The Writer’s Block: Evan Flory-Barnes Talks Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, “Downtown,” Flea and More

Seattle double-bass player Evan Flory-Barnes is a cornucopia of art and ideas.

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To wit, he’s much more than an instrumentalist. He’s a composer, singer, songwriter, and even a host at his own food-based musical gatherings (as you can see below).

Flory-Barnes, who wrote bass lines for the Macklemore & Ryan Lewis songs, “BomBom” and “Downtown” (streamed 200-million-plus times on YouTube), is a sought-after player in the Emerald City and a burgeoning solo artist.

Here, we caught up with the deep-voiced, welcoming artist to find out about his origins as a musician, his time with the aforementioned Grammy-winning rap duo, and what’s next.

American Songwriter: When did you first start writing songs?

Evan Flory-Barnes: It is interesting. I have always come up with musical ideas for myself and as part of bands since I began playing. And I have composed for jazz ensembles to full orchestras for almost 20 years. But the process of songwriting, putting lyrics to melodies, melodies to words, thinking of form, telling a story, I have done this since 2014. 

AS: How did you get into the bass, who was an early inspiration?

EFB: It was the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ song, “Under The Bridge.” I first heard the outro. I was moved by how beautiful and lyrical Flea’s playing was on that song. Then I heard the rest of the song and I was inspired. In 7th grade, I was an aspiring comic book artist. I had my table with my pencils, ink, and a T-Square. I grabbed my T-Square and pretended it was a bass. From the summer after 7th grade through 8th grade, I air-bassed and played on brooms, and a friend’s low guitar strings before finally getting a bass after 8th grade. Not too long ago, I saw an interview with Flea where he said, “My goal was to play to inspire others to play.” Mission Accomplished. 

AS: How did you get connected with Macklemore & Ryan Lewis and what was it like to work with them on The Heist?

EFB: In the years before meeting Ben and Ryan, I played countless gigs with the wonderful trumpeter, Owour Arunga. He worked with Macklemore in the early days and worked with them on The Heist.  He first recommended me to play on the concept draft for the song “Thrift Shop.” Ben thought since it was a song about thrifting that a throwback ’90s upright bass sound would work as an idea. I knew that song was a hit in the draft stage. Then Owour, saw a band I was in called The Teaching and recommended us for the song “BomBom,” as Ryan was looking to use the sound of a jazz trio. In both cases, the process was easygoing and enjoyable. 

AS: How did you and The Teaching approach your work on the specific track on that record?

EFB: Ryan had a few themes pre-recorded. We played along with them, jamming on a number of ideas, and messing around with different vibes. 

AS: How did you approach writing the bassline for the Macklemore & Ryan Lewis song, “Downtown”?

EFB: I got to observe Ryan draw inspiration from this documentary about Queen. He said the goal of the song was to merge the world of old-school original hip-hop and the anthemic sounds of Queen. For the bassline, I combined the vibes of Queen’s “Another One Bites The Dust,” Sugar Hill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” and Grand Master Flash and Furious Five’s “The Message.”

AS: Tell me about your latest solo single, “I’m Out”?

EFB: “I’m Out” has been out for a few years. I feel like it is for me as an artist an embrace of myself as a composer/arranger and bringing forth myself as a singer/songwriter. It was produced by Jason Taylor, a then-L.A.- and now-Nashville-based producer and performer. It was a beautiful process on many fronts. I wrote the string and harp arrangements, played bass, and keys, and sang. It is a song about leaving behind situations that no longer serve you. Taking responsibility to own oneself. The song has evolved a great deal since then and I have grown as a singer. But I am very happy with that version of the song. I need to promote it more! But what has been most moving has been the many instances where people shared with me that “I’m Out” helped them through a challenging time. It doesn’t get any better than that. 

AS: Do you ever have writer’s block? If so, how do you navigate it?

EFB: Yes. I try not to force it. I have songs that I have been performing for a while now. And songs that are in various stages of completion. Some have melody lines, some have a few words or a verse. Others have a chorus. I have found that if I go into a playful space and sit down with the song or songs it comes through. 

AS: What are you working on now?

EFB: I have a bunch of music distilling, as I like to put it. I have been musing on this idea between output getting it all out there, in contrast to putting out something when it is ready. I believe I can do both. I feel ready to put out this music. I have a bunch of songs that I have played solo and trio that have evolved a lot. And in recording them, I hear them fully arranged with strings, a rhythm section, and harp. I have a song with an 8-part French Horn choir and solo soprano voice. My composer/arranger is as important as my singer/songwriter side, in addition to the bassist. I am also doing events in my apartment building called, “Pre-Funk With Plum,” where I cook and play a set of music for my guests. 

AS: Tell me about your idea of combining music and food at those new home shows.

EFB: “Pre-Funk With Plum” is a concept I came up with a year ago. My love of cooking, music, being with people, and creating a welcoming vibe all come forth there. There is a comfort food element. I make things like Beef Bourginion, Coq Au Vin, Meatballs and Polenta, Sunday Gravy and Polenta, Chili Con Carne, Risotto, Tacos, a Mediterranean Spread of Spice Chicken Thighs, Spiced Rice, Lamb and Beef, Homemade Falafel, and more. It is made to be full of flavor and love. Many times the guests see me prepare the meal and go right to playing. For me, “Pre-Funk With Plum” displays my values front and center. The welcome, great food, warm people, unique individuals, and music. 

AS: What do you love most about writing songs?

EFB: I love that songs have lives of their own. I love how a song can just come forth and all the right words are there. I love singing them. I love playing around with rhythmic feels and arrangements of songs with the essence of the song still coming through. I love how writing songs has been cathartic, healing, and fortifying. 

Photo courtesy Evan Flory-Barnes

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