Ben Barnes Talks 'Personal Nature' of His Debut EP, Premieres Video for First Single '11:11'
You may know Ben Barnes as Prince Caspian from The Chronicles of Narnia, or perhaps as General Kirigan in Netflix's Shadow and Bone. But chances are, you don't know him as a crooning piano man singing blue-eyed soul — at least, not yet.
In that case, allow Barnes to reintroduce himself.
The actor, 40, is gearing up to release his debut EP Songs for You on Oct. 15, and is premiering its first single, "11:11," exclusively with PEOPLE, alongside a music video featuring his Westworld co-star Evan Rachel Wood.
"Making this video for '11:11' has been one of the most satisfying creative experiences of my life," Barnes says. "Seeing my idea come to life on the monitors on the day of shooting, with Evan dancing in the aisles, was a proud moment for me. The last piece of the first artistic endeavor entirely from inside me."
Though Barnes' deep dive into music may seem like a departure for the actor, it won't come as a surprise to his nearly 2 million Instagram followers, who've watched as he's used the platform more and more to share various song covers, including a rendition of the Friends theme song.
"As you get older, your priorities start to shift, and what's important to you starts to shift," he says. "And music has always been, since I was very young, something that I loved... The 80-year-old me is never going to regret making some music and sharing it. How can that ever be wrong?"
Barnes has incorporated music into his career over the years, contributing songs to movie soundtracks and working on his skills following an ill-fated, two-week stint in the British boy band Hyrise at 19.
Ahead of his 40th birthday, Barnes bought himself a baby grand piano, and though he'd only been playing for a few years — he's a percussionist by trade who moonlit as a jazz drummer at 15 —finally felt comfortable sharing his words with the world.
"I think it was something about the intimacy of it, and the personal nature of releasing songs that you've written that are about you and your life and your connections with people that just felt a bit overwhelming," he says. "And honestly, I think sometimes when you're a bit younger, you're either very bold or you're a bit like me and you feel like, 'What if people don't connect with what I have to say or what if I don't have anything to say at all?' And people just think you're sort of a blank piece of paper. But I think as you get older, you realize how many of the things that you go through are exactly the same things that other people go through."
Barnes, who studied English literature in college, says that for as long as he can remember, he's kept little notebooks, jotting down poems, words and ideas as they come to him.
Eventually, those tinkerings came to feel more lyrical than poetic, and he began the more "painstaking" process of adding melodies.
With the resulting songs, Barnes says he found a way to express himself through a means different than acting, where for years he's played parts and read words written for him by other people.
"Music always felt like it was something that was just for me because I had the acting side of my career and I pretended to be these people," he says. "I loved doing it, but it was for other people… As a songwriter, you don't have to ask any questions at all. You just have to feel something and express it"
The EP's title is named in part because each song has to do with experiences he's had with particular people, and partly because it's a nod to Donny Hathaway's version of "A Song for You," which Barnes considers "one of the greatest recordings ever."
For a long time, he says, he wrestled with the fear of wanting to make those experiences so public, as releasing music that he's written exposes vulnerabilities in a way he's taken care to avoid over the years.
"I've always been very private in interviews and stuff, [but] that's not how I am with my friends and my family," he says. "I'm a massive sharer, and a huge empath, and someone who wants to understand everyone's version of experiencing everything all the time. And so it just felt like a little bit more time to share something of my experiences."
"I just reached a place doing this where I felt good about doing it. And so I would just rather own that feeling and put it out and see if anyone digs it," he adds. "I'm comfortable enough in my own skin and in who I am at this point."
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