Posted on July 18, 2019

Interview


© Pooneh Ghana


We talked with Courtney Barnett, an Australian rock musician known for her expressive songwriting style and mastery of rugged guitar riffs. Whether it’s playing guitar for other stars, collaborating on an album with Kurt Vile or her numerous solo projects, her output is always absolutely impressive. She is performing in Korea at this year’s Busan International Rock Festival, July 27/28.


# Hi Courtney, how are you doing?

Courtney: I am doing really good, thanks.

# The song that put you on my radar was “Avant Gardener”. The title is a clever play on words, but it also applies to the story the song tells as well. How did you come up with that song in the first place?

Courtney: That song is a true story. I just started with the idea of following in the footsteps of that day. Actually, I already had the music recorded, but I hadn’t thought of lyrics for it yet. So it was a slightly backwards process compared to what I normally do. It took a while, but it all came together. It is so linear; it follows the footsteps of that day. 

# Do you often write songs that way? 

Courtney: Sometimes, but I think it is more that my mind jumps all over the place. It starts somewhere, and then the situation moves on, but the feeling stays the same. I feel like most of my songs have about ten different stories in them compared to “Avant Gardener”, which is quite straight down the line.

# Do you have a favorite location for the setting of your songs? “Avant Gardener” is set in a residential neighbourhood, in a garden. Do you have other songs that are set in a particular location?

Courtney: “Kim’s Caravan” is set down the cost of Melbourne. I vividly remember writing that song. “Small Talk”, which is a new song. I remember writing that in New York. That is a very New York-based song. To me, I have the image of where I am writing, but sometimes it takes me years to write songs, so I end up working on them in many different places.

# Going back to “Avant Gardener”, that song was also used in an episode of BoJack Horseman. Have you watched that show? 

Courtney: Oh, yeah. I watched a tiny bit of it.

# Do you watch a lot of TV?

Courtney: I watch a lot of stuff on my computer. Netflix-type stuff. I saw that TV show called ‘Dark’. It’s great, really good.

# It’s no secret that Australia has been a major location for popular music. Kevin Parker’s work with Tame Impala put psych-rock on top, The Chats have this minimal punk corner, and Future Classic has had this lock on electronic music. Do you feel this is an Australian Renaissance, or is this just the nature of the internet informing the rest of the world what’s been going on in Australia?

Courtney: I think there has always been great music here. The people who have paved the way before us by making the big journeys overseas and informing people. The internet for sure has something to do with it. Also, over time it has become easier and cheaper to travel than it used to be. There are great grants that help bands pay for flights and stuff too. That is the hardest part. Through that, people just start to pay attention as they discover more and get recommendations. It is like a snowball effect. 

# Have you had a favorite interaction with someone who has been introduced to your music, or someone who has come to your music in a roundabout kind of way?

Courtney: I don’t know. A few times recently I got a song on a FIFA soccer computer game. I have had a few funny moments with that. People who had no idea who I was heard me there and then became fans. 

It’s funny you bring that up, as I have completely separate question for that song that I was going to come to later. It’s my favorite song. One of the most notable things about your music is your voice. There is this casual spoken quality that can feel light and funny, and can also feel therapeutic and conversational. What made you approach performing in this way?  

Courtney: I think it is just a natural thing. It feels best and is just what comes out. The more natural you are, the better things sound. It sounds more real and people can relate to it more. 

# Have you attempted to sing in different ways? Have you tried to sing in a certain style, that just felt way too ‘off’ for you?

Courtney: When I was a bit younger, I tried to sing more like a ‘singer’ would sing. It never felt right to me, so I just kind of fell into my thing. Even now, I sing harmonies every now and then with other people, and that probably sounds like a whole other sound. 

# I mentioned “City Looks Pretty” before because it is a song that feels upbeat, yet displays all this social dysfunction. You go somewhere else on the album with the song “Need A Little Time”; that song is moody but openly reflective on relationships. Are these songs drawing on personal experience? 

Courtney: I guess everything is some sort of reflection of personal experience. Whether it is my own, or things I have observed in the world. Mostly it is my relationships with people, my connections with people. My relationship with the world, how it works, when things are good, when they are bad. It is all pretty personal I guess.

# Has music always been a refuge for your feelings? 

Courtney: I think it just makes sense. I always wrote a lot, I don’t know what else I would write about. 

# If you had decided to be a different kind of artist, what kind of artist you would be? Would you go down the hair metal route, or a super pop bubblegum route? 

Courtney: I don’t think it would interest me. I am a really keen learner and I always want to learn more. A lot of my songs are about learning about the world around me and how we work as people. Trying to understand that psychological element of how great we all are and how fucked up we all are. Musically, trying different things and becoming a better musician. Learning different instruments. I don’t really see what I do as any certain genre. I am happy to learn and experiment more. I think that is the point behind what I do. To grow. 

# One element of growing is growing with other people. Collaborations have definitely become more common among current rock stars. You teamed up with Kurt Vile for a tour and an album. What got you two together?  

Courtney: We just became friends. Through mutual friends and playing at the same festivals. One day he was in Melbourne and we organised to go to the studio. The plan was to make one song, but we just kind of kept on going. It was a perfect match, we just got on really well.

# Do you naturally gravitate to other musicians? Are you a social butterfly on tour? Or are you more of a ‘I’m gonna hang out over there, see you guys later’ type?  

Courtney: I am in between, I think. I can feel the people who are on my wavelength. I am not going to try to impress anybody so they like me. That is not worth anyone's energy. I think that like-minded people attract each other, they are drawn to each other. I try to let things happen naturally.

# Did you also find it kind of crazy that Kurt Vile is Kurt Vile’s real name?

Courtney: I never thought about it. I just assumed it was. 

# It seems like a good pseudonym to me; it sounds like he should be playing guitar in a band like The War On Drugs. 

Courtney: Yeah. It is a great name. 

# You also had Stella from WarPaint play with you in the past. As a fellow Australian woman in rock ‘n’ roll, what does it mean to have someone like Stella involved in your projects? 

Courtney: Stella is the coolest person. I have so much love for her. She is so talented but also really positive, energetic and open to trying anything. It was really fun having her in the studio and on the tour. Sometimes you just meet people in life and you realise you are meant to be friends. It is a nice feeling. 

# You have worked with a lot of other musicians, but is there a dream collaborator? 

Courtney: There are heaps of people I love and respect, who I would love to do something with. I don’t know, the list is so long. You never know with these things how it would turn out. People like Dev Hynes (Blood Orange), who I think is incredible. It is quite different musically, so it would be an interesting collaboration. I just love what he does. There are heaps of people! St Vincent, Stephen Malkmus. Someone like Gillian Welch who I am friends with, I would love to do something with her one day, something slightly more folk. Brandi Carlile as well. I love artists like Solange and Janelle Monáe. That would be an amazing collaboration.

# Have you listened to Solange’s new album?

Courtney: Yeah, only a couple of times though. I like it. I just saw her play live the other day at Bonnaroo. It was incredible, one of the best shows I have ever seen.  

# I saw you recently having a pretty good time watching TLC at the Firefly music festival recently? 

Courtney: Yeah. That’s right. It was a really good show. Fun to see that.

# Have you always been a TLC fan?

Courtney: Yeah, that album came out when I was a kid. It was some of the first music I heard, I guess. 

# Do you have a favourite song from the Crazy Sexy Cool album? When I saw you there, you were listening to “Waterfalls”. Is that the song for you? 

Courtney: Yeah, “Waterfalls” is the hit. They did “Scrubs” and that Prince cover “Girlfriend” too. That is probably the album I know the most. It is such a good album.

# Coming back to your own music, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit is a tremendous album title. What is the biggest change that came with the release of that, your first solo album?

Courtney: Everything. Life always changes. Lots of stuff. It was a couple of years ago now, so I feel older now. Not in a bad way. I am so proud of that album, I love playing those songs still. I don’t really have any grand revelations about it, it is just a part of me, a part of my stepping stones. 

# One thing I read about your sophomore album Tell Me How You Really Feel is that someone gave you a typewriter, and you used that to write the lyrics to the songs.

Courtney: Yeah, sort of. I mentioned that once, and since then everyone has kept talking about it. But, yeah, I do write on a typewriter when I am at home. I love it. It helps me think straighter and slower. Something about the rhythm of it is a bit slower than writing on a computer, I find it useful.

# Are you sick of the typewriter question? If you are, you can tell me. I won’t take it personally. 

Courtney: No. I just find it funny. In the music world you say something once, then everyone talks about it. It’s true. I do write on it a lot. I love it.

# You were the musical guest on SNL (Saturday Night Live) when Fred Armisen hosted it back in 2016. What was that like?

Courtney: It was amazing. It was one of the greatest days of my life. It was so much fun. We saw all the rehearsals, my face was sore from laughing so much. Doing the after party was cool too. It was a really good vibe. I really love Fred. He is a really great person, really supportive. It was a good night. 

# So, you will soon be performing at the Busan International Rock Festival. Is this your first time coming to Korea?

Courtney: It is, yeah. 

# Is there anything in particular you are looking forward to? Are you a K-pop fan? Have you tried any of the cuisine? 

Courtney: I’m looking forward to the whole thing. I am excited to be somewhere new, meet new people and eat a lot of local food. I love doing that. I am excited to see the crowd and have a fun show.

# I saw when you performed the other night that you had a red coffee mug...what were you drinking?

Courtney: Ah, the mug probably had a little tequila in it. 

# That surprised me. I actually thought it would be coffee.

Courtney: Not on stage.

# Do you drink the same thing on stage, or is it a different thing in that mug each time? 

Courtney: It depends on the day. Right, I am afraid I have to get going. It was nice to talk with you though.

# Thanks for making the time for me. Safe travels. Thank you again.

You can listen to the whole interview here:


Interview: Anthony Baber
Korean Translation: Doyeon Lim 
Edited: Rock N Rose



For more information on Courtney Barnett, check her out at the following sites :

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/courtneybarnettmusic/
Official Site: https://courtneybarnett.com.au
Twitter: https://twitter.com/courtneymelba
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/courtneymelba

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