CMA Awards 2018

Jill Barber Tries to 'Remove Stigma From Mental Illness' With 'Mercy': Premiere

Ivan Otis
Jill Barber

As its title suggests, Jill Barber's new album, Metaphora, showcases a kind of metamorphosis for the Canadian singer.

The set -- whose track "Mercy" is premiering exclusively below -- finds Barber, best known for folk-pop and jazz outings, embracing contemporary pop head on, with glistening production from the likes of Gus Van Go (Arkells, the Stills, Whitehorse) and Gavin Brown (Barenaked Ladies, Three Days Grace, Billy Talent). She also did some co-writing with Mother Mother's Ryan Guldemond and Serena Ryder cohort Maia Davies.

"It is a sea change," Barber tells Billboard. "I really was inspired to write a batch of tunes that had a real energy to them, a real focus and a real kind of forward momentum. I'm very proud of my large body of work, but I wanted to have a little more fun on stage, for one, and I also had more that I needed to say with this record and I felt like I needed a more contemporary musical vehicle to say those things."

The timely thread of Metaphora, due out June 22, is of empowerment. "I think we're in an interesting place in future history," she explains. "I think there's also a sea change happening politically with women and the role that we play. I feel like I'm coming into my own as a woman. I'm more aware of the power that I have now, and I want to use that power for good. So that's a big theme on the record, what it means to be a woman living in this day and age and just how to use that power for good and to improve my world -- our world."

"Mercy," meanwhile, was inspired by a weekend spent with a close friend who battles depression. "I suppose it's a bit of a plea to someone in my life," Barber says, but she also strove to make the message more universal. "It's really a song to anybody who needs help to get it, and also a reminder that if you're loved you're not alone. There are people that are standing with you and want to see you get better. It's really a love song but also I'm trying to add my voice to a growing chorus of voices trying to remove stigma from mental illness, trying to put it out there in the world so we can all be more connected to one another."

Barber will be playing festivals during the summer and is planning a full-scale Canadian tour, as well as some northern U.S. dates, for the fall. She did not find transitioning to pop to be very difficult, and while the greatest challenge may come in the album's rollout to her established fans, she's confident they'll get on board when they hear it.

"I never really believed my music was any one genre," Barber says. "At the end of the day I see myself as a singer-songwriter. This was the record that wanted to make, that I needed to make. I feel like I'm wiser and bolder and more courageous now, and more powerful than I ever have been before. So I'm really proud of it. I love this record, and I'm super-thrilled."