Melissa Rae Barrie
Melissa Rae Barrie
If fate hadn’t cast her a cruel blow, Melissa Rae Barrie would not be country music’s newest discovery. Instead, some sports rag would probably be chronicling the career heights to which the Coquitlam, B.C. native would be accomplishing in the world of professional hockey.
“I wouldn’t have pursued music at all if it wasn’t for me not being able to play hockey anymore,” confesses Barrie on the eve of her brand new 604 Records album Breakaway.
“When I was 15, I had a string of injuries – four major concussions,” continues the comely brunette singer and songwriter, who recently became engaged to Dallas Stars right-winger Brandon Segal.
“Then when I was 18, I broke my leg. In my first year of college hockey, in pre-season, I slipped a disc in my hip. That pretty much put me out for a couple of months, and then that was it – I couldn’t play anymore. They wouldn’t take me back and they said I was kind of a liability because I was injured all the time.”
Not surprisingly, Barrie felt a lot of anger and angst, and luckily found an outlet to channel it all: country music. The 11 songs on Breakaway -- recorded in Vancouver and Nashville, with the majority co-produced by Ryan Stewart (Carly Rae Jepsen) and Jesse Tucker (Jessie Farrell) and production contributions by Chad Carlson (Taylor Swift) and Mariana Trench’s Josh Ramsay -- don’t necessarily dwell on the hockey frustration, but Barrie has endured other tribulations that has given her perception a shade of darkness.
“I didn’t have the happiest times growing up as a kid and that’s probably why I got into writing songs in the first place,” she admits. “ When you’re 13 years old you don’t have anyone to talk to, so I started writing poetry and songs from the beginning.”
When she chooses to vent, as she does on the song “Unforgivable,” Melissa Rae Barrie isn’t afraid to load the arrow and, armed with her shimmering voice, aim it at her detractor.
“A song like ‘Unforgivable’ is about my best friend for many years,” she recounts. “We lived together and then it turned out that she was doing a lot of stuff behind my back. Then she’d try to turn it around on me and make me feel like I was the bad person.
“I wrote the song for her so she could hear it, know how exactly what she did, how she hurt me, and know what kind of person she is.”
Ditto for the romantically wronged “Room To Breathe.” “’Room To Breathe ‘ is about a guy I was in a relationship with for a year, and it turns out he was leading me on the whole time,” Barrie explains. “The key line here in the song is ‘You’re the best thing that never happened to me.’ He meant so much to me, but he was never really mine.”
But that doesn’t mean she isn’t capable of singing about cheerful stuff, like the exuberant escapist single, “Passenger Window.” “I wrote that one with Josh Ramsey of Marianas Trench who also produced it, and it’s just a fun road song,” enthuses Barrie, who was raised near the Washington State border in White Rock, B.C. “Road songs are the best songs in country music and I’ve always wanted one of those. Josh just came up with this great melody and I thought it fit the role perfectly: It’s one of those songs that gets you in the mood where you forget about everything and just drive.”
And she isn’t afraid to peek into a few other lives in order to be creatively influenced. “Let You Down” is not from personal experience,” she states. “I get a lot of inspiration from films and books, or sometimes I’ll write stuff just to help my friends get through things.”
Mixing light and dark is preferred for Barrie, who says realistic takes in life are simply more honest to her listeners – especially those who know life isn’t always a bowl of cherries. “The kind of person I am is sweet and sour,” Barrie declares. “I think I’m a really nice, kind-hearted person, but I also have a huge temper. There are some amazing things that have happened in my life, and there have been some pretty horrible things that have happened in my life. I think that’s how most people are – everybody has a little sweet and sour in them. And I think it’s important to relate to as many people as you can.”
She’s also not afraid to look outside her own forum of expression if the song is right. For Breakaway, Barrie covered a couple of her favorite songwriters: Lori McKenna and fellow Canadian Gordie Sampson for “Adore Her,” and “Miss Me For A Minute,” respectively.
“Lori McKenna wrote half the songs for Faith Hill’s Fireflies, and Hill basically discovered her. When one of her songs came my way I just had to have it. Having a Lori McKenna song on my album is a huge thrill for me.
“And Gordie Sampson co-wrote ‘Jesus, Take The Wheel,’ for Carrie Underwood. I’m not afraid to use songs for my album if they’re better than the ones I write.”
There’s one other aspect about Melissa Rae Barrie you should know: she’s a wild card. She didn’t gain her record contract based on an amazing performance, critical buzz or a high-placed recommendation: she contacted the record company via e-mail, sent them a song, recorded a few more, auditioned a cappella for 604 Records CEO Jonathan Simkin, and was offered a deal on the spot.
“I was pretty lucky,” Barrie admits. “It’s not often you can send the record company a message over the computer and have them respond.”
She’s also in rehearsals for her first ever tour, but for what she lacks in experience, Melissa Rae Barrie more than makes up for in talent and tenacity.
“I want to be taken seriously,” she declares. “I don’t want to be a little pop tart where other people write my songs and I’m just the face of the music. “I can do it all: I can write songs, perform them and sing them. This is my heart and soul that they’re hearing.”
And judging by the look and sound of things, they’ll be hearing Melissa Rae Barrie for some time to come.
- Nick Krewen