courtney barnettIt’s been a steadily cloud-bound trajectory for beloved Australian songstress and guitar child COURTNEY BARNETT. From Melbourne to Europe, the US and back again, the twenty-six year old has been whisked from her backyard nook to stages in all corners of the world this year, garnering enthusiastic support everywhere from the fields of Glastonbury to the bright lights of the Jimmy Fallon show. BARNETT‘s music is direct and intelligent; it’s the gentle lines of the suburbs rounded out by saltwater, the rumble of street trams from behind the backyard fence. Brazen lyrics are riddled with turns of dryly delivered humour, but there’s a sweetness and simplicity to it all that leaves a definite sugary taste inside the cheeks.

With another record and tour in the pipeline, 2015 looks to continue the rapid unfurling of the BARNETT blossom. I had the pleasure of sitting down with her before her recent sold-out show in Berlin and, with our roots digging into the same hometown, our conversation merrily traversed the halls of adolescence, notebook-keeping and the proliferation of daydreams in the face of bright-eyed procrastination.

To what extent would you say that your music is tied to place? To me, it has this great suburban tinge…
I guess it automatically is, by default – but I’d never even left Australia until last year. You just kinda write about the places that you see all the time and go to and visit or whatever. But I don’t know! I grew up with lots of stuff that wasn’t like that – American rock and roll, for example.

I read in an interview that you really liked American music growing up and that it wasn’t until you were about twenty that you found all of the great Australian bands like THE GO-BETWEENS and THE TRIFFIDS, which was the same experience for me – I felt like I’d cheated myself a bit.
Yeah, you feel like you’ve wasted all this time… My parents listened to jazz and classical, and that’s kinda it. Not even THE BEATLES or anything. I had to find that stuff elsewhere.

Was there anything in particular that you remember them passing on to you?
Well, I mean – I love jazz and classical now. [laughs] But yeah. Lots of people say they discovered LED ZEPPELIN in their parent’s vinyl collection or whatever… I didn’t really have that.

How are you finding it, then – from not having left the country to suddenly whirling around on a world tour? Do you enjoy it?
Yeah! It’s kind of everything. It’s overwhelming and it’s exciting and it’s tiring. Some days you want to be at home, and some days you’re like wow, I just got to Berlin – then it’s exciting. Every day has ups and downs, more extreme ups and downs, because you’re with the same people and you’re doing the same thing every day.

Do you keep a lot of notebooks?
Mm, yeah. Heaps. I reckon I started writing them when I was a teenager. I’ve still got heaps of them at my parents’ house. I always flick through them when I go down and it’s embarrassing [laughs].

It’s kind of endearing as well, I think.
Yeah. Emo fourteen year old COURTNEY BARNETT… I have a lot, and I hate it, because I never finish them. When they start getting a bit tattered I have some weird ‘oh, it’s running out soon, I’d better get a new one’ thing. Then the old one’s got like twenty pages left, it’s such a waste [laughs].

I finished a notebook once and it was such a great feeling, like ‘Yeah! I’ve got to do this from now on’.
Yeah. And then also I’m bad at just finishing… things. I’ll start an idea, start writing stuff and then be like ‘I’ll come back to that’. So it’s all on the one page, I’ll leave a space, and then just move on. Then never go back.

Do you have a lot of unfinished songs?
Yep. So many.

Can you imagine going back to them, or is it like going back to your old notebooks?
There’s a lot of songs I started which are probably not good so I just move on, but then there are lots that I quite like, but I don’t know how to complete them. I always forget about them anyway, but try to remember them and come back to them.

I read that ‘Avant Gardener’ took three months.
Yeah, it’s weird. The process is just… I don’t understand what the process is.

How would you describe it if you had to?
Unstructured. Flukey. That’s what it feels like. Sometimes it just happens in a couple of hours, sometimes it takes months.

How do you find the music scene in Melbourne, where you’re currently living?
It’s quite open and welcoming, I reckon. Lots of people play in different bands. It’s inviting. I was quite scared when I moved there, because music scenes can seem so cliquey. To be in the cool club, you’ve got to know so-and-so. I guess it’s kind of everywhere. But it’s not like that, really. I think I had a realisation that that was just my own confidence and insecurities. Like ‘oh, nobody likes me’… Then I slowly met people and realised that everyone’s like that, that no one is actually hating on you as much as you think.

Courtney Barnett

Where do you think you find a lot of inspiration outside of music? I’m particularly interested in whether you read, because your lyrics seem to be such a central component of your music.
Yeah, I read a lot. I used to watch a lot of movies but I don’t watch anything anymore. I read a lot because it’s so good for travel – I just read the PUSSY RIOT book, and I read A Confederacy of Dunces.

That’s such a great book! It’s so dry, this real twisted humour…
Oh, it’s fucked up. I always find myself reading a lot of music stuff, like biographies. So Dan, our guitarist, gave me that for my birthday and I loved it. I just got this PATTI SMITH book of poetry. I’ve been reading that. It’s good to just put up and put down. And I got this biography of a punk band called THE SLITS the other day. I kind of have all these books with me, with the intention of reading them, but I never find time. So, I guess reading and just… I like a lot of art. I try to immerse myself in visual art.

What were you doing at art school [in Tasmania]?
Photography was my major. I wasn’t very good at it. [laughs] I didn’t really apply myself. But I was doing drawing as well, which I really loved. Mostly life drawing.

Do you still engage with that stuff?
Yeah, I draw quite a lot. The artwork for the albums and stuff like that. It’s fun to be able to do that as well as music.

It’s great to have that tie to the visual element of your music. What other projects are you working on at the moment? I read that you recorded a full-length album with Burke Reid that hasn’t been released yet.
Yeah. That’s going to be released next year.

How did it come about?
I just asked him [laughs]. He’s done a bunch of THE DRONES’ stuff and Dan plays in THE DRONES, so he said ‘why don’t we get my friend Burke to make the record?’. It was recorded in April but we’ve been touring all year so it’s taken awhile to get it mastered and so on. I’m looking forward to it being released.

How far ahead do you like to daydream with your projects?
Daydream, or realistically plan?

Well, the album – that’s kind of already done and locked in, then we’ll tour that for a year or something. I’ve already started writing the next album. I daydream a lot about stuff but I’m not good at getting it done, which is why I asked. I have a million little projects that I think are great, and I’ll tell somebody and they’ll be like, ‘you know that’ll cost this much, it’ll take this long and…’. Collaborations, art-related stuff, different musical projects with different people. Teaming up and picking a topic and seeing what happens. Really setting yourself a project, not just being in a band and saying ‘let’s write some songs and tour’. That’s what I feel like I’m doing now. But just for fun you know, to do something really specific and see what happens.

What are three things that you hope to still do before the year is over?
Hope to still do? Hmm… Well, I set myself the goal to learn how to play Little Wing on guitar. I would hope that by the end of the year – that’s still achievable, if I really apply myself. Umm… I just started thinking about how I’ll be seeing all of my family at Christmas time and that that’s really nice. [laughs] So yeah, I hope to make it home. Every time I get on a plane I hope that it gets me to where I’m going. I hope by the end of the year I’ve learnt a productive lesson from something, like something to help me through next year.