It might be a manly giggle, but it’s still a giggle.
On the phone from his apartment in Toronto, Micah Barnes is done discussing his current tour, concluded the obligatory reminiscing of his years touring with The Nylons. He moves on to the juicy details of his personal life.
“I’m in a good place! I’m aggressively single.” He laughs. “And I make no bones about telling my friends, “If you’re coming to my show, you’re bringing a single friend!”
“You know it’s just that life is complex, my music is complex and my love-life is complex. That’s what’s honest. I’m too old to stand by the bar — but I’m still living life from the gut.”
Barnes is the son of composer Milton Barnes. In photographs from his days with The Nylons, between his classic looks and the baby-blue suit, Barnes’ looks as though he was tailor-made for the a cappella group. Barnes toured internationally with The Nylons from 1989 to 1996.
The death of Barnes’ lover — dancer Rene Highway — in 1990 caused Barnes’ to rethink his career. It was the need to mourn that loss, years later, that catalyzed Barnes to take his deep crooning voice back to the blank page, and write his own material.
“When I was with The Nylons, the pace was so fast. I barely had time or space to process Rene’s death. Everything was supposed to be show biz! Rene’s death made me realise I had to be true to myself. It didn’t matter if I walked away from a successful career. When I left, I knew I could write. But at first it was simply queer rage! I had to find my voice.”
Spoken word events were the safest place to land his rage, so at first, Barnes performed his poetry.
“It was an adventure finding myself as a writer. I broke into spoken word to free myself and broaden my horizons. Eventually lyrically the emotional heat from spoken word translated into my music, and over time my music softened.”
With more than ten years as a solo artist, Barnes has honed his songwriting, while flitting between Toronto and Los Angeles, where he coaches aspiring singers.
“It really is the ideal life. I know I’m really lucky to be doing what I do. I get to spend half my winters in Los Angeles teaching and then I get to tour here at home, like this tour with Shannon. It really is spectacular.”
Barnes can’t seem to say enough about Shannon Butcher, whom he calls his partner-in-crime. The tall blonde jazz singer and Barnes have a playful energy that Barnes says “never gets boring on stage.”
“Most newly minted jazz divas have to really work at being original. But Shannon is such an excellent musician that she has this unerring taste for what songs work for her and what makes a great show. She’s a gas to work with.”
The tour, Up Jumped Spring, includes Barnes’ brother Daniel on drums. It also promises a duet between Butcher and Barnes, which Barnes admits has caused a bit of controversy.
“We had a few songs in mind and we wanted to take suggestions from fans. But the suggestions that have come in are horrible! I’m not going to be one of these singers saying, ‘Oh, my fans have fabulous taste!’ No, most of the suggestions are terrible. Like Sonny and Cher’s I Got You Babe!”
Barnes gives a dramatic sigh, a giggle betraying his exasperation.
“I hear these suggestions and I’m like, ‘Really? I guess we’ll just have to decide ourselves.’ Like, hello, I was hoping to be sassy and hip! I have a reputation to uphold!”