A Chance Meeting for Nate Barnes Leads to Debut Single, “You Ain’t Pretty”

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Videos by American Songwriter

Nate Barnes is the kind of guy you pull for. His resume doesn’t have things like ‘former contestant on American Idol.’ Instead, it lists a variety of blue-collar jobs like blueberry farm employee and nuclear power plant. Nate Barnes is not a silver spoon guy. Not by a long shot. Instead, he’s just a guy from a little town in southwestern Michigan who would get up each morning, put on his work boots and then go build scaffolding, pour concrete, lay pipelines or whatever else was on the docket for that day. Sure, he’d take his guitar and play bars and coffee shops around his hometown, but life had him where chasing any sort of real musical dream wasn’t really an option.

That is, until fate stepped in.

Taking a little vacation from his hometown of South Haven, Michigan, Barnes was driving through Nashville on his way to Gatlinburg when he stopped to meet up with his buddy Rob. While they were hanging out, one of Rob’s buddies named Jason happened to pop by, so the three got on to talking and as you might imagine, the conversation turned to music. Jason asked if he had any songs, so Nate grabbed his guitar and sang a few. That’s when things took a turn.

“Jason told me ‘I’ve got a guy you need to meet” says Barnes. “…and that man was Benny Brown.”

The significance here is Jason’s full name is Jason Sellers, as in a hit songwriter Jason Sellers who has penned songs like the No. 1 “Don’t You Wanna Stay” by Jason Aldean and Kelly Clarkson, “I Won’t Let Go” by Rascal Flatts and dozens of others for Kenny Chesney, Reba and many more. Benny Brown? He’s a former head of BBR Music Group, home of Broken Bow Records, Stoney Creek Records and Wheelhouse Records. Not really knowing who any of these people were, Nate stuck around and met Benny, talked with he and Jason some more and before he knew it, they were talking about a record deal with their brand-new record label. 

Just like that, Nate wasn’t working at a nuclear power plant anymore. In just a matter of weeks, Barnes went from working 14-hour days in Michigan to living in Nashville and working on the music that would eventually become his debut album. 

In addition to his amazingly smooth voice, one of the things that initially knocked Sellers’ socks off was Barnes’ ability to write a song. The two started writing together both as a pair as well as with other writers that Sellers would bring into their songwriting fold. One of those writers was Jimmy Yeary (“I Called Mama” – Tim McGraw) and the three turned out a dynamo tune titled “You Ain’t Pretty” that has turned out to be Barnes debut single. 

“Imagine you’re with your loved one and you guys are getting ready to go out to dinner. You can see her in the mirror and you can tell something’s not right. She’s having a bad day. She’s not feeling good about herself. How do you help her get through that? You tell her, baby, I love you. Whatever it is you’re going through, it ain’t the hair, it ain’t anything other than I love you. People need to hear that.

“Think about our society right now. There’s social media, magazines, all these things telling people that if you don’t look a certain way, if you’re not this, if you’re not that you’re not good, you’re not good enough. You’re not pretty, you’re ugly, all these things and all these people are constantly fighting with that all the time.”

The song has more than just surfaced as his first single, it has erupted in ways Barnes never even dared dream. Resonating with country music fans in a uniquely organic fashion, before it was ever released to country radio and with no real marketing behind it, “You Ain’t Pretty” exploded online earning over 12 million views / streams on TikTok and nearly half a million lyric video streams. 

“It’s so amazing to see people’s reactions and how this song is affecting people. To be getting all these messages from people about how it’s touching their lives and making them feel good and how much they needed to hear that? All these things, man. I know I’m green at all this but it’s all so humbling to me.”

Barnes is currently working in the studio with producers Mickey Jack Cones (Jason Aldean, Thomas Rhett) and Derek George (Dustin Lynch, Randy Houser) on his Quartz Hill Records album debut.

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