Farm to Table

Bartees Strange

Farm to Table

As the child of an Air Force engineer, Bartees Strange moved around a lot; as an adult, he’s exhibited a similar propensity for uprooting his life, as he’s shifted his career course from college football prospect to press secretary in the Obama administration to indie-rock raconteur. But even as the D.C.-based singer/songwriter/producer has found his true calling in music, he’s remained a restless soul. His 2020 debut, Live Forever, introduced an artist equally comfortable with bedroom-pop confessionals, scrappy punk-powered salvos, synthesizer experimentation, and trap-schooled flows. But those discrete elements were skillfully threaded together by Bartees’ outsized emotionalism and lyrical oversharing. With his inaugural album for the iconic 4AD imprint, Farm to Table, Bartees doubles down on his mission to make you feel it all, all at once. In true write-what-you-know fashion, the album is a document of Bartees’ sudden entry into the spotlight, as a touring musician longing to be with his partner and as a Black man navigating both the largely white world of indie rock and the tumultuous racial politics of 2020s America. “What I'm trying to say with all these feelings, and all these sounds, and all these thoughts, is I'm just a person,” Bartees tells Apple Music. “All of it is coming from one vessel. What I'm asking for is people to just listen to me fully, and hear what I'm trying to say with all of this—because you may find something in it that relates to you.” Here, Bartees takes us through Farm to Table, one course at a time. “Heavy Heart” “When Live Forever came out, I was feeling a weird survivor's guilt around the success of the album, because it happened right as everything was just taking a huge downturn: The stock market crashed, and then the pandemic happened, and then my granddad died, and then all my friends were losing their jobs and getting COVID and there were no vaccines out...and I was experiencing the greatest moment of my life! I couldn't talk about it to anyone without feeling horrible. So this song is saying, ‘You've got to let the guilt go. You got to let the heavy heart go. Life is bigger than that—you can enjoy it even when things are dark.’” “Mulholland Dr.” “I wrote this song when I was in LA, and I felt like I went through the full stages of grief with LA. I was like, ‘Damn, LA is the greatest city in the world! The weather's perfect! Everyone's so pretty!’ And the whole way that LA functions is ruining LA—you have the forest fires, extreme heat, the droughts, and people pumping water from Colorado up into the Hollywood Hills for their mansions, and you have all these homeless folks. This place is so pretty and so dark and evil at the same time. These people don't care about shit, and I don't know if that's good or bad, but they seem happy—and I'm not!” “Wretched” “This song is basically a thank-you to the people who stood by me and always supported me, even when I was just kind of figuring it out and I didn't know who I was or what I was doing. But there were always people who said to me, 'Trust your gut—go with what you think works. Life is short, be happy.' Even when I thought I wasn’t worth anything and I thought I was wretched, there were some people who would always check in with me. It's a big thank-you in a huge dance track.” “Cosigns” “There's two sides to success. People will be like, 'Yo, Bartees is crushing it!' And I feel the same way: 'Yo, I'm out here with the people I've always looked up to and admired for years as songwriters, and I'm finally getting to meet them and party with them and write with them and tour with them.' But at the same time, it awakens this other side of me, which is fiercely competitive—I'm wanting what they have, and more. And I kind of always worry, 'Will I ever be satisfied? What do I really want? Do I really want to be the biggest thing I possibly can be? Do I really want to tour 320 days a year?' Those are things you have to weigh against the competitiveness and the drive.” “Tours” “This song is kind of about turning into your parents. My dad was in the military, and he would go on tour—he'd be gone for a couple months, and we would all miss him. And I remember just thinking, 'Damn, when I grow up, I'm never gonna be gone this much!' And now, I look at my life, and it’s like, I'm going to be gone more. I'll probably have a family and I'll be like my dad, saying, ‘Goodbye—see you in a couple of months,' and rolling out. But as I've gotten older, I understand why he did it—because he loves it. He wanted us to see him doing something that he loves to do, and I appreciate that more now.” “Hold the Line” “With this song, I knew I didn't have anything new to offer [about the murder of George Floyd]. That's kind of the point of the song: I don't have a solution. I don't know what it looks like in a world where things like this don't happen anymore, because I, nor anyone, has ever seen it. But I do know that it's wrong, and that it's hard, and it hurts every single time. And I remember seeing that young girl, Gianna Floyd, talking to the media about how her dad died. A lot of Black kids don't get to be kids—it's taken away so early. And my heart just went out to her in that moment, because I was watching her childhood just dissipate before our very eyes, knowing her life is never going to be the same, in so many ways. I live in D.C. and I was watching all of the protesters marching together, trying to hold the line. But we don't even know what we're really fighting for. We're just all hurting. And that's what that song is about: It's just a collective feeling of pain and sorrow, but knowing that we have to stick together no matter what. Even if we don't know what it looks like when it is all better, we do know that we all need to be together for it to get better.” “We Were Only Close for Like Two Weeks” “I was in LA, and I met this girl, and we were talking about this artist. And she's like, 'Oh, my god—I love him. We were soooo close, for, like, two weeks.' And I was like, 'What? Is that even real?' So I started thinking and realized, ‘I guess there are some people I can say in my life where, for a month, we were tight.’ And I was just kind of meditating on that and created a song that happens in a different time period to where I am currently.” “Escape This Circus” “This song is a kissing cousin to 'Mulholland Dr.' That song is calling out all these issues and being like, ‘I don't really know what to do with all this, but the world is falling apart and some people are dancing in the sun.’ I end the song by saying, with all this stuff going on, the only thing you can do to change the world is to start with yourself—start with your community. I'm saying, ‘That's why I really can't fuck with you all.’ I don't want to act that I care about going to the march or donating money to the Sierra Club—all these things that we think are changing the world is not going to do more than you taking like an active role in your community and in your own life and with your own mental health and the things that you could actually control.” “Black Gold” “This is about when I left Oklahoma and moved to the East Coast. And it was just a moment where nobody wanted me to leave, but I knew I had to leave. I don't think I understood what I had when I left, I was just kind of pissed off—like, ‘Why am I here? I fucking hate this!’ But everything that was there is what made me who I am, and the more that I learned to appreciate my gifts, and who I was, the more I felt bad about how I left town, and the things I said and how I made people feel about staying there. I wasn't very thoughtful. This song is me looking back and reflecting on something I wish I would have handled better.” “Hennessy” “You go through all these peaks and valleys of the album, some of which are very personal and some of which are very glassy and super-produced. And you get to the end with this song, and it's just kind of a torn-up, broken little thing. It's very human, and I wanted it to be that way, because I feel like it's so easy for people to look at Black artists and say, 'Oh, he's one thing—he's a rock person,' or 'he's a rapper.' And I'm kind of playing with this idea by singing, 'And they say Black folks drink Hennessy'—like, this is what they do. And I'm saying, I want you to see me for who I really am: a person that contains just as many feelings as you may feel.”

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