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Q&A with soul man Barry Conrad

We talk to X Factor Australia star Barry Conrad on his career and collaboration with Stan Walker.
Barry Southgate

He’s opened for R&B acts such as Craig David, K-Ci & Jo-Jo and Brian McKnight and blew audiences away as a part of The X Factor Australia phenomenon in season five. Now, Barry Conrad is lending his vocals to friend and collaborator Stan Walker’s new album Truth & Soul, a collection of soul covers. We find out more about the 31-year-old South African-born singer.

What brought you and your family to New Zealand? How old were you when you moved to New Zealand?

I was born in Cape Town, which is such a stunner of a place. It’s just not the safest, nor necessarily a mecca of opportunity. My folks moved us to New Zealand for a better quality of life, and I’m super grateful for that. I was around 12 years old and I remember how much of a culture shock it was.

What led you to music? What were you drawn to in those early years?

My dad sang and played guitar and my mom recorded music with her church choir back in the day, so loving music came naturally. We were always fed a pretty healthy diet of music too. Because of my parents’ diverse ethnic heritage (I have African, English, German and Indonesian blood), there was always an eclectic array of tunes being played in the house.

I didn’t decide till way later to really go for it though. I joined singing/dancing group, Jireh (members included Vince Harder, Ginny Blackmore and Bella Kalolo), then headed to Oz where I worked behind the scenes, writing songs and doing background vocals for other artists.

I flirted with my own stuff for sure, but doing The X Factor I’d say was a defining moment and the start of a whole new beginning for me as an artist.

Barry is strongly influenced by his mixed cultural heritage. He has African, English, German and Indonesian blood. Photo/Darren Meredith

Tell us a little about The X Factor experience. What was it like being part of one of the world’s biggest music shows? What was the most challenging part of the competition and what was the most enjoyable?

It was easily one of the hardest and most rewarding things I’ve ever done. Aside from the competition side of things – being on top of your game, having to learn things fast and sing for the nation on live TV (no biggie!) – my second mother, Audrey Phillips, passed away during my time on the show. Having to deal with her loss in the midst of all that was so devastating, I can’t even fully articulate it. That would have to be the most challenging part.

What direction do you want to take your new album in? What was the development process?

Before I used to filter everything I wrote, ’cause I was such a perfectionist and just a very guarded guy in general. Getting free from that stuff has made a huge impact on me as an artist now. You’re gonna get accessible songs people can relate to, for sure. But the new music is definitely more raw, direct and honest – both lyrically and vocally.

Where was it recorded? Did you work with other artists in the songwriting process?

Mostly in Sydney, but it’s been kind of an international labour of love so far. I’ve worked with people like Aeon “Step” Manhan (Ginny Blackmore, Christina Aguilera) from the UK, Grammy winning engineer/producer, Chris “TEK” O’Ryan (Justin Bieber, Katy Perry) from LA and Leon Senandan (Jessica Mauboy, Stan Walker). Still working on it, but can’t wait to get these songs out!

What was the main source of inspiration?

Just life. Drawing a lot from personal experience, which is scary sometimes, ’cause you’re like, “I’m being all vulnerable and personal here … people are gonna know my business.” But I’m learning the more authentic you are, the more that resonates with people.

To follow Barry’s progress and for updates on his new music, visit facebook.com/barryconradofficial

Photographs by: Darren Meredith

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