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COURTNEY BARNETT The X-Press Interview


With her debut album snaring four ARIA Awards, a Grammy nomination and widespread international acclaim, Courtney Barnett had lot to live up to with her second full-length album Tell Me How You Really Feel when it came out this year. But beneath all the fanfare and her distinctively deadpan wit, the Melbourne songwriter was facing nothing new in the challenge to turn her stories and feelings into a finished musical product that, most importantly, she was happy with. Ahead of an imminent show at Metropolis Fremantle on Saturday, August 18 she is circumspect, satisfied and proud in recreating her music in a way that felt right for her. BRAYDEN EDWARDS talked to Barnett about how she triumphed over the second album blues and how she is bringing it to life onstage.

You’ve been doing a lot of touring for this album and a lot of amazing festival shows too. How has it been playing the new songs as opposed to your earlier work?

It’s been amazing and especially with the new songs because there’s a different kind of emotions going into them. It’s always really amazing seeing people connect with the stories in the songs.

They say you’ve got your whole life to write your first album and then are expected to live it up to it just a few years later. Did you feel like there was any added pressure and was that maybe a good motivating factor as well?

It’s hard to say, I just find songwriting hard you know? But then that’s why it’s good in the same way and it’s interesting that it’s such a pay off. Some of the songs on this album stretch back to before I wrote the last album so you never feel like you’re quite there yet.

Do you think the collaboration you did with Kurt Vile last year was a good way to get the creativity flowing again, and given it was something no one was expecting, did you felt pretty free to just do what you wanted with it?

Yeah it was really good to just think outside the box a little bit. I don’t think there really needs to be any rules on how you create and release music or art or anything. It’s nice when it comes about, almost accidentally and takes on a life its own.

Even if you didn’t have a particular objective in mind with the new album, can you look back at it now retrospectively and recognise that there was something that you did either creatively or as a writer that maybe you weren’t aware of at the time?

Yeah I think I realise that it was a bit deeper, more vulnerable and more honest in a way too.

Your song Nameless, Faceless was certainly been picked up and placed in the context and discussion of the #MeToo movement. Were you deliberately wanting to share your own experience in matters like that or was it a song maybe you wrote very much for yourself and was picked up and associated with those things after the fact?

Well actually, I wrote it two years ago and recorded it a year ago but it’s still important and it’s still been an important topic so I’m glad that if in any way it’s sparking conversation. I never really wrote it with that intention though, it was more just about getting that frustration off my chest I guess.

I also noticed you quoting Margaret Atwood in the song, with the lyric “Men are scared that women will laugh at them… Women are scared that men will kill them.” is that reflective of more of a literary influence in your writing that maybe contributes to your storytelling style?

I actually didn’t know that it was her when I picked it up I just read it in a newspaper article. Later on after I had the song I watched The Handmaid’s Tale, the TV show and it was then that I realised it was from her. I’m certain I draw inspiration from parts of what I read but I couldn’t really name you a book or a person that specifically influenced me.

We’re looking forward to having you over here in Perth soon as you tour this album. How different is your live set now that you have a new batch of material to draw from? 

We started playing these songs and touring before the album came out and we were doing were kind of like preview shows, playing the album in full and then a bunch of older songs and it was really fun with a real difference between the two and we’ve just been mixing it up since then I guess. On this current tour I’ve added an extra member to the band. I’ve toured on and off as a three piece or a four piece. My friend Dan Luscombe (The Drones) has toured on and off with us in the past but they released a new album so he was off touring doing the Drones thing again for a bit. So I’ve got my friend Katie Harkin (Sleater-Kinney) and she’s playing keys and guitar so that’s been really fun. She brings this new dynamic to the band (and the extra member) means we can play a couple of older songs as well.

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