The expanding of one’s mind does not happen overnight. It is a lifelong journey of constantly learning new things, questioning information, the world and yourself.
Like anything worth pursuing, it’s a discipline that’s challenging and rewarding. I seek to learn about perspectives different from my own. That is why I have conversed with local songwriting staple, Marlon Barnes Jr. He got his start performing at the Cedar Open Mic Night at the Cedar Center in 2008 and has continued to be ever present in our music scene.
Jesse Davidson: You have a really unique take on songwriting. It’s not the typical or conventional approach a songwriter usually takes. They are well crafted, but also unapologetically goofy. Where does your influence come from on that?
Marlon Barnes Jr.: (laughs) Yeah absolutely. I’ve always mostly been interested in weird stuff. Weird Al was a big influence. Another artist was Bushwalla who used to be a clown. He left clown school and started writing and performing music. Just the strangest things I could find, I’d latch on to.
JD: You have a diverse array of friends in the AV music scene. How would you feel your experience has been in the music and art scene?
MBJ: Overall, my personal experience has been positive. I think I’ve dodged a lot of drama for the most part.
JD: Have you ever felt discriminated against in the music scene or do you feel it comes from outside that bubble?
MBJ: As a performer, I don’t think so. People you meet when performing music can end up having questionable stances and views on things. That’s with everything in the world. With everyone you meet, there are always some people harboring some troubling sentiments on humanity and which people are people.
JD: You tried to bring local songwriters together via a Facebook group called Tunesday. Can you talk about that project?
MBJ: It’s a self-challenge and community-type of project. I actually got the idea from Bushwalla. He is in a songwriting group with people like Bob Snyder and Jason Mraz. Every week, they work with a different songwriting prompt or phrase and try to work it into their lyrics. It’s a great exercise to try and get the creative juices flowing.
JD: Was there a goal of bringing people together in mind when trying it out with local songwriters?
MBJ: Yeah. It’s always so nice to have a community of creative people. When you get together, you end up feeding off of each other. Something I learned from going to Cedar Open Mic Night, having people together making art feels real good, you know, versus writing alone in a vacuum and then saying, “Alright I have a song! Who wants to hear it?”
JD: Also, you are going to gain insight on perspectives that you wouldn’t normally.
MBJ: Oh yeah. You end up with phrases you never would have thought of. Different melodies or ways to harmonize things and so many different ideas that build on each other through different people. You see how many different ways there are to view one musical phrase. There’s as many ways to see a phrase and turn it into a song as there are people in the world. That has a cool overlap with how to see everything in the world.
JD: That’s a great point. How do you think we can take that perspective out of the art community and into the entire community?
MBJ: Mostly, just by paying attention. Talking to people and listening to them. Realizing that there is more than one way to see everything by paying attention to other people’s perspectives. Not ultimately prioritizing your own. Put your own point of view aside for a minute.
JD: I think art, music and education will be the key to overcoming bigotry and racism in our society. Those solutions don’t happen overnight. They are long-term solutions. Do you think they will play significant factor. If so, how will they?
MBJ: The crazy thing is that art, music and education are all incredibly powerful things that are ridiculously effective in changing and molding minds. Which means, they are incredibly constructive and destructive. It’s all in how you use it and be mindful of everything. Powerful things can’t be wielded recklessly without consequence.