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Since the release of Courtney Barnett's debut album last month her fan base has exploded, and Irish fans were left scouring the internet to find themselves a ticket for what could easily have been the greatest indie concert of the year. Eoghan Barry caught up with Barnett and her band ahead of the sold out gig
Courtney Barnett’s debut album – ‘Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit’ was released on the 23rd of March, and has just reached the deserved position of Number 1 on four Billboard categories; Alternative, Folk, Independent and Rock.
She was first picked up by Pitchfork in 2013 for ‘Avant Gardener’, the lead track on her second EP ‘How To Carve A Carrot Into A Rose’. “Raw carrots are my favorite, yeah”, Barnett tells me, as we pick away at a bowl of chips.
Her demeanor is as honest, funny, warm and as real and natural as her lyrics and music.
“My brother had a joke this morning,” she tells me. “‘I just started a band called 999 megabytes, we haven’t got a gig yet’. I thought it was good yeah, cos he’s in IT.”
It proves difficult to identify the ‘best tracks’ on her album – the selection of songs expresses a diverse array of emotions and styles, each one as strong as the next. Barnett’s favorite song changes all the time.
“At the moment it’s probably ‘Kim’s Caravan’ off the newest album. Live, it’s that one or ‘Small Poppies’”.
Barnett’s music is definitely born from a particular era. She perfectly captures the sentiment of a 90’s child’s CD collection, combining grunge and indie pop with a flow of clever lyrics and word play. But there’s something particularly unique about her style in how she vocalises her words in her natural tone – allowing for the Australian accent to transpire with both attitude and grace.
Who would she rather collaborate with – Kurt Cobain or Lou Reed? I wonder.
“Neither. They’re probably both wankers,” she laughs.
Rolling Stone Magazine made their own 90’s related analysis of her vibe – ‘sort of like a less cryptic Stephen Malkmus, or Jerry Seinfeld with a fuzz pedal.’
“They’re both obviously awesome,” Barnett says. “But I did see Steven Malkmus the other day. We played at a festival together, and he was fucking awesome. And I got to meet him and he was really nice.”
Barnett is signed to her own label, which she started in 2012. It’s called Milk! Records, and brings together a collective of really talented Melbournian musicians including The Finks, and her partner Jen Cloher.
“I think I had a joke saying record labels milk you for everything that you’re worth, and then there’s that Nirvana song ‘Milk it’ that I really like.”
As an independent musician and the owner of a record label, what are Barnett’s thoughts on Spotify?
“I’ve got a bit of a wussy stand point. I’m on the fence about it.” She says. “Heaps of people have come to my shows and been like ‘I’d never heard of you but then you popped up on Spotify so I bought a ticket to your show, I bought a t-shirt, I bought your album, nice to meet you’. So it’s kinda swings and roundabouts I think sometimes.”
Barnett is an artist through and through, with a very hands on approach to every aspect of her career as a musician. She designs her own album sleeves, and in line with the title of her debut album the cover features an illustration of a chair and a carpet on a blank background.
“The point is that it can be anywhere. It’s location non-specific. The chair that’s on the cover is one that was in my family house growing up. But I think that’s the point, you’re sitting there and there’s nothing around you. You’re blocking everything else out.”
Laia, who’s taking the photos for the interview, wants to know about the photographic aspect of Barnett’s artistry.
“At the moment I’ve got my old SLR that I got when I started art school. It’s like an old Canon. A family friend gave it to me so I like carrying that around and shooting film on that.
“Sometimes I set myself little projects. On the last tour I took a photo of every showerhead in every hotel room we stayed in, every house or Airbnb. I got them back and I mean, it was an interesting project because most of them are so fucking boring, and the actual thing itself is so boring but together they’re really beautiful.”
Barnett really seems to have enjoyed the current tour so far.
“Its been great having Fraser (A Gorman) with us who’s doing the opening spot. Brighton was pretty fun. Everywhere has its own charm and its own story, you know, whatever happens.”
The whole crew took the ferry over from England for her first ever concert here in Ireland. Before that, they were stateside for SXSW, where Barnett picked up the 2015 Grulke Prize winner for developing non-US act.
“We pretty much only got to watch who we were playing with,” she says of the festival. “But we had some sick line ups, so it was like Metz and this band called Viet Cong, they’re cool, and King Tuff too.”
There are a few places that the band still has to tick off their list.
“I really want to go to Japan and play there. That would be cool.”
Barnett doesn’t think she’ll ever move away from Australia though. “I think Australia is home”.
“That’s a good question!” Barnett points her finger to a messy scribble at the bottom of the page in my hand.
“Can you share with Dylan the last question, the pen one?” she says with a smirk.
I turn awkwardly towards her manager.
“Any chance we can get tickets for tonight?” The table breaks out in laughter.