Track-by-Track: James Barrett – ‘A Series Of…Mostly Nothing’

Posted: by The Editor

Photo credit Dminique Kożuch

I think what first drew me to James Barrett was the anthemic, triumphant quality of his music. It’s clear that he’s a student of the same Springsteenian school that recently produced records like I Don’t Live Here Anymore and Pressure Machine, or classics like The ‘59 Sound. Like those albums, A Series Of… Mostly Nothing merely takes the heartland rock foundation that The Boss laid down and infused it with its own sensibilities, in Barrett’s case shimmery indie rock, stargazing post-rock, and intimate piano ballads. I reached out to the 24-year-old singer-songwriter – on Twitter, of all places – and he agreed to do a deep dive into his second LP for me six months after its release. Read below what Barrett had to say about each song on A Series Of…Mostly Nothing.

A Series of… Mostly Nothing was written from the end of 2019 to the summer of 2020. At first these songs came at a time when love was lost. To this day it remains the most painful separation of a partnership I had ever known. The last few months of 2019 were extraordinarily dark for me, but it was nothing compared to what was to come by March of 2020 when the world seemingly stopped forever. As 2019 ended the question of whether or not I could love again was what pervaded my mind. When the pandemic began the question turned from “how can I ever love again” to “is this all I will ever know of love?” A naive question for what felt like the end of the world: a raging pandemic that we knew nothing about, climate disaster after climate disaster, and a government that could not seem to give less of a shit about the people it governed. Still sounds a lot like where we are today in 2022, but the thing that has changed for certain is my perception of love. Writing this record was the most transformative experience of my life. Whether one person or a million people hear these songs, my life has changed for the better because of this record.

1. “A Series Of…”

There is a feeling that I will do my best to describe over the course of the next twelve tracks. Sometimes when writing music I ask myself the million dollar question “have I heard this song before?” Sometimes things sound too good to come from my own peasant brain. Sometimes songs sound so familiar but I cannot figure out where I know them from. If you’ve ever experienced deja vu this is similar to it. It’s called deja entendu. No, not the Brand New album. Fuck that band. I have one theory and it revolves around the concept of time being nonlinear. Hypothetically, if all possible moments in our universe exist at the same time in a continuous circle of eternity instead of only moving forward with each day then that means a song you write at age 22 has always been there within you. A song you write at 50 years old is being written at the same time that your 24-year-old self is having the morning coffee and doing the daily Wordle. As three dimensional beings we can only process time in a linear fashion but I believe sometimes we get a small glimpse into a four dimensional universe for a brief fleeting moment. This is what I believe deja vu and deja entendu are. This sounds insane and it probably is, but I believe that when we create songs that feel so familiar it’s because we know deep within ourselves that we were always supposed to write them. Some things feel meant to be and this song is one of those things. It was the infamous March of 2020. It was one week into the first shutdown and uncertainty loomed all around. I knew all I could do was try to focus on my music. It was at a time where I had been writing quite a bit but was still not sure what direction to take this record in. When this song hit me it felt like time had simultaneously stopped while future moments of my life flashed before me. Something in me had changed and then I knew that this would be the first track on what would become the most important record of my career. I could hear it all in my head and all I had to do was get it out. I love every song on this record but this one will always hold a special place in my heart. It may be my favorite piece of music I have ever written. This song is the first song I wrote about accepting the loss of love at what felt like the start of the end of the world and wondering if this is all I would ever know of such a thing, a common theme for the songs to come. A series of… something… had just begun.

“I don’t think I’ll ever get up close again.

Special it was to experience it then.”  

2. “Oh My God”

It is quite difficult to talk about this song without mentioning some painful and personal memories associated with it. In September of 2019 I had just returned home from the most chaotic two weeks of my life. A month prior I bought a plane ticket to go to Oahu and visit my previous partner’s family who lived on the island. I had never met them but I was in love and felt that a romantic trip to a beautiful island with a beautiful person could only result in an accumulation of beautiful memories. I was wrong. What followed was the demise of the relationship I once thought was entirely sound and a loss of self that I didn’t know could be possible. The day we boarded the plane my partner accepted a job ten hours away from where I lived and would be starting the week after we returned. Though I was proud and happy for them, my heart was broken. The weeks leading up the trip were confusing and I was too naive to see the signs. I was only ever aware of interviews in the surrounding states, not halfway down the east coast. But none of that mattered. I was about to spend eleven days on an island with them. All I could try to do is make it worthwhile. What followed over the course of the trip was the most uncomfortable days of my life, a series of unpleasant truths coming to the surface about the person I thought I knew, their near death experience on the beach, and the death of a part of myself. The trip ended. I came home and within five days the person I loved had moved south. I spent the next month trying to figure out how to begin again. It was not until I wrote “Oh My God” that I found any speck of solace in this situation. This song was the first one I wrote on this record and it was the first time in my life that I experienced deja entendu. It came so naturally and so quickly that I had to ask myself if I had stolen it from someone else. I had no idea if it would be part of a record or just a single but I knew I had to immediately record it. Within a few months the song was released with the help of my dear friend Amanda Rogan (Sweetnest) and I think to this day it is the most important song I have ever written. The two year process of making this LP had begun.

“Just caught in this feeling of uncertainty and gloom

But I spent this whole year in love with you

In love with the way this planet moves.”

3. “U-Haul”

I wrote U-Haul in January 2020. This song will always hold a special place in my heart being that it was the first song I ever wrote on piano. I needed something in my life to change. I was feeling stagnant with the guitar and decided to focus my attention on the keys. I had an old piano in my living room for my whole life but anytime I played it my late dog Guinness would start to howl. I think that was his way of telling me I was terrible. I miss you Guinn. I ended up moving the whole thing into my bedroom so poor Guinny wouldn’t get upset and ever since I have become determined to get better. I started messing around until I began playing the chords of this song. It took awhile to get it down but pretty soon I had a song and a new sense of accomplishment that I had never felt before. “U-Haul” came to me in one of the darkest months of my life and made me aware that maybe there was a light at the end of the tunnel. If I am able to create something out of a dark moment in my life, that to me is a sign that there’s a purpose in feeling that way. I truly think the decision to start playing piano in 2020 was one of the best choices I have ever made; it brought me closer to the light.

“People’s actions are reflections of themselves.”

4. “The Art of Letting Go”

This is easily my favorite song to play live. There is something about the energy it induces that makes me feel like I can do anything I put my mind to. I knew once I wrote “U-Haul” that I wanted the two songs to fade together on the record. I wanted it to feel like the day you finally wake up and realize that shit still sucks but you can’t stay in bed being miserable until dusk. I began writing the music to this one back in November 2019. It took me a really long time to finally be okay with the lyrics. I think I changed the words in the second verse like twenty times before finally finding the proper things to say the night before I had to record vocals. This song is about how coping mechanisms like self-help podcasts and meditation can be very beneficial but only if the intentions are entirely pure. Towards the end of my last relationship my partner had been sending numerous texts a day with all of this information about self help and mindfulness. Though on paper it felt like a gesture made out of care but in reality it made me feel worse about myself. I started believing there was a lot more wrong with me than there truly was because I was being told how to cure myself from a variety of different conditions I didn’t have when in reality my pain stemmed from being totally manipulated by my partner. When you compulsively meditate because someone is telling you that it’s the only way to get better you will only end up with another compulsion and a concrete belief that you are incapable of finding peace. “The Art of Letting Go” is the realization that only through self love and acceptance can one move on from pain, not from someone else projecting their own struggles on you.

“It’s a shame; you’re the one I love the most

If I could only love myself then I’d find out how to let go.” 


5. “Since I Left the Salon”

Ahhh. Finally we arrived at the salon. I spent so much time pondering whether or not this song would make the record. I am so thankful that I didn’t let insecurities rip it from me. Throughout my entire history of creating music I have had a difficult time writing something that doesn’t stem from a painful memory. This is why my friends call me Emo Jesus, I guess. I will never know if it’s a lack of positive memories or just my attachment problems to the painful ones that prevent me from writing freely about anything that brings me joy. It’s something I have tried to work on for quite some time and it was not until this song that I had any success. It was May of 2020 and I was tired of constantly writing about unpleasant memories as if writing about something light takes away from the song’s importance. I think a lot of artists struggle with this concept. We believe that unless we are writing about something so profound it will always be viewed as a step backwards in our career. This is a bad take considering I grew up listening to blink-182 and Billy Joel and never questioned anything from them. Maybe I should have questioned Blink…or Billy…but anyway…back to the salon. I wanted to write something upbeat and not melancholy. What better concept than the age-old tale about a crush on the hairstylist from the salon? I constantly thought about how this song does not relate to anything else I had written about at that point but when I look back on the sequences of my life this was actually a very important moment to me whether I knew it or not. This was during the time I was convinced love would never come back to me again. Though this was not love in the sense that I was in love with the hairstylist, but it was love for myself by allowing these feelings of interest to exist in my mind without immense anxiety or fear. So now two years later I am grateful that this song exists and the role it played in moving me closer to the end of the tunnel. Everyone needs a song about their crush on the hairstylist as a palate cleanser in a world full of songs about heartache.

“Don’t feel bad; there are plenty of warm days ahead for us to have”

6. “I Thought You Had Died”

The most personal song I have ever made. I think anything anyone needs to know about this song can be found within the lyrics. Nothing I wrote was metaphoric, just the details of a very traumatizing night of my life that concluded a very traumatizing two weeks away from home. When the possibility of a loved one dying enters your world in a very real sense it changes your perception of life itself. You can look back feeling grateful knowing they survived but the pain associated with the fear of losing that person sticks around for much longer. In the pilot episode of the Netflix series ”Maniac” the narrator says, “all the worlds that almost were matter just as much as the world we are in. These hidden worlds cause us great pain.” These alternate realities create a dark world within our own where things went the other way. You become a product of the fear because it was the most terrifying and real thing you’ve ever experienced. Irrational thoughts about a life without your loved one plague your mind even when they are alive and standing next to you in the airport as a man has a heart attack and falls to the ground right before your eyes just as you are boarding the plane to go back home. That really happened and it was really fucked up. Fragments of who I was before this trip survived but I am not sure about the random man who had a heart attack at the airport in Phoenix. I hope he is alive today… I wrote this song because I had to. During the recording process this was the first one we started after relocating to The Mini House, which is depicted on the artwork. I remember hearing this song being played back to me for the first time in my life and I knew that this record was special, even if I was the only one who would ever think so. I could feel my life beginning to change and I was happy to know I had persevered even just for that moment. Some moments last forever. The night my loved one almost drowned is one of them. The night we started recording this song in The Mini House is another.

“We found you faced down in the sand

The night we camped out on the beach

I thought you had died, my love.”

7. “Love Song in 2020”

I’d like to believe this song is self-explanatory as well. When the world shut down in March of 2020 and fear was at an all time high I found myself feeling something I had never felt before: anxious that the person I loved the most and who caused me more pain than I could ever think possible could succumb to a goddamn pandemic. Didn’t have that one on my 2020 Bingo Card of Emotions. But here I was still ridden with the fear of almost losing my partner to death several months back and now being faced with complete uncertainty regarding the future of all of humanity. I walked around the Wegmans where we used to get high and wander but this time similar to me it was in complete disarray and entirely empty. Everyone was terrified. I was terrified. I felt alone, surrounded by hundreds of people frantically running around me getting as much toilet paper as they could find. What a fucking weird time to be alive. I felt powerless in this predicament and I knew the only thing I could change is my perception of this person I missed so dearly. I had to find a way to forgive them in my mind. If something horrible would occur to myself or them I needed my feelings regarding this subject to exist in a place of love and forgiveness instead of hatred and bitterness. It was the only way I could find peace in a situation beyond my understanding or control. “Love Song in 2020” is about finding forgiveness at the end of the world. If we were all going to die I wanted to die knowing I was full of love instead of leaving this world as the unpleasant piece of shit I knew I had become.

“I’m scared that you will get sick too

In the event you do

I love you and I’ll forgive you for the Hell you forced me through.” 


8. “Yellow Paint”

Here I sit in my coffee room with yellow paint covering the walls as I write about my song “Yellow Paint.” In April of 2020 I lost my grandmother to cancer. It kind of felt like the final nail in the coffin. I missed my dog who passed two months prior, I missed my grandma, I missed my friends and family, I missed playing shows, and I missed the naive boy I was before everything turned so fucking dark. But the reality of life is that moments of happiness come and go and the same can be said about moments of grief. All feelings are temporary to some extent. Every circumstance is temporary to another extent. What is infinite is the art we create out of temporary feelings/circumstances and through that art we can find a way to make a feeling last forever. I wanted to feel love for myself and I never wanted to live without it again. “Yellow Paint” is about realizing you cannot love another soul until you have an equal amount of love for yourself. Like I had to forgive the person who broke my heart I had to forgive myself for allowing the emotional abuse to continue for so long. When we respect and love ourselves we recognize who we truly are and what we truly deserve. We can tell ourselves when enough is enough instead of leaving it up to someone else to decide. I spent my entire life losing myself in the people I loved and only I could be the one to change that trait. I could either come to terms with who I am or live my life searching for myself in someone else. Earlier I brought up the concept of deja entendu and how sometimes we find ourselves creating something that seems so familiar that we feel like we’ve known it for our entire life. I believe I was always supposed to write this song. It came to me when I really had no idea how to play piano but I was simply a vessel that had to bring it into the world. I could hear how the song went; I just had to teach it to myself. I knew how to love someone; I just had to learn to love myself.

“Flowers come back from the dead

And after all has been said

A new world waits while this one ends.”

9. “Master Plan”

If four friends eat a bunch of psychedelic mushrooms and fall down on the grass in the middle of a forest with no one else around to hear them do they make a sound? The answer is yes and my sound is “Master Plan.” I cannot for the life of me figure out why this song is one of the most underrated on the record, but I have faith that someday that will change. This was the final song I wrote for the record in August 2020. My friends and I decided to go camping for a night at the Hickory Run State Park in my home turf of Pennsylvania to detach from the world for a little bit. It had been a wild summer and I was getting better but I still wasn’t where I wanted to be. I still carried a lot of weight from various things and a lot of that weight I kept hidden. I think my friends felt the same and were also closed off about the troubles they had in their own lives. We decided to trip and have a day in the woods away from technology and modern civilization. What came next was one of the most transformative and beautiful experiences I have ever had in my life. Something so beautiful that it altered me forever for the better. That was a lot to ask for in the midst of a really shitty year. We cried about our struggles and laughed about God only knows what and by the end we were not the same people we were when we arrived. Vulnerability creates the path that allows bad thoughts to leave our brain instead of being trapped within like rubber balls bouncing around in all directions. Since 2018 I have strongly believed that psilocybin mushrooms can help people break the barrier that prevents us from overcoming our most difficult moments. It allows time to slow down so we can experience the feeling for what it is and be able to let it go. It allows us to find out where these feelings stem from. It can unlock the part of your brain that blocks off the childlike innocence that we believe to be dead and gone from years of existing in a capitalist dream crushing society. This combination is a beautiful thing for the human mind. “Master Plan” was written immediately after coming home and thus completed a painful year of writing this record.

“Enlightened; at least I think I am

Doing better at handling shit again

I just have to tell myself I can

That it’s all part of a master plan”

10. “Reprise”

For starters I think most people look at the title and assume this is an interlude but it is its own song. I took the melody from “U-Haul” and some lyrics from “A Series Of” and expanded the ideas to create this track. In June of 2020 I had just purchased my new synthesizer and I was losing myself in the hundreds of sounds now at my disposal. I just left my job days prior and was feeling a little bit of freedom for the first time in over three years. It felt weird being unemployed but I wanted to use it to my advantage and create something truly meaningful. Somehow this song hit me while I was messing around with the chords of “U-Haul.” It all came at once and the next thing I knew I had a song I really loved that I never anticipated writing. The lyrics were about the guilt I felt anytime I found myself thinking of my past relationship in a summer where people were dying daily from disease and police brutality. I wanted so desperately to be free of these thoughts. I wanted to focus my attention on the things that mattered but I could not think of anything else without constant interruption. This was me letting out my frustration towards my inability to let go.

“There’s too much to think about these days; I feel selfish thinking of you.”

11. “Mostly Nothing”/”Thinking of a Place”

The dictionary definition of penultimate is “last but one in a series of things.” “Mostly Nothing” is title track number two and the second to last chapter of this record. This song took awhile to reach its final form but I could not be happier with how it turned out.. I wanted to try and recap everything I wrote about over the previous ten songs and produce a grand finale to this album before ending with the soft epilogue “Thinking Of A Place.” In the opening track “A Series Of…” I introduce the subject of questioning my future and the concept of love during the demise of life as I knew it. What comes after track one is every possible thought I could have had regarding the subject. “Mostly Nothing” is the part of this story where I realize I have thought about it enough. My last relationship was over. The only thing that could hurt me now is dwelling on the past. But as I have stated before I believe time is nonlinear and therefore healing is as well. I could continue to spill my guts to everyone I knew or I could take what I learned and try to move forward. I chose both. This album is my way of telling my story. As I sit here writing this, a line from a fellow Jimmy (Eat World) comes to mind: “The past is told by those who win / My darling, what matters is what hasn’t been.” This line makes me realize I can find solace in telling my story but what is most important is what lies ahead for me. Grief doesn’t get smaller but instead we grow larger around it to the point where it becomes mostly nothing in comparison to who we become in our pursuit of healing. Though writing these feelings into songs made those emotions eternal, it gave me a sense of purpose that is far more profound than the heartache I wrote about. I am not the person I was three years ago when I was in love nor am I the person I was over the following years while writing this record. I am someone who now believes in love as the divine force that saves us from ourselves and connects us with others. At the end of the day we are all longing for love of some kind. Though it was the loss of love from one person that caused me years of mourning, it is the overwhelming love for the beautiful friends and family in my life that allows me to have hope that the light at the end of the tunnel is real and I am already there.

“Art will never die

I’ll meet you in the field with the table and light

Is it your world or mine?

You took it from me

So here’s to you

A series of mostly nothing”


When I started writing this album I had no belief in me that true love could exist or that I would ever feel anything close to what I once felt. What I learned throughout the creation of this record is that love exists everywhere in everything. Love is not restricted to a single relationship between two people but from our individual relationships between ourselves and everything and everyone around us. Love is becoming whole on your own when you felt like you would be incomplete for the rest of your life. Love is finding forgiveness for yourself and for those who have delivered us our most painful moments. Love is inspiring hope in yourself and others for a better world by trying to create something beautiful out of something dark. Writing this record allowed me to discover that love exists everywhere and in everything as long as we recognize it in ourselves first.


A Series Of… Mostly Nothing is out now on Refresh Records.

Zac Djamoos | @gr8whitebison

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