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Courtney Barnett on love, lyrics & tough times

Posted in: Music
By - 20th October 2015

Courtney Barnett is making her way to our shores for three shows this November, her third trip here in less than 12 months -  perhaps we aren’t the only ones with a bit of a crush.


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She’s been called this generation's Bob Dylan, Pitchfork nailing her sound as building “on the wordy irreverence of mid-’60s Bob Dylan and a Byrds-ian blend of psychedelia, folk and country”, according to Rolling Stone her track Pedestrian At Best is the ‘Best Song of the Year So Far.’


Only days before she heads to the States to open for Blur at the Hollywood Bowl, we chat to her about love, lyrics and writing to work through the hard times in life.


Earlier this year, the queer Aussie songstress released her highly acclaimed debut album Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit, a polished selection of quirky tracks and ponderings on life, we’re told the final track Boxing Day Blues was written here in New Zealand.


You’d be forgiven for thinking you were listening to lyrics ripped straight from the pages of of a not-so-secret diary, lost and found notes scribbled on the back of throwaway receipts or late night bedside thoughts. Courtney somehow flirts with humour while stripping bare the monotony of everyday life. “I write mostly for myself, getting stuff that I’m thinking about or that’s just in my head kind of out, it helps me figure stuff out,” she tells us.


While poetry and stories were her first love, nowadays she pens lyrics that are a nod to the good times and the bad, writing to work through a lingering depression, her words drip with honesty. “Sometimes I only figure out what I was working out or saying like two years later when I look back at what I wrote,” she explains.


Take a listen to Small Poppies and you’ll get a taste of her straight up style and a hint at when times were tough, 'I used to hate myself but now I think I'm alright’ she sings, lulling us into a false sense of comfort.

Mention her name in a crowded room and it won’t take you long to stumble across her humble fans, everyone trying to decipher just who she's writing about and what she really means when she says ‘There’ll be no salad sandwiches’.


You won’t get much out of Courtney if you’re looking to her for answers, “I would say there is meaning to interpret but also I like the idea of people kind of finding their own meanings, that’s the beauty of putting it out there into the world,” she says. “I really like the idea of people thinking I am being tricky and putting special meanings into things. I also enjoy putting little jokes or funny stuff in there.”


Her favourite line she’s ever written? “That’s a hard question it’s like asking to pick a favourite child. But probably from the end of Kims Caravan there is this line ‘We all think that we're nobody but everybody is somebody else's somebody.’” I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions from that one.


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Photo: Dan Briggs

Poet and songwriter, storyteller of the modern age, not unlike many legendary songwriters, her dreams are a goldmine when it comes to song inspiration. Whether or not it’s important to remember exactly what they were about is debatable. “In my dreams I wrote the best song that I’ve ever written… I can’t remember how it goes.”


We asked her to tell us about her most vivid dream, Courtney says she tries to write them all down but there’s a lot of dreams to try and remember. “Actually the song History Eraser was written from a dream I had”, she says, “but the most recent vivid dream I had I would say was one I had last week. I can’t remember much from it except that there were heaps of cats in it.”


Courtney grew up in Sydney, moved to Hobart and now lives in Melbourne with her partner, singer songwriter Jen Cloher. The couple run a small record label called Milk! and have worked together on a number of projects.


Their relationship immortalised in Dead Fox, Cloher is credited with convincing Courtney to start eating organic vegetables and it seems she’s a good influence; “She makes me eat healthy, dress better, cut my hair in a nice way, do exercise. Yeah making be do exercise is probably the best thing she’s made me do.”


True to form, Courtney doesn’t really make a big deal out the fact she’s queer, but take a listen to her album and it wouldn’t take you long to put two and two together. It’s her straight up, honest nature that is possibly what makes her one of the most talked about artists of the moment. She doesn’t often edit herself, let alone her songs. “I have edited syllables and words but never history or feelings. I think it’s important to keep that stuff in there [the songs] to keep it honest,” she says.


She says that having a queer voice present in the music industry is important to her, coming out at school was a difficult time in her life and was met with a lot of confusion and crying. Luckily enough to have a supportive family she says everyone pretty quickly got used to it and got over themselves eventually.


With two of her shows already sold out you’ll be out of luck if you want to catch her in Auckland or Wellington this time around. You can still get your hands on tickets for the Christchurch gig but trust me, you better get in quick. Playing here only a few days after her 28th birthday, no doubt you’ll get bonus points for handmade cards thrown on stage - no promises though.



Courtney Barnett
Thursday November 5 | Bodega, Wellington |
Friday November 6 | St James Theatre, Auckland |
Saturday November 7 | Foundry, Christchurch | Dash Tickets



- 20th October 2015

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