but I am thankful to finally be able to release this EP and continue gigging, singing, writing, and hopefully recording again soon.
How did the process of putting together this LP differ from your previous releases?
My last album was recorded entirely live with myself and mandolinist Robert Thornhill. Other than a few minor edits, there were almost no studio tricks involved in that record – what you hear is pretty much exactly what we played sitting side by side together. Thankfully we were in the hands of engineer Greg Elkins whose excellent micing choices made our instruments sound awesome. I love recording live, but it is time-consuming and draining and can pose its own set of challenges. For Lonesome Road we went the more conventional route and tracked everything individually. This allowed us to capture the best takes for each instrument and also had a little more wiggle room for editing and mixing. I don’t necessarily prefer one method over the other, it just depends on the situation for which is most appropriate.
What role does Durham, NC play in your music?
Durham plays a huge role in my music, and I feel very fortunate to be based here and supported by the local music scene. Performing as a songwriter is a portion of what I do as a musician – I also play in a couple bands, run a weekly concert series, and book live music for another venue. While I do get to tour, the scene here is definitely my bread and butter musically.
What aspect of your life did you get to explore on this LP?
In many ways, I consider myself a musician first and songwriter second, and on this EP I was able to dig deeper into the instrumental side of things. Having a full band gives a bit more freedom for each instrument to let loose throughout the course of a song, and they’re even is the instrumental track “Sawtooth Ridge” that highlights each musician more closely. I typically perform solo or as a duo, so with this full band arrangement I was able to take some time and work up more intricate instrumental guitar breaks that I wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise.
Where else did you find the inspiration for the songs and lyrics?
I love time spent outdoors in nature and solitude, and these long periods outside and alone are probably the best for spurring my creative material. The title track “Lonesome Road” was written after returning from a two-month solo bicycle tour in the Blue Ridge, and it recounts the therapeutic effect that solo traveling can have after difficult experiences. The third song on the album, “Ain’t It A Shame,” came to me after returning from backpacking the Vermont Long Trail, and the instrumental “Sawtooth Ridge” is named after an epic stretch of ridgeline along the Appalachian Trail just outside of Roanoke, VA. “Beer Cans & Quarters,” though entirely fictional, tells the story of wandering after hard times to eventually find peace in a new place.
What’s the hardest part about being a full-time touring musician?
I do think it is easier now than ever to make a sustainable living in the music business. Technology has broken down a lot of barriers. But in the same sense, independent musicians are now responsible for nearly all aspects of their business and the whole thing can be dizzying – booking, traveling, releasing music, getting press, promoting shows, contacting fans, keeping all the paperwork straight. We have to wear all these different hats and it really eats into the actual thing we are trying to do, which is make music.
What else is happening next in Alan Barnosky’s world?
I have various shows lined up throughout the winter and spring – you can check those out at my website alanbarnosky.com. I’ll also be hitting the studio in a few weeks to record bass on a project with a band I’ve started working with more recently. And I have more of my own material that I hope to record in the coming year. Keep in touch on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and through my mailing list to keep up to date with all that’s going on.