Interview: Courtney Barnett
In her relatively young solo career, Melbourne singer songwriter, Courtney Barnett, has established a signature way with words and melody that is already unmistakable. The warm jangling guitar, blended with her reserved, almost spoken-word, unrestrained lyricism. Her songs boast a charmingly lazy pace and unique perspective on life that lead them to be devastatingly infectious.
Rav caught up with Courtney for a quick email chat in the lead up to tonight's show at Sydney's Oxford Art Factory supporting Jens Lekman.
How did you first get started playing music?
When we were growing up, the boys across the road would make mix-tapes for me and my brother. That's when I started liking music; Jimi Hendrix, Nirvana, Green Day (Dookie, not that new shit) etc. Then the boys and my brother started playing in a band and i was like, "Wow, we can do this ourselves?!" ... I was blown away. So I started learning guitar.
Are you from Melbourne originally? If not how did you end up there?
Nah, I grew up in Sydney, in a place called Church Point, which was kinda half in the bush near Pittwater. Then when I was 16 and halfway through school my parents made us move to Hobart. So I finished school there, then did some uni, then got bored and moved to Melbourne for a change.
You've got a new EP set for release in March/April. How's that coming along? Will it be all new stuff?
It has History Eraser [on it], which some people have already heard. I guess that's like the 'first single'. And it has an old song that I stopped playing live but we brought it back to life. And yeah the rest is all new. There's a song on there which is my favourite song about nearly dying after doing some gardening. We're just finishing mixing it now.
Obviously you're fairly well known in Melbourne, but still making a name for yourself up here in Sydney - how are you finding Sydney crowds?
Sydney crowds have been nothing but nice. I love Sydney. I don't really listen to the radio that much but when I do it sounds like everyone is really into dance music at the moment, so I'm definitely always super stoked when someone digs our stuff. It always seems no matter what town, the people that come to our shows are real cool and intelligent. I'd rather just 10 of those people in the audience, than 100 jocks who wanna bash people up.
You're also a member of alt country legends Immigrant Union - how did you get involved with that band?
We're just all friends. I'd be at most of their shows drinking and hanging out. Then one time they were halfway through a residency and Brent had to go and play drums at the drummer from The Vines wedding, and he was like "you should take my spot that night!" so i did. Then they were like "you should play slide guitar with us!" so I did.
You have a really reserved style of singing that works incredibly effectively with your songs. Have you always sung like that, or have you had to work to find the right balance?
I feel like I've only JUST become comfortable with singing. I used to be so terrified of singing in front of anyone. Or even singing in my room and someone hearing me through the door. I worked pretty hard to try and become a good singer (I had a singing lesson once and I cried). Then i realised I was a shit singer and I should just sing however it comes out of my mouth. So yeah... I worked pretty hard to find the right balance.
Another stand out feature of your music is your lyricism, which is amazing - how much of your time do you spend crafting lyrics?
Thanks. It differs, but generally; a lot.
What is your song writing process like? Do you write the words first or the melodies etc?
Again it differs. If I'm writing in my journal I write words. If i'm playing guitar I write melodies. Then I spend a year trying to put them together.
The video for History Eraser is fucking ace. Who did you work on the video with and how long did it take to put together?
We filmed it in one long day. It was all the genius idea of my friend and director Bec Kingma and her awesome crew. I was a little worried when she told me the concept, it was dangerously close to a Melbourne hipster cliche, but that's what makes it so great! cos it's pretty much the opposite.
When can we expect a full length album and how many times can we hope to catch you in Sydney this year?
EP launch will be Saturday 23rd March and we're be playing with Something For Kate on Saturday 1st June at The Metro. Album will start being recorded later in the year sometime. I can't wait to make an album.