Chelsea Barbo of The Cover Letter accepts MyCityATX's first interview

by Jake Navarro

I love music and every component it has to offer. I knew I wanted to create MyCityATX to support and promote local bands and artists, but I honestly didn't know what to expect. I had to get going, because the worst thing you can do is nothing.

I got to work and found a local artist named Chelsea Barbo playing at Bungalow. I decided I was going to check out her acoustic set and ask if she was available to be interviewed. I was a bit nervous. Why am I going to lie? It was a start of an amazing experience in my life, and I can't just give you what anyone else can, right? Well, here goes nothing.... 

I was doing some research on Chelsea and finally found her Soundcloud account with her latest "Don't Let Me Go." I was pleasantly surprised. Chelsea's vocals on the track are almost a mashup of Sia and the best of Taylor Swift, but completely her own.

Chelsea has an undeniably phenomenal voice and great studio sound, but what does she sound like live in front of the mic? 

I found Chelsea setting up. She had her back to me as she was untangling a cord or something that I didn't quite recognize the second I saw it. I would love to go on to say that I cooly slid over to Chelsea and asked her if I could check out her stuff and help finish setting up. Now, that would have been a lie, so, instead, I simply called out, 

"Chelsea?" 

"Hi!"

"Hello, I'm Jake Navarro. I'm with the MyCityATX. I'm starting a blog that follows artists around town. I was wondering if I could sit down with you after the show? Just around five minutes?" 

Five minutes, Jake? Really? WHY ARE YOU BEING SO FORMAL?

Chelsea was listening to every word I was saying, internalizing them and responded with the best reaction I could have asked for: 

"Hey! Yeah, that's awesome! I have somewhere to be afterward, but I can finish up about fifteen minutes before so we can sit down!"

"Okay! Great!"

All right. I got my first interview. I need a drink. 

As I walk up to the bar, I hear guitar strums and see the bar start singing along to Johns Legend's "All of Me" under their breath like they wanted to pretend no one was noticing. I was. 

Great. The most important moment and I missed it. I grab my drink and head to a table regretting standing at the bar for a few moments. As Chelsea moves on to the next cover and interacts with some bar-goers, I grasp that I didn't miss that moment at all. I witnessed Chelsea's talent through every whispered-John-Legend lyric at the bar.

Reassured I picked a great first show, I watched Chelsea sing the bartender's favorite song: a Chelsea Barbo original, "Don't Let Me Go." I was estatic, because I was just listening to that tune on her online playlist. Chelsea powers through the chords and melodies and announces she's taking a break.

Chelsea makes her way to me. 

"Hey! Do you mind if we sit down now? I need to take a break anyway."

"Sure! Yeah," I reassured her, freaking out a little bit inside. 

I introduced what I was doing (again), and the rest was history. 

"I read that you believe that music isn't about the artist, but about the fans and the message they choose to hear. Is this still relevant with what you're doing today? What is that message?"  

"Yeah! It's eternal. I think it's always going to be true. The message that The Cover Letter and I want to send is just be yourself, do what you love and never apologize for it. We write for the emotional experience. We don't write music just for catchy songs. We want the fans to use the music to travel on a journey with us."

"I love hearing that from artists. I'm so passionate about music even though I can't play any instruments or sing. I felt your energy. I was excited to see you sing "Don't Let Me Go." I was just listening to it on your online playlist! It was phenomenal. I know you do solo shows, but can you give me some insight on your involvement with The Cover Letter?"

Chelsea chuckles.

I'm starting to feel more comfortable.

"That's so great! Thank you so much! That really means a lot to me. We got together about two years ago. There are five of us, but since we switch out instruments, we look like we're seven or eight! I'm mainly keys, guitar and vocals. Our sound has a folk/The Lumineers feel to it. "

"With a bit more of a folk sound, what made you cover Macklemore's Thriftshop on YouTube?" 

"I do an acoustic version of R. Kelly's Ignition and am always wanting to think outside the box for covers. It's about changing it and making it yours. When the Thriftshop cover came up, I asked myself, "How can I make Thriftshop an acoustic cover?" and got to work. "

"I enjoy covers because you can get a sense of an artist's expression with the way they change the song. Since you do solo work and are a band member in The Cover Letter, where do you see yourself in five years?"

"Well, The Cover Letter is my top priority at the moment, so I hope to be on a national tour, have a second The Cover Letter album and my first solo album. I'm big on family and have always wanted children, so settling down and having a family of my own would be another goal."

"Very ambitious. How about other goals? If you could collaborate with any artist, who would it be?"

Chelsea stares to her left for a second. 

"Oh, wow! I've never really thought about that!"

"Hey! You might have to one day!"

"Right?! Well, I'm really obsessed with Damien Rice right now. As a solo artist that does mostly slower stuff, I think that would be the total experience for a collaboration." 

We continue to chat about influences like Tracy Chapman, how music is an outlet, and she mentions she's been playing Mondays at Bungalow for about a year and a half. I feel like I made a friend in Chelsea. I can't help but think she feels the same. 

"Now for a bit of a tougher question to ask: what do you think makes you different than others on the Austin scene?"

"I'm not limited to any genre. I listen carefully and learn. I'm more than willing to be a part of any genre: rock, rap or reggae. I think that sets me apart. I grew up with music. My mom, dad and stepdad were all musicians so I was always surrounded by it. They taught me about all the great music of the past. Artists didn't have auto tune or pro tools. They had to go into the studio and record it live. I think that's what should be a part of the Austin scene: remembering where music came from and honoring it."

And, with that, and some scribbling down of Chelsea's contact info and a promising lead on an interview with The Cover Letter, came the conclusion of my first artist interview for my very own publication, MyCityATX. 

Don't miss Chelsea Barbo at Bungalow on Rainey St. every Monday 7pm - 9pm.

Be on the lookout for next week's post with The Cover Letter