Instead of focusing on the negatives facing the world today (“… a critic never fixes anything”), the strength of the lyrics in Holdyn Barder’s latest single, “It’s All Love”, is in how it unites us in these uncertain times. Barder is certainly wise beyond his years and his songwriting and powerful disposition reflect it. Perhaps even more notable about the twenty-two-year-old star-in-the-making is Barder’s special connection with his fans both on and off social media.
Growing up, country was definitely the genre that was played most. My parents dabbled in those instruments, but I think what rubbed off on me was when they would play country radio in the car or when we would go out to eat and the radio would be on. When I lived in Houston for the first two or so years of my life, I remember listening to Brooks & Dunn, Garth Brooks, George Strait, Lonestar… all the greats. As I got older, I became a little distant from country music and listened to a whole bunch of other genres at the time like pop, rock, and more. It wasn’t until my first few years in high school where I got invested with country music again as a fan; those childhood memories of singing those 90’s classics were still stuck in the back of my head and revisiting them was a eureka moment! Have you ever heard a song you haven’t played in ages? That was me, but with hundreds of country songs. I delved right in!
Your father, uncle, and grandfather are among other relatives who have served in the Army and Marine Corps. Your first country concert was Toby Keith. Which song of Keith’s is your favorite to cover and why?
Much of my family did serve in those branches and in some others as well. My favorite Toby Keith song to cover is certainly “Should’ve Been A Cowboy!” It was one of the songs I sang in the backseat as a little kid and one that my parents played often. I always loved it — what a classic! I remember that at my first country concert, I matched my dad wearing a red, white and blue outfit and an oversized cowboy hat. I’ll have to dig up a photo somewhere! I remember the concert being super energetic and lively. It was around the time of September 11, 2001, so some emotions were high in that concert most certainly, but to my recollection, that’s what made it incredible!
Read that you were inspired to pursue music after you found a blue guitar shaped paperclip on your backpack in middle school. Which artists were your favorites when you were in middle school?
Middle school was certainly an interesting time for me. I attended middle school at Newtown Friends School in my hometown of Newtown, PA. During my time there, I didn’t listen to too much country music. I was certainly playing the late 00’s and early 10’s pop music… wow, this is bringing back memories! From Justin Timberlake, Ne-Yo, and Usher to Akon, Katy Perry, and Kesha, I was across the board. Taylor Swift was another artist I really admired, as she has some local roots near where I grew up and my family had always loved her and her music. Basically, if you type in on Spotify, “Best Songs of the 00s,” the songs that pop up are the Top 40 hits I always had on. Back then, radio was also the way I mainly listened to music until I got my first iPod (that really opened me up to new music)! My mother drove me to school most days if I didn’t take the bus, so whatever played in the car that morning on WIOQ was all I heard (Philly’s major contemporary hit station). If I was ever with my dad, he would have WXTU on (Philly’s major country station).
It was on a beautiful afternoon in the springtime in 2013 where I knew I decided I should pursue music. I was actually playing tennis with a buddy and after the match, resting on the top of my bag was a blue guitar-shaped paperclip. It certainly was not there previously since I had tumbled and ruffled through my Babolat bag between sets. I took it as a sign from the universe to begin playing guitar. It was this year that I entered high school.
Holdyn Barder '17
How did George School prepare you for life after commencement? George School will always have a special place in my…
How did your high school years at George School solidify your connection to music as a career?
George School was really the place where I felt like I could accomplish anything. Not only is the high school known for its reputable academia, George School also recognized the importance of the non-material things — spirituality, if you will. Since it is a school affiliated with the Quaker Christian tradition (formerly known as the Religious Society of Friends), many Quaker principles were instilled and used to help guide the students in our everyday lives. The “SPICES(S)” was an acronym we all followed. It stands for “Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, Equality, Stewardship, and Service.” Newtown Friends School was also a Quaker school. While I myself am not a Quaker, I know that the values I learned in my time at George School strongly stay with me to this day.
George Schools Hosts Virtual Alumni Concerts for the Community
The George School Alumni Office hosted two virtual concerts for the George School community this spring. During this…
I participated in many theater productions and musicals at George School and I also performed frequently at open mics and a student-run event called “Live Music Weekend.” It was an awesome way to play in front of a crowd of about 100 kids and have an amazing time. I remember playing a song with three of some of my best buddies by The Black Keys and I still have the video. We rocked it. I was like, “Man… this is what I want to do.” The next night, I wanted to perform again so I did three solo country covers. I was ready to start playing for real. Those nights really solidified my interest in music.
You met Dierks Bentley at a private concert where he encouraged you to ‘plug away’. Which song of Dierks is your favorite and why?
My favorite Dierks Bentley song is “Son of The Sun.” The song describes his passion for taking the time to soak in what he loves — whether it be nature or music. In the song, he explains to his wife that he just needs “a little time,” but sometimes “needs to catch the wind and howl at the moon.” There’s this inner calling inside him that keeps him sane by exploring the outdoors and being in the wild. It is real, honest, and I love it. A total Dierks song.
In 2018, one of our local athletic centers (The NAC), which I have been going to since I was little, held an anniversary celebrating 40 years as a business. Both Dierks Bentley and The O’Jays were the performers for the evening. Prior to the performance, my father and I were able to meet Dierks backstage and I explained to him my passion for music, my goals and my vision. He encouraged me to keep ‘plugging away’ with my art and I really took that as motivation to really get going with music.
Luke Bryan shared a video on Instagram of you covering one of his songs. You said it made your year to have him do that. You plan on doing the same for other artists. How else has Bryan inspired you as an artist and songwriter?
Like Dierks Bentley, Luke Bryan I’d say is one of my biggest artist role models. I think what really draws me to Luke and his music is the energy he gives off. If you look at each record he’s put out, including his most recent, there are beautiful ballads, party and dance anthems, summer songs and a little in between. There is so much material fans can enjoy and I think that is such a great philosophy to maintain. One thing that inspires me is his story; despite the family heartbreak he endured, he still plowed through and made his dreams happen. Not only do I enjoy and appreciate his writing style, but another thing about him, and among other artist role models of mine, too, is the engagement with his fans. That’s something that stands out like a sore thumb and I want to be an artist that emphasizes the importance of his supporters like that. I believe that is was Garth Brooks who said in an interview that “those fans are really angels that will help make your dream come true.”
Studying quantum mechanics at Lafayette College before transferring to Belmont University, majoring in music business and audio production. On the business side, what are the differences between being an independent artist versus one represented by a label?
In my professional opinion, both an artist and a label can achieve many of the same tasks (i.e. engagement strategies, “polishing” the artist, distribution, etc.). It may be more difficult for the artist to do it independently and outsource much of their tasks and components like publicity, marketing, and management, but it is doable, without a doubt. Many musicians make their living without a record deal and that is awesome!
However, if an artist is looking for an extra, special push in their career, especially to radio in country music in the United States or if an artist seems to be on the verge of doing something incredible, labels will want to know who it is, what it is and how it could or could not mesh with their current roster and business aims. I cannot speak much for a label’s mindset and their typical avenues of interests, but as an artist, labels have the ability to catapult the artist they sign (if and only if the artist is willing to put in the work and the artist always wants it the most). I want my music to impact as many people as possible in positive ways and in country music, there is a direct relationship between consumption and radio airplay. It is a childhood dream of mine to take my music to the international scale and that is my goal.
In comment to the first portion of this question — transitioning from studying quantum physics to music business is something you don’t see every day, ha! It was in my time at Lafayette College in Pennsylvania where I began delving into my vocal coaching and guitar instruction. I couldn’t get enough of it. I met my current management representative during my time here, as well as Tom Kozic, a colleague, former instructor, and mentor of mine who encouraged me to follow my passions and move to Nashville. Tom, for many years, played guitar with country icon Eddie Rabbitt. He’s got some great stories! After several trips to Music City and getting in the room with some hit writers, I knew I needed to make the move…
You said you want your music to combine traditional country with a modern progressive sound. Which up-and-coming artists have a similar sound to yours?
It is difficult for me to identify up-and-coming artists who have a similar sound as mine, since my music is so unique to me. I would certainly say my sound is a blend of new and old! I grew up with it all and appreciate all varieties of country music and music in general! I published a cover of Ronnie Milsap’s “Smoky Mountain Rain” in 2019 and earlier this year I published my debut single “Like You Do” which includes lyrics with Snapchat, Instagram, and more. Stylistically, the power of Jason Aldean, the country swagger of Luke Bryan, and the gentle touch of Randy Travis are some themes I’d place on how I would describe my music.
With every song I cut, I either need to be able to visualize myself playing it in a stadium and giving people the night of their life or making the crowd focus in on one little spotlight during a ballad. With respect to other artists though, I really love what Dylan Schneider has done to build his career! I vibe with his stuff all the time! I have a playlist on Spotify with all of my favorites and just in the last few weeks I have really been connecting with Hannah Ellis, Josh Kerr, and Nick Wayne. I really enjoy listening to beautifully written songs. If you have any suggestions or something you are really hooked on right now that you want to share with me, let me know and hit me up on one of my social media platforms!
Artist manager Jordyn Elliott has helped arrange songwriting collaborations the past two years. Do you prefer to write as part of a collaboration, like you did for “Like You Do” with Patrick Jason Matthews and Mike Mobley, or on your own at this point in your career?
I definitely love to co-write material. I think that’s the beauty of being in Nashville; you’re surrounded by like-minded individuals whom you can mesh your creativity with. But gosh, I am tired of Zoom co-writing. I need to be in the room. It’s fascinating to me to see how someone’s “toolbox” can connect with someone else’s “toolbox.” I look at songwriting like a puzzle I’m trying to solve. There are three or so minutes to get your point across, your message, your intention. What is the most artistic and effective way to move the listener? What sonic tactics can you utilize to make the mix appealing to the ear? What words and phrases stand out compared to others that don’t? All these questions I consider simultaneously in a co-write. Sometimes someone will just come up with an idea and run with it and it’ll be something you never would have thought of on your own. However, I do like to write solo, too. Sometimes the vulnerability is too much in a song idea to open up to co-writers.
For “Like You Do,” I was definitely blessed to have been able to join in as a third on that session with Jason and Mike. It was my last night in Nashville before heading back to Lafayette College (prior to relocating down here several months later), and Jason texted me if I’d be interested in joining. It was a freezing, sunny afternoon in March and I remember it took us nearly five hours to finish the song. I’m grateful to have made that my debut single!
You said “being by the ocean is definitely a strong influence in my artistry”. Have you written any beach songs during the quarantine?
I have written so many beach songs during the quarantine! In fact, I spent much of the quarantine at the beach in New Jersey, where my family has a vacation home. The beach is a happy place for me. It doesn’t matter what beach it is, as long as I have sand, an ocean and a cool breeze! I am a total beach guy! I am most creative when I am near the water and oftentimes will write on the beach, too.
How are you able to put your own stamp on covers like Luke Combs’ “She Got the Best of Me”?
Whenever I record cover songs, I always want to put my own spin on it. For the Luke Combs cover of “She Got the Best of Me,” I wanted to portray the heartbreak in a different way than the original. My producer and I turned it into a slow, piano-roll ballad. Instead of power vocals, we did quieter vocals. Instead of heavy electric riffs, we leveled up the acoustic guitar and threw in some piano licks. I love taking the beauty of something and making it my own. Cover songs are a cool outlet for me to put my own twist on songs I love!
“It’s All Love”. Your new single’s message, that we are all the same regardless of race, political leaning or religious beliefs, is most timely in today’s world. Can you describe what inspired the Tim James, Lance Miller and Patrick Jason Matthews co-write?
“It’s All Love” was written in 2013. That right there just goes to show that songs are timeless. I can’t speak much for what happened in the write session since I wasn’t there, but what I can say is that something incredible and magical must have happened. I would have loved to be in that room that day. I was pitched the song by one of Jason’s admins and immediately fell in love the first time I heard it. I don’t think I’ve fallen in love with a song quicker than I did with “It’s All Love.” To me, the song is perfect given the current state of our world. Actually, it was this song I had planned on cutting first, rather than “Like You Do,” but I am glad I waited on this one.
The song is so special because it highlights all of our similarities. I believe that country music is supposed to touch on hard subjects; country music is so awesome because it is real and raw, and to me, this song is as real and raw as it can get. The lyrics are so unifying and I think that these lyrics will impact so many people in so many positive ways. Listen to the words and there is no way you won’t be inspired — I can’t stop playing it myself! I am grateful and humbled to be the artist who can charge ahead with this awesome piece of artwork. The song was produced by Chase Rice’s lead guitarist Chris Loocke and he totally brought this thing to life. From the strong percussion delivery in the intro, to the incredible guitar riffs throughout the song, it is hands down my favorite project thus far. Let me know what you think by messaging me on my social media platforms! Let’s be friends!
Your debut song, “Like You Do”, focused on the effect of social media on relationships. With live shows indefinitely postponed, most artists are connecting with fans online. How will that impact how you will be promoting your new single?
The COVID-19 pandemic has no doubt had an impact on the world and the music industry. My heart goes out to all those impacted by the virus. I always choose to look at the positives, and one thing that this virus is forcing us to do is spending time with ourselves and our loved ones more often. In certain circumstances, social media can pull relationships apart (being on your phone too much, etc.). But in times like these, we can literally talk to anyone, in any country, right now.
We are socially trained to believe that this is the norm — that it is normal to be able to call Australian family at 7 PM EST to make sure you can catch them before they start their day (some of my family is Aussie)! Think about how cool that is. It may not sound like much, but we are so advanced that it boggles my mind. We have the world at our fingertips. Because social media is such an amazing tool, it will no doubt help with the promotion of “It’s All Love.” I think if anything, it will only amplify it. I am so grateful for all of my fans and the people I have been able to share my music with online…it’s an amazing experience and I look forward to seeing what happens with “It’s All Love.”
When the pandemic is over, your first concert will be at your dream venue. Where will you be performing?
It would be my dream to play at the Grand Ole Opry! That is certainly my dream venue and I would be beyond honored to step in the iconic circle one day!