“I was kind of late to the game,” Abbie Barrett admits. The New York native, who lived in California for a year before moving to Boston, was singing backup in bands here when she started to write her own songs in her mid-20s.
A decade later, with a trail of club shows and residencies behind her, Barrett is finally enjoying a watershed year. She’s ready to release a bracing eight-song EP called That Shame on the heels of her semifinal run in this spring’s Rock & Roll Rumble and a 2015 Boston Music Award as Singer-Songwriter of the Year.
“Playing music is one of those things where, when I’m doing it, I feel most like myself—that alone is impetus to keep doing it,” she says. “I just wish it was a little more lucrative so I could be doing it more. But at the very least, I’m not losing money on it.”
She’s lucky to have a streamlined, butt-kicking band that includes guitarist Mike Oram and bassist/producer Ed Valauskas, who also joins Barrett in Jenny Dee & the Deelinquents, where she sings backup. “They’re all my friends,” she says. “There are so many nice people who play music around this town.”
It’s a refreshing change for Barrett, who once played in a more folky solo setting. “I sort of hated it,” says the singer/guitarist, whose inspirations range from Neil Young to Radiohead. “But I knew in the back of my head that I would do it enough to get a band going.”
That Shame showcases her in full rock mode, sometimes evoking the tone and phrasing of the Pretenders’ Chrissie Hynde. “I get compared to the Pretenders a lot but don’t really listen to them,” says Barrett, whose craftsmanship extends from the gorgeous vocals of “As I Wanted You” and the soaring crescendos of “Falling” to the catchy ’80s-flavored punch of “Take It in Stride.”
In a video for that song, Barrett plays a scientist in a lab of colorful dry ice. “It’s that whole music business, how best to get people engaged, and right now we’re thinking video is the way to go,” she says. “People are more inclined to click on [something] if there’s a visual attached. And it’s fun to make music videos!”