Posted on July 18, 2019
© 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.
Courtney: I am doing really good, thanks.
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.
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.
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.
Courtney: Oh, yeah. I watched a tiny bit of it.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Courtney: I think it just makes sense. I always wrote a lot, I don’t know what else I would write about.
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.
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.
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.
Courtney: I never thought about it. I just assumed it was.
Courtney: Yeah. It is a great name.
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.
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.
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.
Courtney: Yeah. That’s right. It was a really good show. Fun to see that.
Courtney: Yeah, that album came out when I was a kid. It was some of the first music I heard, I guess.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Courtney: It is, yeah.
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.
Courtney: Ah, the mug probably had a little tequila in it.
Courtney: Not on stage.
Courtney: It depends on the day. Right, I am afraid I have to get going. It was nice to talk with you though.
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 :