Jill Barber Goes Pop, Minus Some Sweetness

Jun 23, 2018

On NPR in 2012, Jill Barber called herself "Canada's Sweetheart." And even though her new album Metaphora, out now, doesn't conjure up the same sugary connotations as her previous works, she says the sweetheart title still holds true. "This record's maybe a little less sweet, but I hope it still reaches people in their heart," she says.

Though Barber is known in the genres of folk and jazz, Metaphora finds the singer exploring a pop sound and emphasizing the role of women in present times.

"The original Greek meaning of it meant literally to bear meaning, to transfer meaning," Barber says of the album's title. "And I actually felt that was quite a feminine quality to bear. It captures a lot of what this album is about, which is my experience in the world as a woman."

The first track on the album, fittingly titled "The Woman," narrates the pressure women face to be many different things to different people all at once. She sings from the point of view of both a mother and a woman navigating the music industry.

"In an industry that is still very much dominated by men, I have to give up playing the game that I used to think I had to play, and now, think I can re-write my own rules," she says. "I've had to work way harder to be paid what I'm worth and I feel like I've had to be really, really nice to some people that took advantage of that."

Barber's song "Bigger Than You" is her #MeToo moment. She hopes it will give other women the "courage to not be bullied" by those who wield power.

"I wrote this song in an afternoon but I would say it took me about 12 years to find the courage to write it," she explains. "It's a song specifically about an experience I had with a more powerful man in my industry that was highly manipulative and threw his power around in a way that could have hurt me and probably did hurt others. I felt I was ready to chime in with my own voice."

Barber talks to NPR's Scott Simon about re-defining her voice in the industry, growing up in her music and more. Hear their full conversation at the audio link.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Jill Barber has done folk, jazz, blues, rock 'n' roll and now pop.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GIRL'S GOTTA DO")

JILL BARBER: (Singing) A girl's got to do, got to do what a girl's got to do.

SIMON: Her latest album, "Metaphora," emphasizes her songwriting talent and explores the standing of women in new times. Jill Barber joins us now from Vancouver. In Canada, right?

BARBER: Vancouver, Canada. Hi, Scott.

SIMON: Nice to talk to you. There is a Vancouver, Wash. State, if I'm not mistaken.

BARBER: It's not too far from Vancouver, Canada.

SIMON: Yes, yes, yes. I know.

BARBER: Yeah.

SIMON: Why have you called this album "Metaphora"?

BARBER: "Metaphora" - the original Greek meaning of it meant literally to bear meaning - to transfer meaning. And I actually thought that was quite a feminine quality - to bear. And it captures a lot of what this album is about, which is my experience in the world as a woman.

SIMON: Well, let's hear some music - a little bit from your song "The Woman."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE WOMAN")

BARBER: (Singing) She's the woman, the darkness and the light. She's the woman who sings alone at night. She's the woman, a sister of the wild. She is the woman, whose body feeds her child. Yeah.

SIMON: What do you want us to take from this song?

BARBER: Well, I think women have to be many different things to many different people. And I was trying to express that we can be pulled in all of these different directions and still not really know ourselves. The album opens with that track, so I thought it was kind of a fitting introduction to the content of the album.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE WOMAN")

BARBER: (Singing) You want her. You got her. You lost her. You want her. You got her.

SIMON: What time in your life do you find yourself in right now?

BARBER: I'm a 38-year-old woman. I have two small children - 2-year-old and a 4-year-old. And I feel that a lot of my power and strength comes from the fact that I have beared (ph) - is it bore? It is bore.

SIMON: I was going to say that.

BARBER: But I don't want to talk about being a bore (laughter). Is it bear - I've beared (ph) children?

SIMON: I think you would say I have born, but we're not going to be pedantic about this. Go ahead.

BARBER: OK.

SIMON: Express it however you choose.

BARBER: Thank you. Thank you. You know, and also as a musician, and as a woman in an industry that is still very much dominated by men, I have to give up playing the game that I used to think I had to play, and now think I can rewrite my own rules. And so that's where I'm at in my life.

SIMON: Help us understand what that game is.

BARBER: I think I played the part of the girl singer. And I've had to work way harder to be paid what I'm worth. And I feel like I've had to be really nice. I feel like I've had to be really, really nice to some people that took advantage of that. Yeah.

SIMON: We looked it up. You were last on NPR 2012, and you refer to yourself as Canada's Sweetheart.

BARBER: Yes.

SIMON: Would we say that anymore?

BARBER: Good question. Let me take a pregnant pause on that one. You know, I like to think, sure. Yeah. I can still be somebody's - maybe - this record's maybe a little less sweet, but I hope that it still reaches people in their heart.

SIMON: Let's listen to another song of yours, distinctly personal, I think. This is "Bigger Than You."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BIGGER THAN YOU")

BARBER: (Singing) It was one night at your place. Meet the man behind the face. Whiskey crown on my head hung. Sweet nothings rolling off your tongue.

I wrote this song in an afternoon, but I would say it took me about 12 years to find the courage to write it. It's specifically about an experience I had with a more powerful man in my industry that was highly manipulative. And I think as a songwriter, I have - and as a person, I like to put on the rose-colored glasses. And in my music, I think my music, for myself and for my audience, has been a little bit of an escape from the world.

But I'm growing up - and with no disrespect to my younger self either because I think that she worked very hard to write music that had a sort of a timeless quality. And now I'm writing music that I believe has a very timely quality. And that's just - that's where I'm at right now.

SIMON: Jill Barber, her album "Metaphora." Thanks so much for being with us.

BARBER: Thank you for having me on the show, Scott.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BIGGER THAN YOU")

BARBER: (Singing) I'm not scared. I'm not scared. I'm bigger than you. You said, you're so lucky. I'm so lucky? You're so lucky. You're so lucky. You're so lucky. You're so lucky. You're so lucky. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.