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Dave Barnes: What We Want, What We Get

By Hannah Goodwyn Producer

CBN.comThough you may not know his name, you may recognize some of his work. Dave Barnes is the songwriting genius behind such CCM hits as Bebo Norman's "The Way We Mend" and Bethany Dillion's "All That I Can Do". His reach doesn't stay within the confines of Christian music either. Mainstream artists John Mayer, Vince Gill, and Amy Grant are fans, and fellow bluesy singer Marc Broussard belts out Barnes' lyrics in his songs, "Lonely Night in Georgia" and "Gavin's Song". caught up with Dave to chat about his sophomore album, What We Want, What We Get, and the songs he's eager to share.

Hannah Goodwyn (HG): You’ve said you want to do songs that are easy for people to digest. Take me through your songwriting process.

Dave Barnes (DB): For me, I tend to write a lot. I really love the craft, so I spend a lot of time writing when I’m home. I don’t really write much on the road, but when I’m home I write a lot, so it usually for me looks like an idea that gets saved, and then I come back to it and finish it.

This record (What We Want, What We Get) was a little different, because I really wanted songs and I’ve seen it now… and it’s so much fun… crowds are singing the songs with me. And even if they don’t know them, by the second chorus, they’re like, “Oh, yeah, I know how this goes,” so they can at least hum it without me if they don’t know the words. This is a little more of a pop record for me. I wanted something that was going to be a little easier for people to understand, didn’t have to work quite as hard.

HG: Of all the songs on the album, why make “What We Want, What We Get” the title track?

DB: Because I think it represented the overarching theme of it the best. I’ve never done that. I’ve never had a song be the title of the record, but this one just seemed to make sense to me. 

HG: And what is that theme?

DB: I think expectations, just like trying to live life. It’s so hard to live life without those, without some sense of being indebted to something, and/or, “I should get that because I’ve been good”, or “because God really likes me”, or whatever it is. And so I think a lot of it for me was about God is in the not getting as much as He is the getting. I’ve always associated God’s goodness with what I’m blessed with or by, and I think God is as much in the conflict as He is in the resolution of it. So for me a lot of songs are about that, what does this mean?

“What We Want, What We Get” is a song really about my friends who are trying to adopt these two girls that were from two different mothers who both decided to keep them. And that was after my friends figured out they couldn’t have children of their own. You just kind of think “Where are you in this, God? What’s the deal with that?” But now they’ve adopted this girl, and it’s this massive blessing, and he’s even said it’s so sweet because of the stuff that didn’t happen. And you can’t appreciate that until you know, maybe the reason the first two didn’t work out for them is that this would be that much more of a blessing to them.

HG: “What I Need”, featuring Jonny Lang, is along the same lines. What truth are you really delving into?

DB: Yeah, you know, I think with “What I Need”—it’s sort of like “What We Want, What We Get”…. “What I Need” and “Amen,” chronologically, and I think thematically, are the bookends of the record, which is funny, because “What I Need,” to me, is really the most concise of the whole record in that it states the theme, from beginning to end, this kind of a thesis statement of the record.

I just love the lyrics, been singing them at shows, and it’s just been such a remind of everything from the line: “All these expectations, just mean my heart will be breaking. Why can’t I see?” And then the chorus: “You give me what I need”. But then the verses are, “I travel with time, but its will was not mine. There was no slowin’ where it was goin’. The wishes I will, it all came back unfulfilled, but I was praying without patience.”

So to me it’s like, yeah, I just really feel like it’s the most complete thought. It represents the frustration, and it represents the hope and the truth, and then the bridge releases “Now here’s what I do with this.”

HG: Quite a few songs are about relationships (“Little Lies”, “God Gave Me You”, “Looks So Easy”, and “My Love, My Enemy”). Is it true that your wife, Annie, did background vocals?

DB: Yep. It’s her debut.

HG: Along with the theme of expectations, you wanted to just dive into the concept of marriage itself?

DB: Yeah, I had a decision with my first record five or six years ago, where I really felt like I’m going to write songs that are really about me, or I’m going to just kind of write songs that are about everything. And I really thought this is going to be difficult if I release a record when I’m married and happily married, writing about loneliness. That’s not true to how I feel. And artists do that, and it’s really successful, and it can be really pointed. But for me, I knew it would feel weird, so I decided with that first record, I’m going to write songs that are as true to my situation as I can. So instead of writing “I’m not married” and like “I’m searching for my soul mate”, I thought, “You know what, I want this to be true”. A lot of my songs end up being about marriage because that’s where I am.

HG: Tracks about single life also are on the record, specifically “Chameleon,” and “Someone’s Somebody”. 

DB: Yes. And that was the biggest thing, especially with “Someone’s Somebody,” is I was like, man, I don’t want this to become like the couple’s record. So many of my dear friends in Nashville are still single. And I thought, man, I just love that theme. I really like that idea, “Hey, keep your chin up.”

HG: The last song, “Amen”, wraps up the album really well. Tell me what you were thinking when you were writing that one.

DB: Well, that’s probably the most emotional song for me on there, because I just think it applies to so many different things. I think about my friends. When I think about that, I think about my family. I think about my wife. I think about all the relationships I have. I really wanted “Amen” to be something where there were little hints of my marriage to Annie, but there are just as many hints for other types of relationships in there. And so it was such a healthy thing for me to write that song, because I was not seasoned at trying to work through all that stuff. I needed a bookend. I needed something that no matter what, this is still the ultimate truth. This is “God is in control”, like period, end of sentence. So I think for me it was sort of a therapeutic song. Just hearing it for myself helps.

Hannah GoodwynHannah Goodwyn serves as the Family and Entertainment producer for For more articles, visit Hannah's bio page.

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did you know?

Work in Africa

Dave has been to Africa three times in the past five years, including a trip to Sudan. Through a campaign called The Mocha Club, Dave Barnes, Lady Antebellum, and Matt Wertz, and others are helping those in need of clean water, education, and medical help.

Dave Barnes: "...I really like it because it’s in motion. It’s not something that’s hopeful in that maybe we’ll do it. It’s all happening."

"I sort of had a 'Solomonesque' revelation a couple of years ago where I was just like, 'This music thing is really fun. But ultimately, it’s pretty miserable if that’s the end of it all.' I can finally aim all those cannons in the same direction to do destruction to really bad situations and then hopefully bring the good up out of that."

Stand-up Comedy

At the urging of friends and family, Dave Barnes first shared his comedy with a coffee shop crowd. Shows later, he still loves it.

Dave Barnes: "it’s just so much fun. It’s like the rush from it is insane... It’s sort of a muse right now. We’ll see if I track it down and it becomes a profession."