Ahead of her appearance at SXSW and debut album release, we caught up with Aussie singer, Courtney Barnett.
Courtney Barnett is cooler than you. She’s cooler than everyone, actually, without even really trying. The singer and part-time illustrator has become flavour of the month (for about twelve of them) with her deadpan singing style, mess of brown curls and memorable lyrics. Her Melbourne twang is endearingly noticeable in every song and her voice is full of personality, half singing, half speaking, she throws away words with a discernible attitude, sometimes with a gravelly growl, others hollering out to whoever’s listening.
Her track “Pedestrian At Best” is all about a street performer and the video is just as enjoyable as the music. We see Barnett dressed as a miserable clown, wreaking havoc everywhere she goes in fairground, preaching, “put me on a pedestal, and I’ll only disappoint you, tell me I’m exceptional, I’ll promise to exploit you.” A comment on the short-lived nature of fame and fortune? Perhaps. A loose, punk-injected record with super-satisfying lyrics? Definitely. The fact she released it on her own label, Milk! Records just makes it even better.
What was your first encounter with music?
Hearing Billy Ray Cyrus’ “Achey Break Heart” on the radio.
What was playing in your house whilst you were growing up?
Dave Brubeck, Bozz Skaggs, Miles Davis, Louis Armstrong, Jimi Hendrix.
How old were you when you first picked up a guitar?
About 10. I’m sure I picked one up physically before then, but I started learning how to play guitar around 10.
Have you always wanted to be a musician?
Apart from when I wanted to be an Olympic swimmer, I’ve always wanted to be a musician.
Tell us about your record label, how did this come about?
I started Milk! Records to release my first EP. I didn’t want to just do the same old thing that everybody else was doing so I started a platform for me to release my own art on, and slowly built a community of like-minded people.
What’s the music scene in Melbourne like?
It’s rad! Some of the best bands in the world, inspiring each other to do awesome things.
What was the concept behind the “Pedestrian at Best” video?
It’s based on a street performer I saw once. He had a small crowd around him, and he looked at the guy on the next corner with a huge crowd and said really bitterly, “that was me last year”.
The lyrics are deep, can you tell us about the meaning behind them…
Not really. It’s a big jumble of what was circling around my head in the few hours that I wrote it. It kind of encompasses frustration, friendships, music, relationships, ability, perception. Ever since I was a kid I’ve had moments where a voice in my head screams at me, and this was kind of releasing that voice.
Are you a Scorpio, is it about personal experience?
Yeah I’m a Scorpio, why else would I say “I’m a Scorpio”? Haha! Me and my friends have jokes about the general moodiness and sexuality and “sting” of Scorpios.
Who are your biggest musical influences?
Loretta Lyn. Dolly Parton. The Divinyls. Hendrix. Nirvana. Talking Heads.
Which emerging artists are you currently backing?
Benjamin Booker, love him and his band. Pond, Big Scary, The Courtneys, King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard and Fraser A Gorman .
You’re also an illustrator right? Where do you look for inspiration for your art?
Same as my songwriting, I just kind of look around me. It’s all very basic line drawing so it’s more about idea than form. One of my all time favourite Australian artists is Brett Whiteley.
How do you balance both?
I don’t know how I balance anything. I have a one track mind, I can only focus on one thing at once but I always set myself 50 projects to work on!
What does the rest of 2015 hold in store for you?
Releasing an album, touring around the world, going to the desert, hanging out with my cat, reading a shit load of books.
Courtney Barnett’s debut album, “Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit”, is due for release on 23rd March.
Words: Lily Walker