Another Dimension

Urban Interpreters (L-R): Brian Turner (keys), Nik Hope (drums), Ben Bjorlie (bass), and Ryan Barber (vocals, bandleader) Portrait by Karin Strickland

Ryan “RnB” Barber isn’t only a bandleader, he’s a brand leader. The Fairview resident amplifies his stage name by doing everything: singing, rapping, songwriting, producing, and arranging. 

He’s the lead vocalist of funk outfit BoogiTherapi, a band he also manages; sings in the wedding band Orange Krush; hosts open mic/jam nights; and can boast a Grammy award for his vocals with kid-hop artist Secret Agent 23 Skidoo. Barber is a music instructor at the private boys’ school French Broad River Academy and also runs his own vocal-coaching side business. 

But even with all of that activity, the busiest music professional in Western North Carolina has managed to release a solo album, Rejuvenation, his seventh. All nine cuts on the new album are Barber originals, and other than guitar on two tracks and some tasty horn work by the AVL Funk Horns, Rejuvenation is a one-man show.

Although Barber grew up in the small North Carolina town of Wilkesboro, best known for the annual MerleFest roots-music festival, his own sound bears more urban influences: soul, funk, gospel, hip-hop, and rap. “Everyone in my immediate family can sing,” he says. “We all grew up singing in church and in choirs. I would sing national anthems at football and basketball games.” 

Some extended family members had a funk group that was invited to appear on Soul Train. “I definitely come from a musical family,” Barber says. Other than taking a few piano lessons when he was young, Barber is self-taught. Even the harmonies on Rejuvenation — sometimes stacked three and four voices high — are the product of his self-honed production skills. 

In the best possible way, Rejuvenation is all over the musical map. From the sweet soul of “Fun Tonight” to the funky “Parkway Drive,” the album is a showcase of styles. Barber emphasizes that the record’s variety is intentional. “I wanted to show people that I’m not a one-dimensional artist,” he says. 

Providing contrast to Rejuvenation’s musical variety, there’s a unity of purpose within the album’s lyrics. “A lot of music these days — especially urban music — has anger and negativity,” he notes. His new album is designed as an antidote for that. “I wanted to go the opposite route, making music that makes people feel good, get up out of their chair and dance, smile, laugh, and have a good time.”

It’s surprising to learn that Barber — who’s well known for his uptempo stage presence — used to suffer from performance anxiety. Though he’d been recording at home for a number of years, he only started playing live in 2007. “I was a very shy person with severe stage fright,” he admits. “But once I got used to it, and the more I saw that people were digging what I was doing, it became addictive.” Today, he’s an engaging and seemingly effortless performer, totally comfortable fronting his various bands. 

Along the way, Barber has received plenty of advice from friends and fellow musicians. Some of the best came from the late local music figure Jeff Knorr. “He taught me a lot about making sure other people in the band have a focus, and making sure the crowd sees that,” Barber says. 

Over the last decade-plus, Barber has accumulated his own wisdom, too. He offers some advice for aspiring musicians looking to make it in today’s ever-changing music landscape. “A lot of people think that a solid work ethic just means creating your music at home and putting it out on social media,” he says. “But it’s so much more. You have to hustle gigs, and step out of your comfort zone.” 

And despite Western North Carolina’s reputation as a challenging market for musicians, where it can be hard to get noticed, much less make a living, Barber is — true to form — optimistic. He believes that if you’re a musician who “shows up on time and has integrity and talent, it’s going to be super easy for you to maintain work here.”

Ryan RnB Barber appears with his band BoogiTherapi for a show Sunday, May 26, in the amphitheater at Sierra Nevada Brewing Company (100 Sierra Nevada Way) in Mills River. 7-9:30pm. Free. For more information, see sierranevada.com or ryanrnbbarber.com. Also: BoogiTherapi AVL on Facebook.

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