"I truly believe that he breathed this dream into me, to want to tell stories and touch people's lives through music," the singer tells PEOPLE about his grandfather

By Tricia Despres
June 03, 2021 05:15 PM

Nate Barnes remembers it like it was yesterday.

Every Sunday, the aspiring country artist would head on over to his grandparents' house, where dinner was on the table and John Wayne movies were playing on the television and country music was coming through the speakers of the radio.

"My granddad, Willie Barnes, would sit with us and tell us stories all afternoon about his time working in the fields of Tupelo, Mississippi," remembers Barnes in an interview with PEOPLE. "But he also knew so much about music. He just couldn't get enough of it. I truly believe that he breathed this dream into me, to want to tell stories and touch people's lives through music. This dream came from those talks with him. They never left me."

"My granddad passed away before I ever got to thank him," adds Barnes. "But I'm so grateful that he spent all that time with me. I hope I'm making him proud."

Proud may be quite the understatement for the folks that made and continue to make up the life of Barnes, who now finds himself on the cusp of the Friday release of his debut EP You Ain't Pretty, a collection of five songs in which Barnes' authentic and down-home nature is on display within each and every note.

"I have always wanted to just make someone smile with my music," says Barnes, who first began performing at church when he was in sixth grade. "It's all about building people up and not tearing them down. My whole life, I've just wanted to help people in some way. I've seen a lot of dark days in my past, so if I can spread the word that it ain't over if you don't give up on yourself, that's what I am going to do."

nate barnes
Nate Barnes' You Ain't Pretty
| Credit: Justin Mayotte

And while the state of Michigan made him the man he is today, it was that small town of South Haven that shaped him into the country artist he has his sights set on becoming from this point on.

"All of this has been so overwhelming, in all the best ways," says Barnes, whose heartwarming song "You Ain't Pretty," which he wrote alongside Jason Sellers and Jimmy Yeary, has earned over 15 million views on TikTok. "No one knows what the future holds, but just a year and a half ago, I was working at a nuclear power plant."

"I'm going to give it my all and see what happens, but there is no doubt that I'm here because of all the people who have changed my life," he adds.

nate barnes
Credit: Justin Mayotte

In "Introducing: Nate Barnes," a video premiering exclusively with PEOPLE, Barnes has the opportunity to not only thank all of those people but to also visit the places of his past. In it, he visits his grandparents' home where his family gathered and sang after dinner every Sunday and inside the nuclear power plant and blueberry farm/factory where he worked, as he returned to his South Haven home to spend time with the people who shaped him.

"It was the first time I got to go back home and tell people what was happening, so it was really emotional," says Barnes. "It's always been my dream to thank the people who made me, me. Not ashamed who I am or where I come from share who I am in a positive way."

nate barnes
Nate Barnes
| Credit: Jason Myers

And while there have been many people who got him where he is today, there is one more he thanks daily.

"This has not been about me," he says. "When I stopped in Nashville that day and met Jason, that wasn't me. That was one of those God moments you hear about," he says with a laugh. "I'm not smart or talented enough to make all of this happen myself. I will tell you that."

"It's a God thing as much as it is a combination of so many people who poured their lives into me in that small little town in Michigan," he adds.

Barnes' EP You Ain't Pretty is out Friday.