Barefoot Movement frontwoman/main songwriter Noah Wall says she has always based her bluegrass/Americana songs on her own experiences – but “At the End of the Day,” the band’s latest single (with its video premiering here at American Songwriter on June 24), became particularly personal. “It was a song that I needed to write for myself because I have always had a hard time expressing negative feelings in a positive way when it comes to other people,” Wall says of the inspiration behind her lyrics.
“I think being taught to turn the other cheek and letting that be your guiding philosophy is a great thing, and I do still believe that, but it took me a while to figure out how to stand up for myself with that in mind – trying to be gracious, but also not let yourself be manipulated or taken advantage of,” Wall says, calling from her Nashville home.
“What the song says in the middle verse is that ultimately, if you don’t address these things, you start to become bitter,” Wall continues. “When you let things fester, it becomes less manageable. Sometimes the truth hurts and it’s hard to say things that are potentially going to hurt someone’s feelings, but you’re not only hurting yourself by letting things build up, you’re also going to end up hurting the other person because you’re not handling it at your best when you let your frustration take over.”
“At the End of the Day,” which features breezy, gentle instrumentation and Wall’s heartfelt vocals, is the third single from Rise & Fly, the EP that Barefoot Movement released in February. Wall says this EP was a long time in the making, with the band writing 20 songs that they eventually whittled down to the five that appear on this release. “This whole project has been going on for a while: we really started working on this stuff in 2016,” she says, “so it’s been a slow process of getting all this material and then figuring out what to do with it.”
Much of the recording for Rise & Fly was done in Wall’s home studio, which seems to have imbued all of the tracks with a certain sense of intimacy. Another through line across all the tracks, Wall says, is that “The songs all have a hint of melancholy. and yet, the EP is called Rise and Fly. We called it that for a lot of reasons, but I think that the word ‘cathartic’ is something that I like to use to describe our songs because I do believe that a sad song can make you feel better about whatever situation that you’re in.”
Wall credits legendary producer Chuck Plotkin, who has worked extensively with Bruce Springsteen and many other A-list artists, with helping Barefoot Movement create such a multifaceted yet cohesive piece of work with Rise & Fly. “It’s good to have someone outside of the band who’s disconnected from it listening to it,” Wall says of the decision to bring Plotkin in on the project. “His favorite phrase is, ‘Does it bear repeated listening?’ If he hears something and it’s working, then you know that you have something that is potentially releasable.”
Despite Plotkin’s impressive background, Wall says that it was not intimidating to work with him. “Chuck is the most down-to-earth guy,” she says. “He was very, very easy to work with. He was not bad at telling you something negative in a positive way. He could just say, ‘It’s not working,’ and you wouldn’t be hurt by it because you feel his love and his positivity. He just loves music so much. He is the biggest fan. That was infectious.”
In truth, though, Wall already had a strong sense of what she wanted to do artistically long before she even formed Barefoot Movement. Growing up in North Carolina, she was blessed with a family who recognized and encouraged her talents with songwriting, singing, and fiddle playing. “I had incredibly supportive parents who were huge music fans, and that made me feel like I did have real freedom to pursue things,” Wall says.
“I remember one time we went to see John Prine, and Patty Griffin opened for him. Afterwards, my dad said, ‘Watching her up there on that stage, I think that you could do that so easy.’ When you have that kind of support, it makes you feel like you can do anything,” Wall says. She adds that her other pillar of support has been mandolin player Tommy Norris, whom she met in high school; he and Wall became Barefoot Movement’s founding members, and have remained at its core ever since.
With that kind of belief in her songwriting, Wall felt secure enough to dream of a professional music career. “My high school quote in my yearbook was from Bob Dylan, where he says, ‘When you believe in your gut what you are, and then dynamically pursue it – don’t give up and don’t back down – then you’re going to mystify a lot of folks.’ So Dylan. I love it!” she says with a laugh. That quote resonated with her because “I just have a very strong sense of self and knowing what I am: a musician. And I just can’t be anything other than that.”
After high school, Wall attended East Tennessee State University, where she studied bluegrass. By the time she graduated, she and Norris had well established Barefoot Movement, and they shifted their home base to Nashville. They also solidified the band’s lineup, which now consists of Wall, Norris, guitarist Alex Conerly, and upright bassist Katie Blomarz.
Barefoot Movement released their debut studio album, Footwork, in 2011, and they’ve become increasingly successful since then, touring relentlessly and putting out various studio and live releases. In 2014, they earned the International Bluegrass Music Association’s prestigious Band of the Year Momentum Award.
This success has been especially gratifying for Wall because Barefoot Movement has been so integral to her life for so long. “Everything that I’ve ever written has come out under that Barefoot Movement name, so my identity is so tied up in it,” she says. “That’s why I think that I’m never going to stop using that name.”
This success also helps Wall get through the trickier times that arise for every professional musician – such as the current COVID-19 pandemic, which forced Barefoot Movement to cancel their tour dates (which they’ve replaced with livestream shows). “Sometimes you just wonder what the end game is when there’s all of these struggles,” Wall says, “but even if I had to go and get a day job, I can’t stop being a singer. It’s just so much a part of me that I think I’m always going to have to have an outlet for my music and for my singing. I have to have that, or else I would not be a happy person.”
Now, Wall says she and the rest of the band are eager to resume touring just as soon as the current pandemic restrictions are lifted, because she values the in-person connections she makes with fans at shows. “I really look forward to those moments when you hear people say that they relate [to the lyrics],” she says. “I just love that, because I feel like no matter what you’ve been through, it reminds you that the human condition is a shared experience. Most people walk through some of the same fires. I love art for highlighting that and bringing people together through that.”