The Healing Kind of ‘An Evening at Macri Park’

Seán Barna stands with his back to the unfurling vista of downtown Austin puffing on a thin cigar, smoke billowing around his head. His friend, collaborator, and producer, Dave Drago (who is playing bass on this run), sits behind him, leaning his feet up on the railing of the hotel balcony sipping on tequila from a small cup. Surrounded by the other three members of their five-piece touring band, they look comfortable in their idiom. It is a day off on their first ever major U.S. tour supporting Counting Crows. Its lead singer, Adam Duritz, a longtime fan and friend of Barna’s, affectionally named the band, the British Cigarettes (get it?) the first time he announced them. A dream has come true for these two men. They have worked hard to achieve it, and all the pitchers of margaritas and Lone Star beers they’ve consumed on this afternoon attest to it. It is a rock and roll scene – and they are indeed on the rock and roll ride.

“We’re serious about this,” Barna tells me the next evening after the kind of blistering set that will have created a stir across America. He had graciously emerged from backstage to offer me a beer. Counting Crows having already begun to kick hard into their spectacular show, transfixing the audience, but then something interesting happened. Many around us noticed the thin, six-foot figure standing beside me – thick mustache, elaborate eye makeup – as the rocker on stage only moments before. They began to convene around him, tossing out accolades ranging from emotional triggers to musical adoration, but they all centered on the sincerity of Barna’s performance; the way he dives into his songs, makes sure to enunciate the lyrics he painstakingly authored – an openly gay man reflecting his culture and those of the marginalized and oppressed. He appeared taken aback by all this, having always hoped his music would connect. “I get emotional when I think about it,” he tells me on that balcony. “All these people who are inspired by the songs, how they relate, how it makes them feel less alone,” but from his reaction to this much attention, I can tell it is all still a bit weird for him. It happened again later as the arena filed out and we loitered by the band’s van close to the backstage area; people shared stories with him while he glibly responded with veiled jokes, his biting humor and self-effacing comments acting as both a defense and a comfort.

For his part, Barna’s musical and philosophical partner Drago, the proprietor of 1809 Studios outside Rochester, New York, is also a man finding his way. He is taking all of it in as if it may never happen again. He mixes this trepidation with a quiet confidence that this may be the beginning of something special. “This was always the plan for Seán and this music we made by ourselves over the weeks and months,” he says after a sip of tequila. “I could always picture him roaming a larger stage, singing to as many people as we had tonight. We both knew this was the plan. It doesn’t always come your way, but when it does… you take it and don’t waste it.”

Drago and Barna are an interesting pair. They share a love of the music they create together and a deeper personal connection – it is clear if you spend five minutes with them or listen to one of their songs, it reflects the incessant brain-battering strive for excellence in what they do. They are also quite different in many important ways. Drago is a family man – a wife and two children – living out in the woods. Barna is the perpetual rover and seeker, embracing the urban underground. Steeped in his culture’s history and battles, he is an activist as much as an artist, and sometimes it is hard to tell the two passions apart. His adoration of “the scene” and what he can do to protect, advance, and illuminate its agenda is no pose. Drago, however, reveals a more pragmatic side. He owns a business and has a mortgage. Barna, who nearly died of a stomach ailment just two years ago, openly discusses drugs and sexual abandon in his songs and interviews. Drago will talk about the experience of being a parent with equal measures of dread and pride – his family is his center. Barna, it seems, is still searching for a center beyond the music and the dream to express it.

Earlier in the day that ended up on that sun-splashed balcony, I joined them and the band in bar-hopping around Austin. The band is made up as the seemingly always-smiling vocalist (Margot McDonald), the quiet but funny guitarist (Jake Rodenhouse), the energy-addled keyboardist (Alex Northrup), and Spencer Inch, a wonderful conversationalist on drums. They are comfortable needling each other, spurred on by Dave and Seán’s seemingly impenetrable bond – a barbed ping-pong match of insults and one-liners that eventually has everyone doubled over in laughter. “It is a sunny day and I’m drinking with my best friend, what is better than this?” Drago shared on our walk to ever more spirits. “This man had faith in my music,” Barna tells me later of his producer. “He demanded I write songs and make them as good as they can be. I followed his lead.”

What we do not talk about today but had been the subject of a longer prior conversation we had over this past winter are three crucial elements of their kinship and professional tontine that has hovered over them like a storm cloud: depression and anxiety, imposter syndrome, and self-loathing. A consistent undercurrent to their lives long before they began working together, these afflictions came roaring to the fore in the confines of the studio, eyeball-to-eyeball and shoulder-to-shoulder, while the two men realized the kind of music that would cause two separate crowds to form around the singer-songwriter on the tour of their lives. Two collaborators forming a burgeoning alliance in art and ambition were tearing down its emotional fabric day after day – negatively affecting the music and wearing on their friendship. They both realized right then that this magical partnership was imploding from within, and they decided to save it by seeking help and medication. It was either that or watch it die.

This revelatory road began during the intense sessions for Barna’s breakout 2018 EPCissy, a record I once described in print as “a wholly provocative, mesmerizingly intense and unerringly brave collection of five songs that turned me sideways.” This was the music that poured from Barna at the unwavering behest of his friend. “He told me to ‘Shut the fuck up and get up here [to] make a record!’’ He admitted this after the EP was released. Indeed, Drago understood he had started this fire, and for a while he was not sure he could contain it. “The brand of self-hatred that Seán brought to the table during the making of that record was a little much for me,” he said. “All of a sudden there were two people in the room and one of them was talking shit to the guy that I loved. And so, I went and attacked the other guy, because that’s who I was.” Drago manifested how he handled Barna’s outbursts. “It all kind of came out in the room when Seán was feeling under pressure, under stress, or in a position of vulnerability,” he recalled. “The studio is a totally normal place to feel weird and anxious and shitty – but I’d never seen anyone attack themselves in that way. Then that put me in attack mode, which is also – maybe not always, especially at that point – the best way to handle the situation.”

The brilliance of Cissy had the two artists believing that although the volatility, self-flagellation, lashing out, and flashes of fury that nearly fractured their creative providence were also an effective cocktail for greatness, so while working on Barna’s latest album, An Evening at Macri Park in the winter of 2020 (mere weeks before a worldwide pandemic descended), the two were forced to face their demons. Ironically, it was while working on a new song called “Easy on Me.”

“There was some fight about something – the same old shit, my losing it and him pushing me,” recalled Barna a few months before he landed on that Texas balcony. “I had a cold or something. We did a couple of shitty vocal takes. He kept urging me on to get one down and I was getting angrier and angrier, just beating myself up. ‘I suck! What the fuck am I doing singing? I’m no singer! This is a joke!’ All Dave wanted to do is nitpick what I did with the melody, which is his job – literally. It is why I’m paying him, and yet it infuriates me! It’s like being mad at the guy in New Jersey that’s filling your gas tank, ‘What the fuck, man, why are you filling my car?’ I swear to God, that’s what it is.”

Drago smiled at the memory, nodding his head; “I seem to remember asking myself, ‘Do I have another one of these [records] in me?’”

“I’m 35 years old, I have given up everything for music,” Barna adds. “I have a graduate degree in Public Policy and I’m not pursuing anything there because I’m still worried about music. I’m still doing music and it’s never gotten me anywhere, and then, artistically, with Dave, it’s got me somewhere, but it’s still like, ‘Dude. Oh, you made a great album, but what’s up? You’re bartending!’ Even now, I’m about to sell my car to go on tour with Counting Crows so I can pay my mortgage while I’m on tour! It’s not what people think it is, right? And I’m happy to do it. I’m happy. I’m not depressed about that, but this all comes up in that moment.”

“Our working together actually let us know that this is what some success looks like,” Drago said.

“Yeah, I’ll sell a car a 100 times. I’ll cut off my fucking arm. I don’t care,” Barna continued. “I want to go play these shows, but, you know… I’ll just get so scared that all the sacrifices I made aren’t working out. And, to me, if I can’t sing a full take than I shouldn’t be doing this and I’m not good enough. You give up all this stuff for music and then you have panic attacks. I mean, Dave has sunk thousands and thousands, probably a hundreds of thousands of dollars, into his studio instead of being an accountant or something. It’s terrifying. I never thought I wouldn’t make it, but you get older, and you think, ‘Well… maybe not.’”

Exhausted and frustrated, despite the self-doubt and knowing he had another great album in him, Barna went home to Brooklyn and immediately faced his demons. “I knew that I needed to confront my depression and anxieties for years, but I wanted to not do it,” he remembered with a snide chuckle. “So, I’d exercise, and if I went for a run, I’d feel ok that day, but at some point, it gets to be so dark that you get in your own way, which is interesting because the myth of being a depressed person and writing beautiful art is not like that when I’m depressed. I can’t do anything. I can barely get out of bed. Waking up is a chore. Everything I do is a chore. And everything I do that is good? I don’t feel much pleasure from it. So, for me, it was less an epiphany and more accepting that I am this way on a chemical level and I should maybe take some steps to give myself a fucking break.” 

Fed up with skirting the issues that caused him so much pain, he discussed it with his partner of seven years, Sam Droney. “I flat-out asked him: ‘We’ve been together for seven years now, have you noticed my feeling this way?’ And without hesitating, he’s said, ‘Yeah.’ It was one thing he had noticed that I didn’t think about: Back before I had the AirPods, I had the wire on my iPhone. I was in the kitchen and I walked by a drawer and they got caught and it ripped them out of my ears – it happens to everybody, you know, stupid shit like that. I would say, ‘Motherfucker!’ like anybody would, and he said, ‘But you start thinking about how your life is bad and it takes you 40 minutes to get over that.’”

“Yeah,” Drago later added. “Everything is like a tailspin. Anything could conjure a full on…”

Barna finished his sentence; “…meltdown.”

After his discussion with his partner, Barna started seeing a psychiatrist to air his darkness and fears and find the right medicine. That was when Seán called his pal, Dave.

“Whether we’re working on a record or not, Seán and I speak every two or three days anyway, but when we’re on a project it is every day because we just become such a part of each other’s constant thought,” said Drago. “He called me and told me he was seeing a psychiatrist, so I was really excited that he was even going. Then it just seemed like a pretty no fuss, no muss diagnosis. After that, it was, for him, ‘We got to get you on some fucking drugs, and then you should begin talk-therapy.’”

It was a game-changing moment for Drago. “To see Seán do that, I finally said to myself, ‘What excuse do you have anymore?’”

But being a pragmatist and helped by the fact that as a producer and studio owner he interacts with several and varied people, he conducted what he calls “a private poll” of musicians who had gone on anti-depression and anti-anxiety medications. “I essentially polled about a half dozen of my closest friends and clients. ‘So, what happened? What did they put you on? Tell me the pluses and minuses? Did you have any weird withdrawal symptoms?’ Stuff like that.” 

Three weeks later, inspired by his friend’s courage to face his issues head-on, Drago discussed medication with his doctor who had already been helping him “along the road of smoking cessation.” Doctors who treat smoking addiction have noted that depression is generally a root cause of a person’s continuing to smoke – even when they don’t want to. Many popular anti-smoking drugs are indeed also antidepressant or dopamine inhibitors. 

Seeking out and taking medication for their mental health was a first for both men, which came with similar concerns about how these drugs would affect their creativity. “I think before you decide to take the medication, musicians and creative people in general, we all tell ourselves that we’re going to go on these drugs and we’re going to be comatose for two or three weeks or a month,” noted Drago. “We’re gonna lose all our creativity. Like all this darkness is the reason that we are what we are, but the actuality is, before the drugs, as Seán said, waking up was even more difficult and going to sleep was more difficult. Everything’s more difficult. Being sad is exhausting. Not knowing how you’re going to feel at any given moment is exhausting.”

“Look, man, I didn’t want to be alive,” Barna blurted out, bringing our conversation to a halt. His friend, sitting beside him, raised his eyebrows. “I wasn’t suicidal, ever,” Barna went on to explain. “But I woke up in the morning thinking, ‘I don’t want to do this again.’ That has been almost every single day for 15 years. It’s hard and it’s exhausting, and this all comes out as, ‘If I could have an excellent vocal take, I’m all right, I’m high, I feel great,’ and if I don’t, it makes it even harder to face those dark feelings. It’s hard to admit that now, and for my family to read it in an article, but it’s true. I had at some point owed it to my musical and personal partners to confront this. It wasn’t fair to Sam that I felt this way all the time or to drag it into the studio for Dave to deal with.” He goes on to remember that he “finally got insurance and told a psychiatrist how [he] felt.”

“She immediately put me on an anti-anxiety medication and then a month or so later an anti-depressant, and immediately I felt like I took a deep breath for the first time in years and years. I could just objectively go through my life instead of subjectively – just objectively do things, objectively be mad if I fuck something up like any human would be, but not have end up as an internal character assassination.” 

It was at this point in our initial discussion when I could see how deeply connected these two young artists were to each other and how the music that had moved me could have come from such a partnership. There were no barriers here. They were there for each other and the promise to seek help to salvage this rare jewel, maybe even take it to a greater level through healing, was a genuine experience, and they didn’t mind confronting the bad stuff – together.

“I just became a master at synthesizing failing and being terrible and thinking like, ‘Well, if I do this perfectly, then I won’t have to deal with that,’ but even coming to grips with that as the motivation for my behavior… it was still not fair to Dave or my partner or to any of the people around me who have really stuck in there to have to deal with these intense feelings I have.”

The Barna family lost Seán’s 13-year-old brother after he was struck and killed by an automobile in November of 2003. The reverberations of the incident, which Barna so brilliantly frames in his 2018 track, “Routines,” off of Cissy, tore pieces from the family. “When he was in the casket, I whispered, ‘You know, whatever I do now is for you.’ I remember saying it, but I never felt when I didn’t achieve something that I was letting him down. I never felt that, but the intensity of which you feel things when you’re feeling that kind of pain, everything is intensified because every feeling – negative or positive – you’re so manic and it’s really tough. Then I’m crying at random times and I can’t talk. I can’t watch certain movies. I remember I watched the movie Big Fish and I had to sit in the car for three hours. I watched The Notebook, a movie I don’t even like, and at the end, I’m just bawling.”

“I cried during both those movies,” Dave added.

“But for three hours?” Seán said.

Then, in a notable lull in our conversation, both men sat for a moment before Barna finally said, “I didn’t really grieve for my brother for about two-and-a-half years. It wasn’t something where I grieved immediately – it was much later for me.” The intensity of realizing the music he had inside him, and the close-knit creative hub eventually provided by Drago, brought much of it to the surface. “The funny thing about my depression is it’s a cocktail,” Barna added in his darkly rich humor. “I felt depressed long before my brother died.”

It would make sense that Dave Drago, watching his friend come apart before him, might try and help him find the origins of his unhappiness, but confronting his own fatherhood as well as outside familial sources of his own dismay may have led to it. There has been, for him, an unhealthy balance between the person in the studio, “keeping it together for the project,” and his time at home as a dad. While he could, as he told me, “keep my shit together” in his professional life (because the work was always rewarding), it was his home life that revealed his most erratic mood swings. “My wife and children have always seen the worst part of me,” he said, remembering how his son, too, had saved his most irritable personality for the family unit. “My son is a peach in the world; smart, charming, and funny, and also weird and kind. He can be extremely difficult at the house, though… because why? Because kids are so comfortable in their relationship with their parents – you’re not going anywhere, and they know that inherently. And so, any complicated, weird feelings that they’ve never had before, or knew, they can experience those authentically in the household, only in the household, because that’s the place where people aren’t going to stand up and leave. I eventually saw that in myself, so my wife and my son especially only ever got the worst side of me. I felt comfortable enough to torture them, which was never fair to them, but it allowed me to see how damaged I was.”

It is interesting to parse Barna’s and Drago’s expression of fairness when considering what their anxiety and depression may have done to their loved ones. For Barna, it is his partner Sam, whom he relies on for strength and stability, and for Drago it is his wife, Caitlin, and his children, (six-year-old son and one year-old daughter), and the home life he built, but that also introduced stresses he had not counted on. “Having a child before I felt like I had ever achieved any sort of success in my career, and in my life in general, was basically watching my ego, my entire sense of self, unravel in front of me,” he said. Drinking daily and sneaking outside to smoke for the first two years of his son’s life did not help. Then, one day during an innocuous phone conversation with his mother, Drago broke down. “For whatever reason, where I was at that day, the sound of her voice made me… explode,” he recalled. “I just started bawling, and I just felt so out of control in my own life, so out of control in my emotions. I had a child with colic, too, you know, sleep deprivation was involved in this entire unraveling – first-time parents, all this kind of stuff, and just all the pressure was a lot to bear. This is why most people have kids and stop doing shit like this [making music]. It’s pretty hard to do both of those things.”

This is much of the baggage Barna and Drago brought to the sessions that were to be the follow-up to the monumental, knock-down-drag-out emotions to realize Cissy; baggage that they made sure to unpack with therapy and medication, letting go of its crushing weight. They pondered if any of this could be enough, if it could save the friendship, expand the artistic parameters, and lead to the music they knew they now could make.

Courtesy of 1809 Studios

“There were six weeks between our sessions,” Drago recalls of their first professional meeting after their healing sojourn. “Seán was on drugs within two weeks after the first session, so he had a month under his belt.”

“The darkest parts of my psyche were given the night off,” Barna remembered about those first set of recordings in the studio, the one place to take their new lease on life for its most crucial test. “But I also felt exhausted. There is an adjustment – the adjustment to me is physical, though, like I was just exhausted, tired all the time. So, I went on a SSRI (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors), it’s different than what Dave’s on, but then I went on an NDRI (norepinephrine–dopamine reuptake inhibitor) in addition later, which brought me more energy. It’s not an upper, but I guess kind of. I’m on less NDRI than Dave, but the winner for me is the SSRI. That’s the one that stops the anxiety and the horror in my brain. The NDRI one came later, but I would have just been a little more tired, which is fine up here [points to his head], because my productivity is defined by whatever I can do that day. Not necessarily as somebody in an office would be measured by, but yeah, I felt, immediately, almost within a week, like… [exhales].”

“I felt it after the first dose,” Drago added, excitedly. “It was immediate.”

All the anxiety, stress, and fears about family, professional concerns, and what Dave describes as “higher profile positions” faded. “It used to be that my first reaction to any new thing getting added to the pile or just about any externality is ‘Fuck you!’ But the day after I took my drugs the first time, I remember getting one of these externalities and not responding to it for like four seconds. All I needed was four fucking seconds to remember who I am at my core and respond as who I am – not an asshole – and ever since then I would say the only negative side effects of these drugs is that I will purposely keep my mouth shut sometimes, which I have never done in my entire life. I haven’t had an ability to do that to that point until a few weeks ago. Even my wife said to me, ‘I actually need you to respond to this.’ I said, ‘Oh, ok, because I understand my first reaction to what you said was to rip your head off.’ So, I waited and kept my mouth shut, because I knew that the real answer would come to me later. I was like, ‘I’m happy to respond to you now, but I was gonna wait for a while or revel in my ability to not take everything so personally.’ Not everything is a stab wound anymore.”

And so, two friends, creative brothers, met as changed men. They made their music together, healed, and are glad that none of that healing curtailed their creative output. If anything, they thrived, and this time, enjoyed it. “I just had a good time,” Barna remembered.  “Such a good time,” Drago agreed.

“The relief for me was to be able to emotionally respond to some of these songs, the new songs are really emotional for me,” Barna continued. “And having David… you know, usually producers are not in the emotional space with you. That’s not their job to be – their job is to keep the trains on the tracks, but now Dave will exist in this emotional place with me for some of these songs and that’s really special. My voice sounded better, too. It was clearer, more relaxed. My drumming sounded better…”

“Oh yeah, more relaxed,” Drago said. “We were also allowed to stop and go, ‘We hit a bit of a roadblock, so it’s probably not the time to try that right now.’”

Barna added with a smile: “I would still get pissed if I fuck something up in the studio.”

“But it wouldn’t derail an entire day,” noted Drago.

“I’m not like way medicated,” said Barna. “I don’t even know what the measurements are, but I’m on a fairly standard dose. It’s not particularly overwhelming, but it just lets you be objective about things.” 

“Yeah,” added Drago. “That’s what was so remarkable about it to me. Because even before I took it, I was like, ‘What is this gonna do? Is it gonna make me a different person?’ Because that’s scary to me, but what it actually did was just gave me a few seconds to think about how I wanted to respond to things, as opposed to just immediately responding to everything.” 

Just as the stresses during the recording of the song, “Easy on Me” before their new balanced psyches seemed to strike an ironical note in both men, when they returned to the project, having faced their mental health head-on, “Sparkle When You Speak” was the song they chose to record.

“The vibe was like, ‘Oh, you want to start something now? Ok!’” recalled Drago. “And for the first time there was no hyper-organized spreadsheet on the console. It was, ‘Let’s effervesce into creation. Let’s sparkle. Let’s manifest this.”

“I’m not trying to make pretty songs, I’m trying to say something,” Barna said. “And I am fucking dead serious about it. I think that us in a room together, like, you know… his job is different. I’m the artist and his job is to record things he’s maybe not as excited about… I don’t know. We get in a room and we’re just excited to create something and I think we’re both in this terrifying place of creating something and wanting to do it right and knowing that we might hit something great if we’re careful, which, of course, means not being careful. But it always feels like a little bit of an elevated space when we’re in the studio.”

“That’s a really great way to put it,” Drago added. “I think that’s the difference between weekend one (before medication) and weekend two (after medication). ‘Cause weekend one we were still trying to control it into fruition, hold on to whatever our weird gut was telling us about it. The second weekend there were no rules anymore because our egos wouldn’t be shattered if we didn’t do something the way we thought we were supposed to do it. It was just… so… free. What came out the other end of that was we punched up and reworked and added to the songs that we have recorded.”

“Then we re-recorded ‘Easy on Me’,” Seán noted with pride. “And this time it was way better.”

“We circled back to weekend-one work and said ‘Oh, well, that structure’s cool, but you need to chill on the drum kit’ or something like that. We were off and running.”

“One of the big ones for me was when I recorded a vocal for a song called ‘The Lonely’, a quiet one where I just play piano and sing,” Barna shared. “I did a vocal for that the first weekend and I was a little bit stuffy, but it was ok because it is a quiet song. It would have worked, but then I said I wanted to do it again. This is after the medication, because as an artist you’re like, ‘Oh, I’m not going to be able to get as deep and as sad,’ and then I’m doing that vocal take in there after some beers and Dave’s in there having an emotional reaction, saying, ‘Man, I forgot this song is so good.’ That’s where I like to be.”

That vocal for “The Lonely,” the track that Barna describes as “a performance I did in a state of contentment in my life” made it on An Evening at Macri Park. “My job is not to be sad,” he said. “It’s to be able to reach truth within the human condition and express that – whether it’s mine or somebody else’s.” 

“We knew that we could never make another Cissy again,” Drago surmised with a smile. “And that’s ok! You can’t recreate the moments, the mental or emotional state of the two of us in that place and time. The reason that Cissy worked is because it’s volatile, it’s dynamite, and we were both so surprised by it. We had never worked together, so we could get through that situation, because everything – every response we had to each other – was new.”

“It was also the respect of not knowing someone that well,” Barna added, with his friend agreeing explicitly. “Dave wanted to say, ‘Go fuck yourself, you piece of shit’.” They both laughed heartily at this. “But he didn’t, because we didn’t know each other that well.”

“Whereas this new record was like, ‘Well… we know we can’t do that again, because the reason that that happened is because we were both confusing the living fuck out of each other and with that it was just this beautiful tornado,” Drago said. “An Evening at Macri Park was just us finally and completely knowing what we were capable of, what that level of intensity that existed within both of us was while making the record, but to deliberately channel that into every little thing that we did was different.” 

Drago then concluded: “One of the bigger takeaways I would hope that we can gather in this is that myself and Seán, and many musicians that we talk to and have relationships with, have been in this situation where they know there’s something fucked up and they know that they could be better, but they’re afraid to do it because we have this weird, stupid belief that our muse is to feel bad about ourselves. Our muse is that life is extra difficult. Our muse is that we fucking hate ourselves or we have these internal voices that make us feel like garbage people. It’s not true. Everyone I know, and Seán and I are a testament to this, have been able to exercise this in an interesting little vacuum of a two-or three-year career together. Everyone I know who takes the plunge, despite the fear that they’ll be ruined before it comes out the other end says, ‘I’ve never been able to be more emotionally open, and to be more vulnerable, and to be more emotionally creative than I am now, because this isn’t an accident anymore. I can be in touch with myself. I can find those emotions, and not stumble on them.’”

Barna, still worried how these revelations will be taken by his loved ones, has more obstacles to traverse to get to where he wants to be. “This article you’re writing scares me to be perfectly honest,” he admitted. “My family doesn’t know I’m on antidepressants, and that’s ok – they probably should know at some point, but it’s a similar feeling I felt before I came out – I’m scared what people don’t know about me. The thing is, it’s just clearing out the bullshit so I can be who I am a little more. I think that’s the key: The pills aren’t taking away from who I am, they’re just removing this crud, so I can be me.” 

Courtesy of 1809 Studios

The sun is beginning to set in the distance. There is no more tequila. The beers have run dry. Our cigars, nearly gone. Members of the band have dispersed to their rooms, strumming guitars, checking in on loved ones on FaceTime. Barna turns to face the city. Tomorrow he will play a remarkable show. Afterwards he will be confronted with the people who are so moved they are inspired to tell him. This is what he endured those years of bartending and all the rest for, and on this balmy Austin evening, he knows it.

“To be this queer voice that I didn’t even realize when we made Cissy, is a power I cannot ignore,” Barna told me. “I know it sounds egotistical, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I know I have the power to speak to these issues and these stories and these places that I didn’t know I had, and now it’s so fucking exciting to bring it across America, to some places that might not be ready for me – ready for us.”

Dave Drago flicks the ashes of his cigar and smiles at his friend. 

Barna concludes, “It’d be a fucking shame if my inability to get out of bed got in the way of this much fun.”

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