MUSICIAN interviews are often challenging affairs, ranging from something like getting blood out of a stone to verbally wrestling a Herculean ego.
Chatting with Courtney Barnett, however, is a laid-back joy from start to finish, such is the singer-songwriter’s honest and down-to-earth nature. This is especially refreshing given the Melburnian has had two massive years since her debut EP was released in 2012, including a North American tour and an appearance on The Tonight Show.
“I have a little moment every now and then, and think how far from this time two years ago my life has changed,” she says. “I try to go away a lot as well, to be myself and collect my thoughts. Playing huge festivals like Glastonbury has been pretty surreal, as has doing TV shows and shit like that – it’s kind of weird and out of my normal world. Even travelling overseas is a big deal for me. I’d never travelled before, I could never afford it; not even for a holiday. But it’s fun; it doesn’t just feel like work. Obviously it is part work, part fun, but it’s pretty cool. We get to experience a bit of the local stuff – I try to go to galleries and go to parks and stuff like that.”
Being labelled a saviour of Australian indie music by certain sections of the music press isn’t something Barnett is keen to take seriously.
“I think there are plenty of great Australian musicians,” she says. “It’s nice when people say stuff like that about me, but there are so many other great bands and great songwriters. I don’t at any point think I’m some weird saviour for Australian music. I’ve got great friends and people who help me and don’t treat me any different and shit like that. I feel like that my feet are on the ground; I don’t feel like I’m some sort of amazing superhero or anything; that’s kind of ridiculous. Coming from here, where everything is smaller, I’ve realised how much I’ve loved being home since I’ve been here.”
An upcoming national tour starting at the tail end of September will mark the first headline shows for Barnett and her band in Australia, but don’t expect her to be getting complacent just because it’s home turf.
“We’ve always been supporting someone else or doing festivals or something, so it’s kind of exciting to finally be able to do that,” she says. “But I treat every show exactly the same – it’s about the music, not who you’re playing to. I feel lucky to go onto any stage and have people listen to my music. It’s actually kind of more nerve-wracking playing to a home crowd or playing to friends and people who know you – I find that way more nerve-wracking than playing to complete strangers. It’ll probably be a really stressful tour [laughs].”
A recent crowd-funding experiment in support of Barnett’s own Milk! Records label lead to the target being reached in double-quick time.
“I was so blown away by that,” she says. “I’ve never done one of those Pozible things, so wasn’t sure if it would work or what, but I was blown away by the support. I never thought that Milk! records would grow into this real community-driven project, and I’ve witnessed so many of the same people buying stuff when we release stuff and coming to the shows and supporting each band that we pick up along the way. It’s become this beautiful little community family thing, so I was pretty moved when it happened straight away, so it was very cool. We were in a position where we had already recorded our songs as we had money from a Christmas show we did last year, but then we needed the money to do the pressing. We had already created the actual thing, so there was less pressure with creation, and it was more like a pre-order – we just didn’t have enough money to print vinyl.”
A record company that existed for a long time only on paper, Milk! has become one of the hottest names in Australian indie music right now.
“I started it just for my own release,” Barnett says. “Just so my CD looked more professional, so more people would listen to it and more people would review it. Nobody took much notice at first and it took a while, then we started helping other musicians and friends and other people started joining in. When we had the Christmas party last year and sold out the Tote, I realised we’d opened up a little door for a community of people who liked the same bands – it was a very special moment.”
With two critically-acclaimed EPs under her belt, now is the time for the long-awaited debut album.
“It’s all recorded and pretty much finished,” she says. “We’re going to release it early next year. I’m just drawing a whole bunch of pictures for the artwork and stuff. I’m really proud of it; I really challenged myself, tried different things and pushed myself to step out of my comfort song-writing zone and lyric-wise. I’m really happy with it; I feel that it’s the next logical step from the last bunch of songs I wrote. We’ve been playing a bunch of the songs on tour, but we want to save a bunch for the actual release.”
COURTNEY BARNETT PLAYS THE CORNER OCT 2, 3 & 4.