The Sound Connector


Barnwell // "Talk Me Down"




Photo credit: Terrance Atchison

Barnwell is a band of consummate pop-smiths who melt strong hooks with deep philosophical treatises about faith and love. “Talk Me Down,”—off their debut album Motel Art--is a frantic pop song where lead singer Tyler Gordon croons “call my name, / oh won’t you talk me down?” between Ross Swinson’s snaggletooth Telecaster lines. Tyler joined me for a brief chat about writing, inspiration, and the Columbia, SC music scene......"

Full Interview:


#20 Best of South Carolina Music 2016

20. Barnwell

Motel Art


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Columbia’s Tyler Gordon and company take the rootsy Americana tendencies apparent on their earlier material and polish them to great effect on this stellar set of shimmering songs that deliver on the promise of hook-laden, guitar-slinging pop-rock practitioners everywhere. — Kevin Oliver

Full List:

Barnwell Feature- The Free Times

Barnwell’s Anthems Tackle the Emotional Wreckage of Leaving Behind Fundamentalist Christianity

By: Kyle Petersen- The Free Times- 4/20/16

When Tyler Gordon started playing shows under the Barnwell moniker in 2014, it had been a while since he felt a part of the Columbia music scene. 

Although he started just a few years after Chaz Bundick (Toro Y Moi) and Aaron Graves (Those Lavender Whales) at Ridge View High School and achieved some local success during that time in groups like The Safe & Sound, he abruptly disappeared, despite attending the University of South Carolina.

“I got to college and I started doing a lot of campus ministry stuff,” he explains. “I was very — embarrassing as it is to admit it — very conservative Christian, evangelical-type thing for the first part of college. So I only played church music for a long time.”

According to Gordon, the Barnwell project emerged after he began rejecting the strictures of fundamentalist thinking and longed for the gritty DIY days of opening up for groups like Bundick’s The Heist and the Accomplice.

“I just hated writing church music,” he says a bit ruefully. “I still play with a church, and it’s a ton of fun, but I’m really bad at writing it and it’s not something I enjoy. That combined with the whole shift in belief structure made me realize that I needed to go back and do what I love to do. I don’t like the clean, pristine aspect of praise music. I started out playing in garages just like everyone else.”

The first Barnwell EP, The First Ghost, was recorded mostly by Gordon alone and pushed out quickly in 2014. A searching indie folk record with just a few players, Ben Cantrell and Tweito’s Seth Ely among them, its barebones aesthetic limited its appeal — despite the obvious songwriting talent. 

Released last month, the group’s new record, Motel Art, is a different beast. Recorded with a solid band, the soaring rock hinted at by The First Ghost’s skeletal traces arrives fully realized, with big melodies and aching alt-rock choruses bolstering the jangly murk and existential musings that define Gordon’s songs.

“This record is kind of what I wanted to play from the beginning, I just didn’t have the resources or the people,” Gordon admits. He credits his bandmates — Ely, who engineered much of the record, along with guitarist Ross Swinson (Release the Dog) and bassist Nick Fogle. Swinson, in particular, is key on Motel Art, offering kinetic, often thundering leads that dominate and define the album’s more rocking efforts. 

“He’s a very, very good guitar player,” Gordon effuses. “Some of the songs were kind of like, ‘This is how the song goes, what do you have?’ And Ross would turn it into something ridiculous, in a good way. It was just one of those things where I knew to just get out of the way.”

Lyrically, Motel Art stays in a similar space, and two songs from the first EP are reprised here. Gordon tends towards vague, often elliptical pronouncements, but with a deep sense of spiritual longing, not unlike the similarly minded former local Austin Crane (Valley Maker).

“The first EP was a lot of just trying to put into words my breakup with [fundamentalist] Christianity. The second is a bit more just can’t-get-out-of-my-head sort of stuff.” Gordon says. “I had a couple of major life shifts about two years ago that I had never really dealt with mentally.”

The result resembles a toothier Band of Horses, but with the palpable edge of someone who has wandered back from the brink, unsure of where to go next. Regardless of the destination, Barnwell’s journey is worth your attention.

CD Release Show Write Up

Friday 11

Barnwell — I haven’t had Barnwell’s Motel Art long enough to say if it’s great. But it’s definitely good. It grabs some of Big Star’s sparkle, some of Wilco’s widescreen grandeur, some of Drive-By Truckers’ sophisticated twang. Indeed, between the palatial guitars, Tyler Gordon’s cutting croon, and songs that glide towards powerful catharses, my first few listens reminded me why I liked Band of Horses so much when they first came around. Barnwell celebrates the release with The High Divers, Release the Dog, and The Post-Timey String Band. — Jordan Lawrence

New Brookland Tavern: 8 p.m., $6 ($8 under 21);

Interview- The Free Times

Part alt-country and part pop confessional, Barnwell’s music defies easy categorization. But whatever you call it, the songwriting of bandleader and mastermind Tyler Gordon provides a solid foundation upon which he can create nuanced and foreboding guitar lines, the tender touch that elevates strum-along power chord bruisers. Gordon’s debut EP under the moniker, The First Ghost, arrived back in the spring. Looking forward to Barnwell’s upcoming performance at Art Bar, Free Times caught up with the Columbia-based Gordon for a quick chat touching on how his first record came about and what he plans for the future.

Free Times: Give me a little background on the formation of Barnwell. How and when did the project start, and why did you feel that this would be the best avenue for your songwriting?

Tyler Gordon: Barnwell started mainly because I wanted to get back to songwriting and recording. I hadn't played in a consistent band or anything in a while, and I had a few ideas I had been sitting on for a little bit. The circumstances didn't really allow for me to have a "band" in the traditional sense, so I decided to just write and record with the help of a couple friends and see what happened.


What: Barnwell
Where: Art Bar, 1211 Park St.
When: Saturday, Dec. 27, 8 p.m.
With: Megan Jean and the KFB, Dave Britt
Price: $5
More Info: 929-0198,

Where and when did you begin recordingThe First Ghost, and who else was involved in the recording process?

Recording started late in 2013 with my friend Ben Cantrell in Augusta. We tracked the foundation of [the title track], and he's playing bass and keys on a couple of the final tracks. Another friend of mine, Seth Ely, who recently tracked and mixed the new Tweito record, played and tracked all the drums except for "Weaker" and "All Your Stones.”

What artists or albums were important influences on the album, and how do you feel that these influences are felt or represented on the finished product?

M. Ward was a big influence on the album, and on me in general. He's one of my favorite artists. John Mark McMillan was another big influence, as was Valley Maker. I don't know how much they are felt on the album. Any of the fuzzy guitar work is big-time M. Ward-influenced, and Valley Maker is represented in that [the band’s leader, Austin Crane,] is a big influence on me from a songwriting perspective. I latched onto his music because, first of all, it's amazing, but we also have kind of a similar cadence or whatever, singing-wise.

What is your favorite song on The First Ghost? What inspired it, or what is it about?

My favorite is "The First Ghost." The lyrics are my favorite that I've written. It's sort of based on an idea from my favorite book,The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis. The song is a conversation I'd imagine would happen between two of the characters (one of which is referred to as a “ghost,” and he's the first one, hence the title), one of which is someone who is in heaven, and the other is someone who is visiting from hell.

What do you feel is the overarching theme of the record?

It ended up with sort of a theme by accident. When I was writing these I was thinking a lot about the nature of faith in God, both my own personal faith and that of others, specifically faith to the point of reliance on God. Which I've found is the hardest thing to do, giving up the idea that I can control everything about life.

What does the future hold for Barnwell? Are there plans for a follow-up record? And if so, how might the material differ from that on The First Ghost?

There are plans for a follow-up. I'm writing it right now, and I plan to start recording it early in 2015. It will be different in that this album is being written 100 percent intentionally to be recorded together and released, whereas The First Ghost was more like, "I've got these songs, let's see if they go together." Musically, it will differ from the first album in that I'm going to be trying some new stuff, but it won't be any kind of radical shift.

Album Review- The First Ghost

The First Ghost

Tyler Gordon, leader of the Columbia-based folk-rock outfit Barnwell, is remarkably earnest. He puts his convictions — economic, musical and spiritual — front and center. 

The First Ghost, his debut EP, is available as a pay-what-you-want Bandcamp download with all proceeds benefitting Aaron Graves, a local musician battling brain cancer. It’s tempting, then, to compare Barnwell to Graves’ quirky-yet-profound folk-pop band Those Lavender Whales, particularly since Gordon contributed to an all-covers benefit compilation for the ailing singer earlier this year. But Barnwell owes more to two other regionally relevant songwriters — Columbia expat Austin Crane of Valley Maker and Charlotte's John Mark McMillan. 

Gordon’s vocal cadence and lyrical inspirations mirror those of Crane, particularly on tracks like “Cap Too” and “Soon,” where internal rhymes build upon one another in elliptical ruminations on the personal nature of faith. McMillan, on the other hand, provides a model for Gordon’s worship-based songwriting and the cinematic sweep that pervades even his most obviously home-recorded efforts. 

Gordon and collaborators Ben Cantrell and Seth Ely show real promise in their ability to leverage a minimal collection of rag-tag instruments to capture crisp and jangly songs that crescendo fearlessly toward the emotional payoffs the lyrics demand. 

A few more hooks would be welcomed, and the overt religiosity might drive some away. But many others will find a spirit-affirming salve in Gordon’s humble offerings.