Keep an eye out for Torrington acoustic pop singer and songwriter Sarah Barrios, 20. Over the past year, mostly through word-of-mouth (she doesn't have a recording out), Barrios' honest, pop-friendly songs and undeniable charisma have connected with listeners across the state. Music-biz types are also catching on; she won New Act of the Year at the 2014 New England Music Awards, and last week she auditioned for "American Idol" (she didn't win, but you'll be seeing her on the show).
Barrios stopped into CTNow's White Room to perform "Hey Ray-Bans" and to answer a few questions about her plans. You can hear her performance at ctnow.com/sarahbarrios.
CTNow: When did you start performing?
Sarah Barrios: I started playing guitar when I was about 13, and that's when I started writing songs. But I didn't really get fully into it, playing out, until maybe a year or so ago. I've always wanted to be a musician, to play out, to write music and have people enjoy it, but I never thought that it was possible, that I could actually make a living out of it. But at one point I was just like, "I would hate to look back on it 30 years from now and say, 'I wish I did that'." So I said, "Maybe I'll just try it and see what happens, the worst it could be is it doesn't work out and I play songs in my bedroom."
CTNow: What was your first gig?
SB: I did an open mic at Infinity Hall in Norfolk. That was the first time I had ever performed in front of anybody. We went there as a family, had a nice dinner, and I did a song by myself and then I did a song with my dad, and the response was great. The people there are really, really supportive and very loving, so it was nice, like a nice big family. And after doing that, and being really nervous, and getting up and freaking out, afterwards I was like, "That was so much fun, let's do it again."
CTNow: You got the bug and there was no turning back.
SB: Yeah. It's contagious. It's unbelievable getting up there.
CTNow: In the past year, how frequently have you been playing out?
SB: I started off with maybe once every couple weeks, and now it's been so consistent that I've [done] one or two every week. It's been pretty fast-paced, but it's good, I like it. If it starts to get busy, that means that I'm doing something right.
CTNow: You mentioned wanting to record an album. Do you have any concrete plans so far?
SB: Not yet. I spent the year thinking about what I wanted my sound to be, because I listen to a lot of different music. I like folk. I like indie rock. I like blues. But I didn't really know what I really wanted my brand — Sarah Barrios, what does she sound like? — to be. And I think over the past year I've kind of matured in that way where I've figured out what I want to sound like, and I like the music that I write now. It kind of has a little bluesy feel, but it's still acoustic pop, so it could really relate to some young kids, it could be on the radio, it's a little different. It's not your generic pop music.
CTNow: Is that something that you want to keep as part of your sound, that appeal to a younger pop audience?
SB: I think so. I've become popular with a younger demographic, which is great. They're very excited, motivated, extremely social media-driven, so they get the music out there really quickly. But I think what I've always wanted my music to do is to be able to appeal to everybody, younger or older. And I've been blessed to have that open demographic, where I have the big group of younger kids but I also have a few older as well. And that's kind of what I'd like to have, a balance between the two.
CTNow: Who are some of the people that you grew up listening to?
SB: When I was younger I listened to a lot of John Mayer. And I don't use that in the style that I have, but I think he's an absolutely incredible writer, and he's got a way of telling a story very descriptively. I really enjoy that, and I've tried to incorporate that in my own music as well. There's a singer named Ed Sheeran, who's starting to make waves now in America, and he's got a similar thing where he's very descriptive in his songwriting. But the song itself has a really upbeat background, or it's got a really good tune, so it's catchy, and there's also a story. So you kind of want to know what story they're telling. That's kind of something that I want to incorporate into my own music: I try to tell a story with the songs that I write. Or at least try to get across a message.
CTNow: The song "Hey Ray-Bans," is that about a particular person?
SB: Some songs are either about a person or inspired by a person. They kind of start off with a thought and kind of move into their own thing. So this one was about a particular ex-boyfriend that I'm not going to mention, but he knows it [laughs].
CTNow: I like the way you handled that.
SB: I kind of got this idea that he had a little bit of an ego, so I was like, there are a lot of those guys with their shades on, they walk in the room and think they don't have to talk to a girl, they walk in and they got her. And that never works out. I still don't know why people do that, but they do. So I was like, "I'll just write a song about it." Swag doesn't pay the bills unless you're Justin Bieber. I like playing it out, and I've played it quite a bit, so now my fans end up singing it with me, which is really cool.
Editor's note: This story has been edited from a previous version to remove outdated concert information.