An Interview with Courtney Barnett: Books, Tomatoes and Life On The Road

Courtney Barnett photos

Courtney Barnett has been on tour for the better part of the last two years. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that when I get in touch with her over Skype she sounds relieved to be back home in Australia. “It’s so good to be back and seeing everyone.” she tells me, “it’s been awhile.” Life on the road is a strange thing for anyone, but upon the release of her brilliant debut album A Sea of Split PeasBarnett found herself traveling all over the world, hitting up festivals as far reaching as Coachella and Spain’s Primevera Sound.

Despite the constant jet setting, Courtney Barnett isn’t in too much of a rush. Which is unexpected considering she started her own label from her bedroom and self-released most of her material. When I ask her about Milk! Record’s inception and function her response reads like a mission statement: “I didn’t really know how to release an album so I just did it myself. I started putting out my friends’ music and now it’s really grown into this great little art project.” She continues, “It was never my plan to add heaps of artists to the roster or whatever. I never really even thought about it in terms of a “roster.” It’s pretty small and we just kind of do what we want, what feels good.”

Photo by Tajette O’Halloran / Feature by Ziv Biton

GG: Many of your songs are stories. Have you ever attempted to write short stories or a novel, even?

CB:Yea, I’ve written quite a bit actually. But, I haven’t yet learned to harness the patience that entails [writing a book.] Like, I’ll start writing something and faffing around with an idea but then I lose concentration and move on to the next thing.

GG: Do you have any favorite Authors/Poets?

CB: Ah, I’m so bad at remembering names of authors. But I have been reading a whole lot more this year. Reading sort of dropped off my rader in the last couple years. You know, just not having enough time to read or making excuses, but I have stepped up again. Because I do get a lot of inspiration out of reading.

GG: What are you reading now?

CB: Right now I’m reading this book [Words Will Break Cement] by Masha Gessen. It’s all about the Pussy Riot trials and stuff. Really fascinating.

I read a lot of biographies, not that much fiction actually. Though, I did read A Confederacy of Dunces recently and I just loved that book.

GG: I’ve never heard of it… 

CB: It’s a great book. I can’t remember the authors name right now. But, it’s the only book he wrote. It’s kind of a sad story. He wrote it and tried to get it published for ages and was so depressed that he was having no luck, that he committed suicide, before it was published. And then his mum worked really hard to get it published for him. Then it went on to win all these like, awards and shit after he was dead.

GG: Damn…

CB: [Sighs] Yea, it’s pretty fucking intense. It’s a pretty brutal comment on the art industry and what goes on inside the artist’s heads.

GG: Did art school help you with creating music videos?

CB: I don’t know, but probably a little bit. I don’t really know what I learned in art school because I was just faffing around the whole time and playing guitar and like, drinking beer (laughs).

GG: And hanging with kids who made paint with lemonade…

CB: (laughs) yea yea. Exactly. But, I’m sure I picked up some important lessons there whether I noticed it at the time or not.

GG: Do you see yourself branching out into visual arts again?

CB: Hopefully! I really like it. I feel like I was never really that good at it so I feel like I kind of just moved on.

GG: You felt you were better at music?

CB: Well, yea. Maybe I just spent more time practicing my music art instead of visual art. I was a bit lazy visually.

GG: Are you into gardening or was that just for that song?

CB: No, yea I love gardening.

ZB: Did you ever plant those tomatoes on the front lawn?

CB: Yea, I did but they all got burnt last summer. They got singed so I had to pull ‘em out. Now I’m going to redo them in the garden.

GG: On “Anonymous Club” you plead, “Turn your phone off friend.” Are you of the NO-PHONES-AT-SHOWS School of thought?

CB: I’m pretty divided about it to be honest. I can easily see both sides of it. Like, as an artist, when you’re on stage and you see the glow from people’s faces or they’re just sticking their phones up at the stage to record.

But, I feel like everything in moderation, you know? Maybe take one photo and then put your phone away.

GG: How has touring been?

CB: It takes awhile to get used to. It is such a huge change, like it’s such a weird thing, touring. It’s a weird concept. It’s something you can’t really prepare yourself for at all. It is constant and fast paced and it’s just weird. But, I have gotten used to it after doing it a lot.

GG: When you say ‘it’s weird,’ you know, I have been thinking about it more and more myself, like why do we even go to shows?

CB: Oh man, don’t even get me started!

GG: Yea, I don’t know.

CB: But, then it’s like, why are we even alive?

GG: It must be even weirder from inside the tour van. Does it ever get jading?

CB: Yea, it’s a bit of a crazy concept.

GG: I mean, sometimes it feels more and more like people are just there for the Facebook status or whatever.

CB: Yea, I mean it is easy to have that pessimistic view. I have it a lot of the time. But, it’s important to remember that we go to shows to experience that sort of closeness of live music. There’s nothing else like live music. You don’t get the same emotion from recorded music. Not that it’s better or worse; it’s just different.

But, with everything, you lose the meaning after a while. Like, after you go to a million shows. And when shows become something else, you know? They become ‘the cool thing to do’ or the ‘gig of the month’ to go to. Or more of a kind of commercial aspect, you start to lose sight of why you want to go in the first place.

But, I do think the fundamental thing is that closeness and that energy that you get from seeing live music right in front of you. It’s easy to forget but it’s important to remember.

GG: It easy to forget with all the Coachella’s of the world.

 CB: Yea, especially at those places.

GG: How was Coachella by the way? I saw your set there you did great.

CB: Oh, did you really? Yea, it was fun! I mean it is crazy playing those big festivals. Because, I guess I don’t really go to festivals – I did when I was younger…

GG: But, now you are going to them all the time…

CB: (laughs) yea, but it’s in a different capacity. And that closeness that you would get in a club isn’t quite there. Like, everyone is kind of; you know standing around doing their own thing. Or, like, off in their own drug world or whatever. But, I think it is still good. There is still a special, slightly magical, experience about festivals. But you do feel like it is questionable that anyone is even watching you when you are up on those stages.

GG: As far as being in the studio, do you spend a lot of time fiddling with gear trying to find THAT SOUND?

CB: I’m more interested in the songs. I get a sound I like and then I just stick with it. Now, I just plug in and play. I hate fucking around with that sort of stuff.

GG: So not like fellow Aussie rockers Tame Impala who seem to fuck around with gear constantly.

CB: Yea, but that’s the beauty of someone like Tame Impala. Maybe I just don’t have the patience. But, like thank god they do that! Because they sound fucking rad.

GG: For fucking real. Are you into POND too?

CB: Yea, they are awesome. So great. I saw them live a couple of years ago.

ZB: I feel like if there was a bill with Courtney Barnett, POND and Tame Impala that would be an Aussie invasion of epic proportions.

GG: (Laughs) yea, that would be sick.

Courtney Barnett will be in Los Angeles on November 4 with a performance at the El Rey Theatre with San Fermin! Get your tickets before they sell out!


Courtney Barnett North American Tour Dates
16 Oct The Loft – Atlanta, GA
17 Oct The Visulite Theatre – Charlotte, NC
18 Oct Black Cat – Washington, DC
19 Oct Black Cat – Washington, DC
20 Oct Union Transfer – Philadelphia, PA
22 Oct Webster Hall – New York, NY
23 Oct Upstate Concert Hall – Clifton Park, NY
24 Oct Cabaret Mile End – Montreal, Canada
25 Oct Lee’s Palace – Toronto, Canada
27 Oct Metro – Chicago, IL
28 Oct The Riot Room – Kansas City, MO
31 Oct Neptune Theatre – Seattle, WA
1 Nov Wonder Ballroom – Portland, OR
3 Nov The Fillmore – San Francisco, CA
4 Nov El Rey Theatre – Los Angeles, CA
5 Nov The Crescent Ballroom – Phoenix, AZ

2 thoughts on “An Interview with Courtney Barnett: Books, Tomatoes and Life On The Road

  1. Pingback: Between two show reviewers: Courtney Barnett at Red Bull Sound Select #30DaysinLA - Grimy Goods

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