Interview: Courtney Barnett does it her way

Courtney.png’s Jack Colwell has a conversation with the delightful Melbourne-based musician:

Courtney Barnett’s dulcet tones hang across the wire from a cozy nook in Melbourne; where today, she isn’t preparing to play a show, but to personally mail out any preorders for her new Double EP, A Sea of Split Peas.

It’s this same hands-on approach that sees Barnett creating a legacy, influencing the industry rather than getting swallowed up by the corporate hype of music. Unlike most musicians who seem to wait for fame or fortune to find them, Barnett has created her own label, ‘Milk! Records’, not as a tool for her own celebrity, but as a way to promote her music within her comfort and creative control.

“I pretty much did it because I didn’t really know what else to do, just begin to start to create something and do it my own way. I guess the good thing about it is, I don’t really know what I’m doing and I can go about it in my own way.”

The success of Barnett’s music, and the help of some high-profile award nominations (AIR, APRA) against other artists such as Flume, Big Scary and The Preatures, means audiences not just in Australia, but worldwide, are flocking to listen and watch Barnett perform. “It kinda blows my mind, I would never put myself up in that category. I just did a tour with Big Scary and it was just great fun, they’re just such awesome people”.

courtneyIt is her dry honesty in her songwriting that comes from the likes of artists such as Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell and Paul Kelly that sets her apart from the pack as a storyteller, not just a songwriter. Barnett uses her sharp lyrical wit as a weapon to craft succulent images of everyday life, almost in a hyper-banal narrative, sourcing everything from masturbation to gardening. “I think the lyrics come naturally, and that’s naturally what I’ll keep on doing unless I try really hard to go in a new direction. A few of the new songs are in the same general vibe of the other 12 songs, just life and suburbia. People often ask me what music I play and I just say ‘I don’t know’. It is what it is.”

Currently on an international tour abroad at CMJ in New York and then in London, Barnett is quickly finding her voice within an overcrowded, and often under appreciated, industry. With a lucky spot in the Triple J Song Summit competition with Adalita and Gotye (Wally), Barnett has earned the respect not just of the public, but also of her musical peers. “Talking to Adalita and Wally, it’s a little intimidating, but they’re great people and great songwriters. Seeing how they cope with juggling writer’s block or juggling work and boyfriend/girlfriend issues. You can learn anything from those things, not just problems with your music.”

With plans to “knuckle down, write and record early next year” Barnett will be finishing a small string of shows promoting her latest double EP release, A Sea of Split Peas, including a performance at the Brisbane art gallery and sooner at ‘The Shadow Electric’ on November 8 in Melbourne, supported by Teeth and Tongue. “As far as I know it’s only been running maybe a year or longer at the Abbotsford convent, which is really beautiful. I went last year as a spectator, some of my friends’ bands were playing, they put up a screen and they play films and it’s just for a couple of months. It’s got a really nice vibe, outside.”

A Sea of Split Peas is out now. A must listen for anyone who enjoys a slick song with a good narrative. High rotation.

When Courtney Barnett isn’t writing amazing songs she’s enjoying strawberry soy milkshakes and currently:
Listening to: Keith Jarrett
Reading: Day of the Triffids
Local Act: Blue Bottles – “Instrumental spaghetti surf rock”
Dream Collaboration: David Bowie

Courtney plays a sold-out show at The Shadow Electric in Melbourne on Friday 8th November with guests Teeth and Tongue. Have a listen to her sweet sounds here.



Interview by Jack Colwell