It’s a tale as old as Music City: the driven country band moves to Nashville with dreams of making it big at radio or on the touring circuit. But in the case of James Barker Band, many of the markers of breakout success were already behind them when they arrived in Nashville. Indeed, the Ontario-born four-piece has fueled an incredible story over the last six years, largely on their own, from opening for local bands in dive bars to charting multiple No. 1 singles and hundreds of millions of global streams to headlining some of Canada’s largest country music festivals.
Now, with new music on the way, the band is continuing their meteoric ascent in Nashville. But as far as their vision for the future goes, nothing has changed.
“Our goal has always been to just get better every day,” frontman James Barker says. “No matter how much better or comfortable we get, there’s always things we can keep improving, whether it’s singing, writing songs, or connecting with fans.”
It’s this passionate ethos that propelled the band from obscurity to the mainstage since their formation in 2015. In fact, it’s what initially brought them together as a band. Made up of James Barker (lead vocals/guitar), Taylor Abram (guitar/background vocals), Connor Stephen (drums), and Bobby Martin (bass), the members of James Barker Band grew up within an hour of each other in rural towns surrounding Toronto.
Barker and Stephen, who were both from Woodville, Ontario, went to a summer arts camp together as teenagers. While most of the campers were dancers and actors, the two bonded as aspiring musicians and began jamming regularly. After placing second at a local battle of the bands competition, they struck up a conversation with the sound engineer of the event, Abram, who invited them to cut a few songs in the studio where he worked. Shortly thereafter, the trio invited Abram to join as the band’s acoustic guitarist and background vocalist, with Stephen leading on drums and Barker taking center stage. With Martin coming into the fold a year later, in 2015, the quartet began actively self-booking shows across Canada, renovating an old Greyhound into a touring bus and writing songs inspired by their small-town origins.
“The thing about country music is that the lyrics ring true in small towns anywhere in the world,” Barker says. “My hometown may have been in Ontario, but it wouldn’t have been out of place anywhere in the US heartland. Everybody hunts, fishes, and works hard to pay off their rent or mortgage. Coming from a place like Woodville, it teaches you to appreciate doing what you love, and we work harder for it.”
The band’s hard work paid off in droves when, in 2017, they sent their single “Chills” straight to the top of Billboard’s Canadian Hot 100 chart. The upbeat anthem also achieved Platinum status, alongside other songs from their introductory LP Game On, earning them numerous national awards. In addition, they’ve achieved another Platinum-certified and six Gold-certified tracks: “There’s A Drink For That”, “Just Sayin’,” “It’s Working,” “Lawn Chair Lazy,” “Good Together, and ” “Keep It Simple” (Platinum).
“To say [radio success] was a catalyst is an understatement,” Barker recalls. “Because we had already built up a fan base ourselves from playing at fairs and festivals those first two years. So then all of a sudden to be driving to a gig and hearing yourselves on the radio, and hearing fans sing all the words back to you at the shows, it was just like throwing jet fuel on a fire.”
Even still, with radio, awards, and ticket sales quickly elevating the band’s status, they remained devoted to their fan base, many of whom had been there since the very beginning. Now, as the rising stars reposition themselves in Nashville, many miles from their hometowns, the opportunities are limitless – but the band remains grounded in their small-town roots.
“To put it super simply, we don’t want to do anything else,” Abram says. “This life, doing this thing together, makes it all worth it, and it’s what we know we’re meant to do.”
Action Entertainment Collaborative – AEC