Nessa Barrett’s Dark, Honest World of Songs

Songwriter and performer, Nessa Barrett, is the very young, very popular, and very capable artist you’re about to hear from just about every day. She has earned millions of YouTube streams for her dark, pop- and rock-infused tracks ever since dropping her single, “Pain.”

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On Friday, September 10, Barrett released her debut EP, Pretty Poison, which includes hits like her signature track, “i hope ur miserable until ur dead.” The album is a sleek trip through some at times-morbid, snarling thoughts but that’s what makes Barrett stand out: she isn’t afraid to say what’s on her, and your, mind.

We caught up with the 19-year-old New Jersey-born artist to ask her a few questions about her early days in music, how she found her macabre voice, and what Pretty Poison means to her today on its release.   

American Songwriter: When and how did you first find music—was it in New Jersey?

Nessa Barrett: Music has been around my whole life, so yes in Jersey. I grew up with a studio in my house; my dad is a producer. I recorded my first song at four years old.

AS: Why did you decide to invest and how did you get better at it—did you have a great ear early on, great ambition

NB: I’ve always wanted to do it; it was my wish every year when I blew out my birthday candles. It’s something I’ve always felt like I was on this earth to do. I just didn’t think I’d actually be able to until I grew my platform organically. 

AS: Can you talk about some of your early achievements and their impact on you—you moved to LA, released your first big single, “Pain.”  You have this intimate vibe that’s mixed with rock and hip-hop production, too. How did that develop?

NB: When I moved to L.A. and walked into a studio for the first time, I immediately felt at home. But I was still really trying to figure out my sound. I knew “Pain” was a great debut song because it is a piano ballad, and after I released it, I could go down whatever lane felt right. It took me a bit to really develop and fine-tune my sound, but after “la di die,” I knew I liked the rock elements, but still wanted to lean into a darker, alt sound, which I tried with “counting crimes.” But I finally feel like with my debut EP, Pretty Poison, I really made something that is authentically my style.

AS: Early on, what did you see your audience connecting with in terms of your artistry, what were fans resonating with?

NB: People really resonated with my lyrics and that’s always been my favorite part about making music. Expressing myself and writing something so personal, yet so relatable at the same time. Once I release a song, I want my audience to claim it as their own so they can really feel something from it. 

AS: What was the genesis of your new album—there is lots of dark imagery, what made you want to present these sorts of thoughts to the world?

NB: This EP is pretty much my life in song. My first year of living in L.A. alone, dealing with toxic relationships and struggling with my mental health—Bipolar Disorder—yet also falling in love with someone who deeply understands me. I like being authentic, real, and raw with my music so I wasn’t scared to talk about my violent dreams and how happy someone makes me. I’m a dark person, so a lot of this naturally comes out, as well.  

AS: What does it feel like you’ve exorcised or put out in the world with the album—say, with a song like “i hope ur miserable until ur dead”?

NB: I like to sing about things people relate to but don’t necessarily want to admit. “i hope ur miserable until ur dead” is a very blunt, strong statement – but everyone has that person that hurt them enough for them to want to feel this way.

AS: Can you explain some of the recent big moments in your career and their impact on you—like working with Travis Barker, being on Kimmel and Ellen, playing Lollapalooza? Are these fuel, validation, or just another day at the office?

NB: They’ve been so surreal; it’s hard for me to even process those moments, to be honest. But I’m super grateful for everything that has happened and my amazing team for all the hard work they do for me to get me to those places.  

AS: As a burgeoning pop star, there are often two goals: get your music heard by many people, and create something you’re proud of. How do you go about the latter, how do you work to create art while also trying to reach audiences? 

NB: Creativity always comes first and I’m lucky to work with a team that empowers me to do that while guiding me on the business side of things as well. I genuinely think that if you create real, strong art, it’ll reach an audience no matter what.  

AS: What do you think about when you think about the future?

NB: I’m so excited to start performing and touring, to meet all my amazing fans. And always new music—I’m already in the studio working on my debut album, and I’m very, very, very excited about it. 

AS: What do you love most about music?

NB: How much you feel when you listen to or write it.

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