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In Focus: Jill Barber

February 7, 2023 9:48 am GMT

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Even though she’s traveled the world performing for the past 20 years, Vancouver’s Jill Barber turned her attention back home in more ways than one on her latest album, the deeply personal Homemaker.

On it the three-time Juno Award nominated singer-songwriter explores everything from the deception of social media (‘Beautiful Life’) and how relationships evolve over the years (‘Still In Love’) to offering support for struggling parents (‘Homemaker’). It comes amid a return to her folk-fueled roots, as Barber pulls back the curtain for arguably her most raw collection of songs yet.

However you look at it, Homemaker is a big departure from the upbeat pop and soul-tinged compositions on her previous two projects, 2018’s Metaphora and 2020’s Entre nous. As with many albums of the past two years this stemmed largely from the pandemic, when Barber struggled heavily with her dueling identities as a sidelined touring musician and her overwhelming home life as a wife and mother.

During that time she used writing to cope, eventually yielding the album’s 10 tracks that collectively work to recast the narrative of homemakers and the complexities that come with it for a new generation. Often overburdened and never appreciated enough, the album is just as much a microcosm of her life as a mother as it is of mothers and homemakers alike worldwide.

Speaking with Holler from her home outside Vancouver, Barber opened up with the intentions behind her sonic pivot on Homemaker, how a forgotten birthday letter inspired one of the album’s most heartfelt songs, and more.

What made you want to return to your folk roots with Homemaker?

Though I’ve dabbled in jazz, soul and even pop, I’ve always felt at the heart of it that I was a singer-songwriter. I first picked up a guitar when I was 14 and immediately began writing songs on it. I’ve explored other genres and styles, but that's what I’ve always returned to.

However, the return on this album to folk was for a few reasons, the first being that I wrote it during that time when we were all stuck at home and I didn’t have access to my usual collaborators. All I had was my acoustic guitar and my thoughts. It was a bit of a crisis struggling to find my identity if I couldn’t be performing with them, so I ended up turning inward.

I also wanted to reconcile with these two versions of myself I felt I’d been living with — the performer on stage presenting these grand, orchestrated songs and my domestic home life where I’m a busy, exhausted parent just trying to keep the house clean and everybody fed. For whatever reason I felt like I needed to strip away those bells and whistles to get straight to the heart of the matter with these songs.

Is your struggle juggling those two identities what’s at the center of your song ‘Beautiful Life’?

That song is actually more about the contrast between the image that people put out there of themselves versus what we all know their lives are really like. I wrote it for myself as a reminder for when I’m scrolling and see posts that make people’s lives look so picture-perfect and easy compared to my own. It’s bullshit.

I wanted to remind myself of the difference between a pretty picture and a beautiful life, and how much more meaningful it is to have a beautiful life. With that comes chaos and messiness, ups and downs, but that’s what makes it rich and meaningful; not a highlight reel on somebody’s Instagram feed.

I’m not pointing fingers though, because I’m also on social media trying to put my best face forward and thinking about the optics.

It's tough to balance how much you share on social media, especially for artists who use it for promotion and need to project positivity and embellish themselves a bit.

Absolutely. You want to celebrate the wins and share the highs with your friends or community of fans but so much of it is ego driven, which is equally important to keep in check. It’s a fine balance and a big reason why I wrote that song. It’s a reminder to not be deceived into thinking that social media is real life and to live with gratitude.

Speaking of gratitude, I understand that you wrote, recorded and sent the song ‘My Mother’s Hand’ to your mother on her birthday last year in place of a card.

I actually woke up on the morning of her birthday, September 16, and realized that I’d completely forgotten to send her a birthday card. She’s always so good about sending cards and making sure they arrive on time. There’s always one for me on my birthday, so I got to thinking of why I can’t be as good a mom as that.

There was a bit of guilt involved, but instead of getting a card in the mail I decided I would sit down and try to write a song for her. I recorded a scrappy iPhone version of it and sent it out to her later that day. The song’s lyrics are my way of showing her how much I love and appreciate her. I might not be the mom that always gets the card in the mail or is always on top of everything like she is, but I have my own way of expressing love for the people I care about. In this case it was through music and a song, which my mom ended up loving.

That’s beautiful. I wanted to ask about your smash the patriarchy song, ‘Hell No’. Was there a particular moment that inspired it, or was it the culmination of several things boiling over?

I tried to make it a smash the patriarchy song that was also fun. When I’m talking about the patriarchy I’m not talking about men, but rather the structures in place in our society that put pressure on women to look and behave a certain way while still playing the role of mother, sister, wife and working woman.

There’s just so much pressure on women, and it’s even worse now with social media. I know there’s a lot of pressure on men too, but for this song I wanted to channel my experience as a woman to sing about the unique pressures we face. We can all do and be anything we want to be and don’t need to abide by anyone else’s rules. It’s not just about “twice the work for half the pay” that I mention in the song, but also all of the invisible work and emotional load of others that women have to carry around.

It’s a very empowering song. It’s always fun to say hell no. For me it’s not that I don’t want to do the work, I just want to be recognized. The whole theme of this album is to recognize, celebrate and elevate the women that are doing that work and reclaiming the title of homemaker. I’ve heard several moms without paid jobs describe themselves as “just a homemaker”, but I want them to get rid of the “just a” because they’re all doing incredible, meaningful and important work.

The last song I wanted to ask about is ‘Woman of my Own Dreams’. Is it essentially you looking back on the dreams of your younger self and realizing how far you’ve come?

Yes, but with an asterisk. I have accomplished all those dreams, but I don’t feel that sense of satisfaction that I’m done now. I’m still hungry for more. Part of the human struggle is that even if we’re fortunate enough to actually accomplish the dreams we had for ourselves, you often don’t feel the way you thought you would after accomplishing them. The revelation of the song is that the hustle never ends. Every day I’m just trying to be the best version of myself in my never-ending search to find the woman of my own dreams: me.

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Homemaker is out on Friday 10th February via Outside Music

Written by Matt Wickstrom
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