Anna Barnett of 'SWEETBOY': An Honest Conversation About Music, Life, and the Debut Album
In the heart of the city that never sleeps, where dreams are born and shattered on a daily basis, emerges a sound that refuses to be contained. Meet Sweetboy, the indie pop/alternative sensation hailing from the vibrant streets of New York City, a band that seamlessly merges the raw power of rock, the artistry of dynamic composition, and the poetic beauty of folk-inspired lyricism.
Their journey took flight as they collaborated after the grind of their day jobs, hitting the open mic circuit across the city that had long whispered its secrets to countless musicians. With the addition of more talented members and the creation of mesmerizing demos, Sweetboy's momentum became an unstoppable force. Soon, the band began investing not only their energy but their very essence into their craft. And thus, in 2019, Sweetboy was born. Intrigued by the harmony of their rock-infused melodies and the poetic storytelling within their folk-inspired lyrics, Sweetboy captivates not just the ears but also the hearts of their audience. As we delve deeper into their journey and musical evolution, we invite you to join us on a journey through the unique soundscape that is Sweetboy. On October 27th, the world will bear witness to the culmination of Sweetboy's creative journey as they release their highly anticipated debut album. As a sneak peek into what promises to be a musical experience like no other, Indie Boulevard had the honor of sitting down with the band's charismatic vocalist Anna Barnett, whose words and melodies have the power to stir the soul. In this exclusive interview, we uncover the creative forces driving this band's sweet journey and the indelible mark they are leaving on the ever-evolving New York music scene.
IB: Hi guys and Anna! Thank you for taking the time to talk with us. How did the unique name "Sweetboy" come about for your band, and what does it represent for you?
ANNA: One reason is that it’s cute! Sweetboy was a suggestion from my aunt, and it’s right out of my family’s useless but satisfying vocab of cutesy words usually reserved for animals or babies or baby animals. Our music is fun, and we’re definitely not that cool, so we might as well embrace it with a nerdy, fun name. But more seriously, it is a good representation of how we want to be musicians and people. It represents our ambition to create and nurture goodness in our music and how we engage with the world. I think the whole world wants hardness from you, and that’s its way of maintaining power, so the only way to be more powerful than the world is to stop participating. It’s being kind, gentle, and sweet over all the other ways you could be because kindness is subversive to power. So it’s a cutesy, silly name, but it's a mighty name, in my opinion.
IB: Let's talk about your debut album, "A Day in the Park," coming out very soon on October 27th. I know you guys have been preparing for this release for a long time, and I must say, the record sounds amazing. It's truly a strong debut. What significant events, personal experiences, and sources of inspiration influenced the creation of "A Day in the Park"?
ANNA: Thank you very much! We are very excited about it- it’s our first real album, and we’ve thrown in on this one and put our backs into it! It’s really important to us. The album's concept revolves around the moments, reenactments, and reimaginings you would have during a lucid dream on the grass in the park on a sunny afternoon. It’s a collage of recent and far-off moments and what-might-have-been’s. When we sleep, our bodies process, purge, and awaken refreshed, and these songs are like dreams, swooping in and out of breakups, breakdowns, sheddings, and rebirths. Some of the songs were written shortly after Jon and I moved to the city, and we were both going through our phases of growing, becoming more independent and authentic. “Pomegranate,” for example, is about the painful transition from innocence to experience, and “End of the World” is unsurprisingly about the pandemic and how much that changed everything. A lot of the album rests on this sort of nostalgic inner processing–the life-death-life cycle–that is necessary for change.
IB: Could you share some details about the creative process and collaboration involved in making this album?
ANNA: Jon and I are the main founders and songwriters of the band, and our process is sending little baby pieces of songs back and forth until we have time to meet and put them together and make the babies grow up! Or the song sucks… and they die…. We like the Elton-Bernie approach, too. Legend says that sometimes, Bernie Taupin would write down the lyrics to a whole song, and he would set the lyric sheet on the piano and leave, but he wouldn’t include his melody. And then Elton John would walk in and compose the song’s music on the spot. And they made bangers, right? So we trust each other's song ideas and snippets. I’ll send him the lyrics of a chorus in Notes or he’ll send me 30 seconds of piano, and we pretty much always try to see what it sparks in the other person. That’s how we write our songs in general, but for this album, we wanted to bring in another creative voice and so looked for a producer who was willing to add in new layers that we weren’t usually putting in our live performance. We worked with the producer Torna in Greenpoint Brooklyn, and he was amazing. He really took the time to understand our sound and goals and added such lovely elements to our songs.
IB: New York City is such a vibrant and diverse place, and it's known for its rich cultural tapestry. How has the city's unique atmosphere and the experiences you've had there impacted your music and songwriting style?
ANNA: Yeah, NYC has a huge impact on the album. For one, I’m from North Carolina and moved up here alone in 2017, and all the songs were written with Jon after that. The adjustments it takes moving from the south and by myself are definitely big, and they filtered into the songs. One song, “Ask God”, is about the closed-offness you feel like you have to maintain when you’re walking around the city, to keep yourself safe or something. Like how it can be hard to get someone’s attention because you might be “some crazy person” on the subway. I felt like I needed to have that shield, but I also hated it, because it kept me from people and life and being a helper. So the song is a sort of plea- like, come on, get me out of this plastic bubble! I will say, I think that’s changed some since the pandemic. For me, the city feels a little softer. We’ve also got a song called “Upstate”- super obviously about NY and living here as a younger person. The instrumentation itself goes back and forth between alt-country and Springsteeny rock, like a sonic battle between the city and country.
IB: Your band's music is known for its eclectic blend of various genres. Could you delve into how these diverse influences come together to shape your distinctive sound and contribute to Sweetboy's unique musical style?
ANNA: Well, I like to think of the blend of styles as somewhat incidental. For one, Jon doesn’t have a huge knowledge base of musical artists- like he’s never heard of a lot of bands that I loved when we met. I have a wider range, but I was also homeschooled, and I was mostly restricted to Christian music until I was a teenager. So, we had a sort of disjointed popular musical education. I think it’s also what we focused on growing up. Jon played a lot in school and church bands, and was into composition and instruments, not songwriting or lyrics. And I’m the opposite- when I started listening to more music, I was a book nerd obsessed with singer-songwriters and 60s and 70s folk. So he likes the composition and I like the words, and genres fall where they fall. Some of our crossover comes with the sort of power pop theatrical sounds of our songs. Bands like the Killers and Arcade Fire were super life-changing to 16-year-old me, and Jon loved Elton John. So, making big dynamic stories in our songs is important to both of us.
IB: With the upcoming album release, you've also announced a special concert that will take place on October 28th at Heaven Can Wait. Could you share some insights into the planning and preparation that goes into a concert? Are there any particular details that make this show stand out?
ANNA: This show is a big one for us! Or at least the biggest one so far, haha. We’re performing the whole album of course, and a couple of brand new songs are on the set list, and there will also be merch for the first time ever. Really cool merch. We’re so excited about this show and have been rehearsing non-stop and inviting extended cousins and presidents and the whole world.
IB: In the lead-up to the concert, are there any rituals or practices you follow as a band to prepare and get into the right mindset for the show?
ANNA: I try to chill out as much as possible so that my anxiety doesn’t give me a cold, haha. Also, Jon’s wife Annika is a great baker, and she usually sends cookies or cakes with him to our show rehearsals, I’m assuming to lift the spirits and amp us up. It works.
IB: How do you engage with your audience during your concerts? Do you have any special interactions or surprises planned for the show to make it a more intimate experience?
ANNA: Mostly, we try to be as authentic as possible, and if we’re pulling that off, it feels intimate to me. I’m usually scanning the faces of the crowd for emotion during each song so that we know- are they having fun? Are they a little lost in it? Are they feeling things? I have noticed that if those answers are yes for me as the lead singer, then it tends to be a yes for the audience, so again, I’m trying to be authentic and in the moment with the songs. We are spicing this show up with some more background vocals, some new instruments, a brand-new cover. And it’s our thing to add in a few jokes during the inevitable guitar tuning. Working on some special material for this one!
IB: After the show at 'Heaven Can Wait', do you have any plans for connecting with your fans, such as meet-and-greets or autograph sessions?
ANNA: Haha we are not big enough for autograph sessions, that would feel so silly to me. But we will definitely go around the floor and meet everybody, that’s one of the best parts of a show! Grinning so hard your cheeks hurt and forgetting everybody’s name and feeling so grateful. We’ll also very likely go out and get drinks in East Village afterward and would love for anyone to come.
IB: It's interesting to know whether there are plans to release physical versions of your debut album "A Day in the Park" after its digital release, such as CDs or vinyl records, for those people who appreciate collecting music in physical formats. Such physical copies can serve as cherished artifacts for fans and may even influence the album's overall sonic and visual experience.
ANNA: We’d love to do that soon but at the moment all this is entirely self-funded, and those funds are limited, haha. We have to prioritize what we invest in, and we focused first on merch, which you can get on October 28th! But definitely want to put out physical formats later, including tapes!
IB: And the last question. What are the band's plans for the future? Are there any hints or aspirations you can share regarding upcoming projects, tours, or musical directions you're considering beyond "A Day in the Park"?
ANNA: We want to make more music and play out all the time and all around! I actually quit my tech job earlier this year and am committed to being a musician and artist, so I’m here for more and all of it. Our next show is at the Underwater Sunshine Festival at the Bowery Electric on November 11th, a really cool festival put on by Adam Duritz of Counting Crows. And in the spring, we’re planning a tour around NY, so be on the lookout for that.