Ria Barkr is a rising star in the worlds of R’n’B and Pop based in the famous town of Nashville, Tennessee. From working in a bar to completing a degree in Music Business, she has seen a lot of the world in her quest to build a career. After four releases in 2022, she’s building a fanbase and making the music she loves.
So, on a Friday evening in U.K. time, we sat down over Zoom and discussed some personal topics Ria Barkr has previously not discussed. This included mental health, womanhood in 2022, and whether TikTok should be as highly prioritised by artists.
Your Latest Single ‘monday‘ focuses on the difficulties of balancing working life and music life. Did these struggles inspire you more to make it as a singer?
Yeah, I would say so. I wrote this back in 2021, about a job I was working in 2020. It’s hard to write about something when you’re so in it. Once you get out and you have time to process it and go back to that feeling, then that’s when you can really bring some juice out. I had started writing the melody and part of the hook and the second verse, and then I brought in one of my friends who is a talented writer. Her name’s Effie and she helped me finish the song.
I get what you mean. It’s easier to put yourself in a place when something has happened than when you’re in that moment. I mentioned before to you on Instagram, I remember feeling (when I listened to the song) ‘hey this is how I feel about being a music journalist and doing pot wash, as well.’
Exactly. A lot of people have resonated with it, which is nice because most of the time I don’t talk about things that are personal to me. I like to portray more of a character and put myself in a character and write that way. This one definitely put myself out (of) the box in that way. It worked though, as people really love it. People are really like ‘this is how I feel.’ Most people, do feel that way or have felt that way at some point.
With your debut EP on the way, what is the story your planning to tell with it about you as an artist and a person?
I think a lot of female empowerment is really what I am going for. A lot of the EP is about sex. At the same time, as a female talking about it feels very empowering. Most of the time its men. Now, it has gotten better, where both females and men talk about it. I just feel it’s very empowering to come from a female. The position I come in with each song is more female empowement.
It’s definitely getting better. But, I think in society it’s unfortunately ‘men who have lots of sex are great people, but women who do they’re bad.’
Exactly, there’s that connotation to it. I wanted to speak that narrative. I had so much fun doing it, it was the change to my new name. The music came out differently. It’s called ‘Alpha She,’ still going with the (being) alpha as a female vibes. ‘monday‘ is in there and I think that gives it a bit of emotionality.
I think you feeling like you can speak about those things now, is a sign things are changing, even if it’s too slowly.
Especially, the stuff that’s going on in America with Roe v. Wade. I’m putting this out and I hope some congressman sees it and it rubs them the wrong way. I hope I rub you the wrong way.
It is strange to think stuff like abortion rights is still a topic of discussion in 2022.
It’s like what? What is going on? It’s so weird and it seems so regressive and a waste of time. We should be focusing on a lot of other things here. It feels like such a waste of time to me.
I think it’s one of those culture wars, where they distract you. The government over here is distracting people with the whole trans people using bathrooms. They all do the same thing, ‘let’s distract you from the economic turmoil with this thing.’
Exactly. Let’s get all of you guys to focus on this because we know you’ll blow it up on social media when we really don’t care and we are just trying to sweep other things under the rug.
You spoke about your name change, what made you decide to change it?
I would like to say, it’s a deep thing. It’s not a deep thing at all, it’s not deeply rooted at all. My middle name is Marie and you get on a publication and there’s nine other Marie’s, you’re like there’s not nine other Beyoncé’s, nine other Summer Walker’s. I’m getting rid of Marie. A bunch of people named their kid Marie at the same time, I don’t know. It was my grandmother’s name, so mom did it. It was a whole thing. That was pretty much the reason why.
The timing and when I did it, it was the pandemic and I had so much stuff under Marie. I had just got back from London working with the producers over there for this record and then I went to iHeartRadio in New York for Sofar Sounds and Major Stage. I had already done a lot with it, so it felt like ok I’m going to have to change my name and I’m going to lose a lot of stuff, a lot of the press, and the opportunities I have already gotten. But, at the same time, I felt like I needed to stay true to who I was and the process was changing, how I was creating was changing, the sound was changing and my name needed to change. I was like ok, this all works. It’s kind of divine timing right now and let’s do it now. That’s the main reason though because everyone had it.
If you could go back in time to one concert, who would you go to see?
I think Warped tour, do you remember that?
Is that the Vans one with the pop-punk artists? Yeah, I do remember that.
When I was in middle school, I was so emo and I had so much fun at those. I’ve never had rock or punk as my favourite genres ever, it has mainly been Pop or R’n’B. But, during that stage of my life as you are when you’re 11 or 12, a little t**t. (laughs) I would go back to that time because the fact everything was so grungy and it seemed like you didn’t have to care about anything. That’s how the whole concert was like you don’t have to care about anything. I have my converses, they’re f******g filthy and I’m in my skinny jeans with a bunch of friends. I had one friend that was actually in one of the bands one time, who I went to high school with, that was pretty cool because I got to see that side of it at a young age. He was a bit older than me. That was pretty cool too, getting to see that side. That’s the concert I would go back to, it’s weird, but I would. I got the fan side and the artist side in one.
That makes sense. The vibe of it is something you hadn’t experienced at the time. You got to see and learn a lot of things that you have used in your career.
It was also the first time I knew someone on stage at a big festival. I got to go backstage and hang out. When you’re in middle school, you are like ‘this is the best f*****g thing ever.’ You are like ‘I am the coolest thing that has ever walked the planet.’ I think I would go back to that. Not for too long, because who wants to go back to 11? For anyone who’s 11, it gets better I promised.
I don’t think anything memorable happened to me when I was 11. I don’t think I would want to go back to then.
Most of the time, no. Anything other than that, (the concert) no.
You’ve decided to speak to us today about your mental health in this interview. How has that impacted you as a person and how has your music helped you to deal with it?
I was diagnosed with bipolar in 2015 or 2016. I went into the enchanted kingdom as I like to call it, it was a crazy place for a little bit. I went into a mental institution. I call it the enchanted kingdom. I think that has a better ring to it, that’s more fun. I wasn’t there for long, but it definitely helped me because I was very suicidal at that time. All of (the) things I had in the past as a kid, the anger issues, the random changes in emotion. At first, you think that’s just your age. Then, you start to realise after you figure out what you have to now overcome and deal with daily, (that) is bipolar. It makes so much sense thinking back as a kid. All these changes and emotions and highs and lows. It makes sense.
When I figured that out, I dove into books, I read so many books on bipolar. I joined a group of people that are also bipolar, that have the same type of things going on. I really dove into it, because 50% of people that are bipolar commit suicide. It was something that was scary. I was like ‘I really don’t want this to happen again,’ I was in a low time. I don’t want this to have to happen, so how can I deal with this in the best way possible? I dove into it and was like these are my triggers, this is when my emotions will change, this is how I can deal with it.
With music, one of the things is when you’re bipolar you have mania. You’ll have spikes of you can’t sleep and you have grandiose ideas. You’re going, going, going for three days. There’s a side of that, that helps with the music industry and the sense that you are extremely focused. That helps me a lot, creating. The downside of that (is) the depressed side. Even though I am depressed, I do think of a lot of ideas because I am just rummaging (through) my brain. It’s just non-stop, going, going, going. It’s manic, depressive-type stuff. The stuff just comes up that way and I will write it on my phone as new lyric ideas.
At first, I thought it was something I had to watch out for and now I know, your mental illness doesn’t define who you are as a person. It is just something that you have to deal with, just like everybody has something they have to deal with, daily. Now, I know where to ride the rollercoaster. I know when to slow down, or I know when I’m manic, or when I’m depressed. Knowing those things, just being aware of your emotions is huge for people with bipolar. I think that has helped me the most. Honestly, just the mania, you can get some much done. (laughs) Most people like the mania side of it because you’re just going, going, going.
I would say it’s contributed to a lot of the music I have made. In 2020, it was a hard hit for me. After London, and all those very high highs. ‘Oh my gosh this is amazing and I’m doing it.’ Once that came down, I did too because I was like ‘now what do I do?’ I’m just going to sit around and I don’t know what I am going to do and how this is going to play out. I was depressed for a while. And, I know a lot of people were. I started creating in the summer of 2020 when I started coming out of it a bit more, because I was like ‘I have got to do something, ok just start creating music.’ ‘It will do something, so just start, that’s how you’re going to deal with this, just do it.’ And I did it. I wrote a lot of these songs alone and it took me out of it. It made me excited for what was to come, even though no one knew.
You’ve very much gone into detail about it. I had a basic idea of what bipolar is, but what you’ve done there is document it very well and how you deal with it. You’ve given me a better understanding of it. I’m sure people who will see this interview, who have it, or (who) know someone who has it, will be beneficial to them as well.
It’s good to see you’ve found a way to deal with it yourself. People struggle to find ways to deal with mental health issues. I know with my own mental health issues, it took me a while to find a way to deal with them, which I’ve done now. That’s very good of you to talk about that and hopefully, someone will see this and it will help them.
And not taking it so seriously. Obviously, taking mental health seriously, but not taking yourself so seriously. When you lighten things and you make things lighter, it’s way easier to deal with them. When you can laugh at it, even though it might be dark. (laughs) It makes it light in a way.
I can agree with that one. In general, I think it’s good that more people are more understanding of these things. I know when I was younger, people I was friends with didn’t fully understand it. But now, because people are a bit more aware of it, they’re like ‘oh ok.’
We live in a better age for that now.
Yeah, now to solve all the other issues. (laughs)
Now with everything else. The pendulum keeps swinging back and forth.
How did performing with people from Broadway and America’s Got Talent affect or change your ability to perform live?
I was so young, so I was 14-16 when both of those happened. When I (worked) with Broadway actors, we were raising money for cancer. We ended up raising $30,000 for children’s cancer. That was an incredible feeling to be able to use my voice so young and act so young with people from (Broadway). It gave me a little validation, that I didn’t need at that time, it gives me more validation now. You’ve been doing this for a minute, give yourself a little peace with everything. You have been doing this a while and you’re good at it, obviously or that stuff wouldn’t have happened.
The America’s Got Talent aspect of it, my mom’s a voice teacher which is nice to have. Now, we argue all the time during my voice lessons because it’s my mom giving me a voice lesson. There used to be a lot of crying, (but) now we have gotten it under control. (After) twenty years of doing that, I think it is now something that we have under control. She would go with me to the auditions and she was like ‘sing it’ and I was like ‘there are people around.’ She was like ‘I don’t give a f**k, sing, do you care if other people are going to be around in there, or do you want to practice now?’ She toughened my skin in multiple ways, but that was one of them. To be like if someone asks you to sing, sing! Just do it, don’t think about it. You have the song you’re going to sing, sing it.
Being able to be in line and have 100s of people around you and then start practicing, was a big thing for me. You had to wake up so early to get to those auditions. You would vocalise a little bit in the morning, you had to run the song and it wasn’t going to be at 3 o’clock in the morning. (laughs) Being able to sing in front of anybody at a really young age and have her be like ‘don’t be so freaky.’ I say this all the time, your voice isn’t an instrument, you can’t just plug it in. It’s not always going to sound the same. You can’t have that mentality that you’re going to be perfect, every single time. She has beat that into my head and I am finally starting to get that now. The fact of just singing in front of anybody really helped me in that way. Also, it helped me in the way of validating what I am doing, as I have been doing it for so long. Those are the two things that have helped me a lot.
Speaking of live performances, which of the songs that you’ve made do you enjoy performing live most?
I like performing ‘monday‘ live a lot because people don’t normally expect that one. When I start talking about working at the job and I was working at a job where I had to scream for people because there was music playing and everything’s loud. I was screaming non-stop and I ended up going to get my voice checked at the Vanderbilt Voice Center here (in Nashville). I had pre-developed nodes and that’s scary as an artist.
When the pandemic hit, I stopped and the doctor even said ‘you need to stop bartending, I think you shouldn’t be doing this anymore.’ ‘I see people come in all the time and their bartending, their screaming and this happens.’ When the whole world stopped in 2020, I went back to the doctor the next year and they were completely gone. It was one of those things of ‘oh wow.’ (It was) not just the fact I had doing this, but also it’s affecting what I love doing, physically. That was huge for me to see now everything’s fine, now I’m not doing it. Telling that story, (for) people it hits hard for them. I think it takes people on a journey of their own things they’re dealing with, (their) own job life, (their) own career life. That’s probably my favourite right now, I am sure it will change.
I have never really thought about it like that. When you work in hospitality or in a restaurant you have to do that. I remember once, I was in a Burger King in Barcelona and one of the waitresses had a megaphone, and I was like ‘Woah.’
That’s amazing. I wish I would have thought of that.
But, as with what you have said, it makes sense as you have got to get your voice heard. I can see why people like to see that song live. As you said, it’s a relatable song.
It’s like when you go out and it’s really loud and you’re screaming at your friend, trying to talk to them. Then you get home and your throat hurts. It’s like that all the time. There’s a reason your throat hurts, it’s because your banging you’re vocal cords, screaming at someone for hours on end.
It’s like when you go to a concert or where you perform and you’re next to a speaker. You go home and you hear that ringing in your ear for ages.
You wake up and the songs are still in your head. You can’t go to sleep.
Which upcoming artist are you currently listening to and what advice would you give them?
This is strange, but I don’t listen to a lot of music recreationally which is very weird. I listen to Tinashe, I loved her last album. It was so good and she’s so underrated. That album should have taken off for her. Also, Amber Mark’s album is phenomenal, she didn’t get a lot of recognition for it either. Seeing other artists put out these amazing projects that are signed or have been signed before, who have got the fans from being signed. I know Tinashe is not signed anymore, she’s independent, but still killing it. I know Amber Mark’s signed now. I look at it, as massive artists are putting out incredible stuff, but there’s just so much noise in general, that you have to let everything go. You can’t expect I have to do this, this, and this. You have to let everything flow because if you strangle your career, like ‘I have to do this, this has to happen,’ then nothing happens because you put that type of energy out. That would be the biggest advice I give anybody in any career path at all. Don’t try to strangle it to death. It’s great to have (the) determination and you have to have that, but also give yourself a little bit of grace and a flow through it. It makes the ride so much more enjoyable.
That is very good advice. Sometimes, people are like ‘I have to make this song.’ You don’t have to, you just got to put the stuff out there that you like and people will appreciate it. You might not have a number 1 hit straight away, but if you keep persisting it will come.
It will come however it does and (at) whatever timing. You didn’t expect either one of them. So, just let it go because you are not going to expect (it) when it hits regardless. It never happens how we envision it.
Especially in this day and age. Any sort of song can go viral on TikTok or Twitter etc. now.
That’s another thing. People are just obsessed with TikTok and trying to go for it. I have learned don’t put all your eggs in that because you can (see) there are people blowing up, and getting signed for a singles deal because labels are just draining money right now. They’ll sign these content creators/artists to a singles deal and then once that is over, they will drop you, goodbye. Now, the next person is doing a singles deal. It’s not something that has a lot of growth. Anything that comes up that fast, has a downfall quickly. It’s great to stay on it and have a balance with it. But, don’t let it take away from doing your actual craft well. Don’t procrastinate, by doing TikToks’, when you should be actually focusing on the craft. That’s what you enjoy anyway and that’s what’s going to get you somewhere for a longer amount of time.
If you want to last long in the music industry and not be just a footnote in history, you have to make music that lasts and people will love. TikTok is the thing now, but something else will be. Once upon a time, Snapchat was the thing, but now it barely gets used. Make the music you love and do what you think is right and success will come.
There’s always going to be a new app, there’s always going to be another thing. You can do it, but don’t make it everything. Don’t make it ‘I have to have this many followers to get this and this.’ If you know people, you have a network, followers don’t matter. If you know the executive at a record label, the girl with 300,000 followers doesn’t matter. Your network in any career is the most important thing. Which is what I have started doing, is networking my a*s off.