Courtney Barnett Talks Shadow Electric, Her Double EP, & Accidentally Making It Overseas
It’s Courtney Barnett’s voice, so laid back and so obviously Australian that first draws you in.
But it’s the way she weaves words together – combining jokes, puns and clever observations – in what seems like an effortless stream of consciousness, that will root you to the spot.
Take ‘Avant Gardener’ for example. It’s a lazy Sunday afternoon stroll of a song in which she recalls her own near-death experience with anaphylactic shock. Totally deadpan and a little bit dazed, she sings playfully about the time she felt like “Uma Thurman post-overdosing” in Pulp Fiction.
The situation arose while Barnett was doing a rare spot of gardening. And while she can joke (and write) about it now, it wasn’t so funny at the time. “It was just terrifying, I thought I was dying,” she remembers. “But I went to hospital and a few days later, when I was fine, we laughed about it.”
“I think you’ve gotta be able to laugh at things. We live in such a depressing world. I’ve never actually noticed, but maybe that’s where the kind of dry sarcasm in some of my songs comes from.”
‘Avant Gardener’ is one of six tracks that appears on the Melbourne singer-songwriter’s new EP, How To Carve A Carrot Into A Rose. The release will also be combined with her debut short-player I’ve Got A Friend Called Emily Ferris and packaged as the A Sea of Split Peas double EP.
As Barnett speaks she’s preparing to leave Australia for New York to play eight CMJ showcase shows. A little later she’ll head to London and Paris before she returns to Melbourne for the EP launch at Abbotsford Convent’s Shadow Electric.
“I get home on the 1st of November so it’s going to be a welcome home show for us as well,” Barnett beams. “Launching the EP, it’ll be great fun, I reckon. I went last year (to the venue) and they showed films there, they put a screen down and I saw short films. It was really nice for summer, instead of going to a dingy pub.”
The likeable Melburnian has been riding a wave of growing successes recently. And in her mind, the pre-release kudos for A Sea Full Of Split Peas from the likes of American tastemakers Pitchfork and Britain’s The Guardian is nothing short of incredible.
“Everyone talks about trying to make it overseas and I’ve always been like, ‘That’ll never gonna happen so I’m not even gonna try’. And then it happened. It’s something that I would have never expected. It’s really humbling.”
No doubt the recent accolades are even sweeter now, given the troubles she had making the record.
“It’s just been such a frustrating, drawn out process. It was basically just time and money and not being happy,” she explains. Though Barnett received a grant from Arts Victoria, the rest she paid for herself.
“You know, I was striving for perfection,” she continues. “So I just kept going at it. It ended up taking so long. We released ‘History Eraser’ ages ago, and the actual EP is coming out so much later than the first single.”
She adds: “But I’m so happy that I kept pushing to get it sounding how I wanted. As much as I appreciate people saying nice things about it, I just want to be really happy with it myself. You know, that’s more important to me than what anyone else says.”
But with the troubles of self-funding her music comes the creative freedom it has also afforded her. To fund her label Milk! Records, which has also put out material by Jen Cloher and Fraser A Gorman, Barnett moonlights as a bartender.
“I just don’t understand the commercial side of the music industry,” she sighs. “I don’t want someone telling me [what to do]. Music is music, it shouldn’t be such a product. I like that way that I’m doing it.”
Given there’s no PR team behind her, the 25-year-old also maintains an impressive presence on social media. She interacts with fans directly on Facebook and conscientiously responds to tweets on Twitter. But that’s not to say she’s completely sold on the online world.
“I have mixed opinions about Twitter. I only got it last year just to have a connection [with fans]. But part of me hates social media and the internet. There’s just so much nastiness. It makes me so sad seeing some of the nastiness.”
Part of the “nastiness” Barnett refers to is likely to include the online backlash to her cover of Kanye West’s ‘Black Skinhead’. Though she offered a response to the controversy, today this is a topic she doesn’t want to talk about.
Still, she’ll continue to use social media. “I feel like it’s important for me to talk to people and connect with people. Otherwise you see someone’s name and you think they’re like some big rock star because they’re in a magazine or something. And really they’re not. It helps you paint a more honest picture.”
Indeed, the appeal of Barnett’s is that she isn’t a glossy, rock star-type figure. She’s honest in her music and in the way she talks about it. Even to the point of self-deprecation.
“I was never a singer and I still don’t consider myself one. I was always terrified of singing when I was a teenager. I don’t think I sung in front of anyone until I was 18, 19. I always played guitar through school.”
“I think I went to two singing lessons when I was in high school. The second one I started crying in front of my teacher because I was so nervous. I never went back.”
Of course, to say Courtney Barnett has come along way would be a spectacular understatement. And as her star continues to rise, you can sense an infectious excitement for what the future holds.
“I just want to go and record an album now. It’s really long overdue,” she enthuses. “Now that all of this has finally fallen into place, hopefully we’ll be recording early next year. I can’t wait to make a full-length album.”
The Double EP: A Sea Of Split Pea is out now through Milk! Records
The Shadow Electric Band Room 2013 Program
1st November 2013
Opening night party with SCOTDRAKULA & CITIZEN SEX
2nd November 2013
THE BOMBAY ROYALE (presented by HopeStreet Recordings)
with San Lazaro, Karate Booogaloo, and DJ Chris Gill
Doors at 7pm.
3rd November 2013
With special guest I, A Man
Doors at 7pm.
4th November 2013
THE APE (Featuring Tex Perkins, Raul Sanchez, Gus Agars & Pat Bourke)
With Mesa Cosa
Doors open at 7pm.
7th November 2013
With special guest Tin Lion
Doors at 7pm.
8th November 2013
COURTNEY BARNETT AND THE COURTNEY BARNETTS (EP Launch)
With special guest Teeth And Tongue
Doors at 7pm.
9th November 2013 (Matinee Show)
THE HELLO MORNING
9th November 2013
PALMS & BORED NOTHING
Doors at 7pm.
10th November 2013
with The Spoils
Courtney Barnett is also performing at:
Meredith Music Festival 2013 Dates & Tickets
Meredith Supernatural Amphitheatre
December 13th-15th – SOLD OUT
head to http://2013.mmf.com.au for more info