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Student newspaper serving Tulane University, Uptown New Orleans

The Tulane Hullabaloo

Student newspaper serving Tulane University, Uptown New Orleans

The Tulane Hullabaloo

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Tuning into talent: Spotlighting Olivia Barnes

Photo by Olivia Barnes

“Please I’m asking for a second to show some magic to a man.”

I listened to that line over and over, the catchiness and soulful voice compelling me to hit repeat. Accompanied by a rocking electric guitar and rhythmic drums in her song “Lillith’s Smile,” Olivia Barnes’s voice flows as smoothly as her musical journey has.

Barnes, a Tulane University senior, never imagined she would pursue music. But her path — from songwriting at eight years old to the decision to pursue music after graduation — felt like a natural one. She grew up in Atlanta and was musically inclined from a young age, expressing herself through lyrics. However, she did not begin seriously playing music until much later. 

“I bought my first guitar when I was a [high school] junior, with my birthday money or something,” Barnes said. “I think I was sad over a boy or something, I was like, ‘You know what, like, f— him, I’m gonna go buy a guitar and show him who’s boss.’”

From that point on, Barnes took guitar lessons from a dedicated instructor and started jamming with other people. During her junior year of college, she began to perform shows with a band and release music. Barnes’s step into the music scene came effortlessly. “One person leads to a hundred other people, so it’s nice,” she said. The supportive and inviting music culture of other local student artists and New Orleans as a whole also helped. “As opposed to Nashville or Los Angeles, the [New Orleans] community is less competitive, and more supportive and encouraging,” Barnes said. “I’ve felt really accepted and welcomed by everyone.”

The accessibility of talented artists and good music throughout the city further sparked Barnes’s creativity. “It’s inspiring, going to see music anywhere, and it’s like the most talented musicians you’ve ever seen in your life,” Barnes said. “This is such an awesome city to be pursuing music in.”

Barnes is excited to be a part of the scene herself, saying, “Every time I do a show or even see a show, I’m like, ‘I have to book another one because it’s like an addiction.’” Barnes has performed at a number of venues in New Orleans, including Gasa Gasa and Tipitina’s.

When discussing her songwriting process, Barnes emphasized the incidental nature of her creative sparks. “It ebbs and flows between me not touching my guitar, and then feeling really, really inspired,” she said. “I’ve noticed, when I’m trying to fall asleep, a melody will come to me, and it’ll be kind of annoying … but then I have to take advantage of the opportunity when I’m inspired.” Her band, composed of both Tulane and Loyola University students, is also vital to her songwriting by virtue of their ideas, critique and enthusiasm — traits that Barnes says she valued in her search for a band. 

Barnes draws on personal experiences for lyrical and emotional inspiration, as well as artists like Taylor Swift, Maggie Rogers, Tyler Childers and Sheryl Crow for stylistic inspiration. Her musical style is one that transcends labeling, the musician herself calling it a mix of “folky, country, indie, alternative rock” with a “witty lyric here and there.” Barnes hesitates to categorize her music into one specific genre, not wanting to limit it. Recently, her band has been incorporating a dulcimer — an Appalachian string instrument — into their music to create a folk-inspired sound, alongside their usual acoustic and electric guitars, bass and drums. 

In December of last year, Barnes visited friends in Los Angeles and recorded music that she hopes to release soon. In May, she will graduate with a degree in communications and cognitive studies and will continue to record and release music. Though she has come far from her songwriting at eight years old, “I feel like I have so much more to do,” Barnes said. “It’s already been so fun, so I can’t even imagine what else is in store.”

Her single “Floating,” will be released on all streaming platforms on Feb. 17. 

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