Shrink the Giant

There are lots of giants in the world, formidable foes, beasts, dragons to be slain, and our job is hopefully to make those more manageable, to shrink them a little bit so that people can handle their particular trials.

When Jean-Marc Barr was 16 he walked into a pawn shop in Provo, Utah. His sole purpose? To walk out with a guitar.

At only 4’ 8” and 75 lbs Jean-Marc decided to use this to his advantage; placing a handful of wadded up bills and some change on the counter, he declared, “I’m looking for a guitar for my dad for Christmas.” He asked with child-like innocence if it was enough, knowing very well it was not. When the owner wasn’t moved an employee piped up and said, “Come on. It’s Christmas. Give it to the kid.” And that’s how Jean-Marc walked away from a pawn shop with a $250 guitar for $50 and one step closer to fulfilling his dream of being in a band. Although that didn’t happen — Jean-Marc vowed that one day he would have his own family band.

Fast-forward 28 years, and three children later, to the year 2010 when Jean-Marc’s dream for a family band began to unfold. His 15-year-old daughter Stefania, started a band with a couple of her friends. Jean-Marc took them to an open mic at the Kimball Arts Center in Park City. During their first song, a man in the audience made a call to the director of the Mountain Town Music Festival telling him to get down there now. He arrived during their last song and asked if they would like to open for One Republic in three weeks at Deer Valley. The band had a conflict with the dates and weren’t able to perform at that show, instead they were given the opportunity to open for Ryan Shupe & the RubberBand. They had their work cut out for them, but they were up for the challenge. The band wrote a half-an-hours worth of music and was ready to go. Then, just days before the show, their drummer bailed on them. They recruited a new drummer and the band’s performance was a success! Aaron Hurt, a guitarist, watched the show, and knew he wanted to be part of this fun new group. He approached the Barrs and that same night they collaborated and wrote a song; it would become the last song on the band’s first album. It was official. Aaron Hurt was in.

Aaron was ready to put together a three-song demo, but Jean-Marc acting as the manager had other plans. He had been thinking about this for years and knew he wanted to run this as a business, and that meant they needed a full 12-song album. They stopped performing, hunkered down in a “concentrated effort” and worked really hard for one year and eight months to create their very first album. In the beginning there was a lot of trial and error. They had a hard time getting a professional sound. They watched YouTube videos, bought some books, read articles, slowly upgraded equipment, and learned how to use music software. The more they learned, the better they sounded. Jean-Marc describes this as a “slow, grueling, fun, and beautiful process.”

Introducing The Barr Family (and friends) Band: Shrink the Giant

The name of the band also acts as their mission statement: to shrink the giant. “There are lots of ‘giants’ that people struggle with in this world, […] our job is hopefully to make those more manageable, to shrink them a little bit so that people can handle their particular trials.” Jean-Marc, adds, “We want to bring some light, some happiness, […] some goodness into the world and brighten people’s lives.” Stefania explained, “It’s not just about shrinking other people’s giants; making music is also a tool that we use to shrink our own giants.”

In 2012 Shrink the Giant was ready to hit the stage again. Their first show back in the arena was the Wasatch County Fair Battle of the Bands. They won first place. Next stop was a Battle of the Bands competition at alternative rock radio station X96. They submitted the first song on their album 2 minutes before the deadline. They made it to the top 5 bands and were able to perform in a live show. Again, they won, and received the envied reward of opening for a show at the Gallivan Center. This was not just any show — the concert featured several big bands, including: Neon Trees, Imagine Dragons, Grouplove, and Awolnation. Stefania, at age 17, felt like she was in heaven. She remembers Slug magazine writing, “we [the band] were good enough to headline the show someday.” They continued to play show after show. Stefania shared how amazing it was to have a packed house and fans singing the lyrics with her. They were humbled by the response they were getting and felt that setting up the framework first made all the difference. They were prepared for the climb.

By 2014 Shrink the Giant had shows booked out for months and was working on their second album. The future looked bright. On this upward climb, Stefania was in a car accident and suffered a traumatic brain injury; band member, Sebastian Barr, left on a church mission to Russia; and bassist Marisa Wilde decided to pursue a new path. The band definitely had some giants to shrink. Stefania recalls, “These [experiences] were just general growing pains of being a human. The band members that came and went along the way — that was part of the process of growing up and seeing who wasn’t going to let the dream die.” Although momentum fizzled for a bit, the Barrs didn’t let the light burn out. One thing seems to be consistent with the band: change. The response they have consistently chosen has been resiliency. Sebastian shares, “No matter how much things change, if you just stick to it, it keeps going and it keeps improving.”

While the band never stopped creating new music, they haven’t released anything since 2014. After their long hiatus Shrink the Giant is set to release their third album in 2023. “We are all different humans than we were 10 years ago, when we started, and I’m really excited about this fresh presentation and launch again,” says Stefania. The band agrees fans will recognize the new sound. Guitarist Morgan Handley explains, “As far as Shrink goes, there is such a definite fingerprint that is on all the music, it’s just sort of the style of it. It’s sort of a liveliness and eclectic mix.” This variety is what helps set the band apart and makes them unique. Jean-Marc states, “Right from the beginning it was spoken and unspoken that we would always be very eclectic. From song to song, we don’t necessarily sound like the same band and that is part of our sound. We break the genre barriers, yet because of our instrumentation and our individual-ness that we all bring, there is something that sounds cohesive.” They encourage people to listen to a few songs. They say if you listen to one song and don’t like it, try a few more and you are almost guaranteed to find something that clicks with your style.

The band is really excited for the future and the opportunities that keep presenting themselves. They want to integrate video and art in different ways and would love to score movies and even make a TV show. However, while looking forward, they are also proud of what they’ve already accomplished. When asked what she views as the band’s biggest success, Stefania shares, “People. The lives that I know we’ve been able to impact because we’ve put ourselves out there.” They’ve heard from fans who had given up on life and were able to keep going by listening to Shrink the Giant’s music and its message of hope. Stefania adds, “I’m just really proud of that fact and grateful for the connections we’ve been able to build with other human beings.”

Jean-Marc shares his thoughts on the importance of this connection, “Poetry, musical poetry, and art separate us from all other animals. It’s what makes us human. It’s part of every culture, every society all throughout history. We’re part of something that is part of the human race’s experience of life throughout the whole existence of the human race on earth — it’s not to be taken lightly. We take it very seriously. When we’re making music, we play and have fun, but it’s a very serious endeavor.” Sebastian adds, “People need art, but not for the sake of art. People need art for the sake of inspiring themselves to become better.”