Touring in support of her debut album, Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit, Courtney Barnett plays two sold-out shows at The Bakery on Saturday-Sunday, May 2-3, supported by Teeth & Tongue. BOB GORDON has a chat.
When we last spoke you standing in a field the day after the Nannup Festival having a quite moment. Given the last 12 months and how much has happened, what would you tell yourself about what lay ahead?
I probably wouldn’t want to say anything because, you know, to kind of have that expectation of what’s going to happen during the year would probably just stress me out or overwhelm me. It’s kind of nice just letting things happen and discovering stuff along the way, but yeah it’s definitely been a huge year. I kind of feel really lucky
Sometimes it’s best not to know what the journey is…
Yeah, and I think, you know, when you have those high expectations, like when you go to a party that you think’s going to be really great and everyone talks it up for months and then it finally happens and it’s kind of average.
Like New Years Eve?
Yeah like New Year’s Eve. So I just try to take it as it comes and then you can’t be let down.
In playing in places where people have different accents or speak different languages, do you notice how your songs have arrived before you do, kind of like postcards?
Yeah, it’s a weird feeling actually, and thank god for the internet because I think it takes away some of that anxiety. Just to be able to see that people, you know, in France are commenting like ‘come to France, come to France’ and kind of makes you feel like maybe it won’t be totally shit and there will be some people at the show at least.
And then to get there and there’s like a full room and people seem to be enjoying themselves. And then they come up afterwards and talk and ask questions and they tell me how much a certain song means to them or something. It’s totally amazing that people on the other side of the world, that speak a different language, even though bloody nearly everyone can speak English, and makes me feel like an idiot. It’s just incredible that they connect with the idea of the song, of the emotion behind the song.
When in this time did you fit the 10 days to do the album recording?
It was last April, so we had gone on our first kind of band trip overseas in February, and then I came back and did a Billy Bragg tour in Australia in March. And then we recorded in April. I kind of just locked in 10 days and said that’s going to be studio time. And then literally the day after we finished in the studio we went on a three-month tour overseas. So that was kind of the biggest bit of time we did.
So it’s come out a whole year later. Does it feel like a time capsule?
There’s a lot of things to do after recording, obviously. It feels like I was kind of working on it every day for the whole year. Obviously it isn’t released until now. I wanted to tour the double EP properly, overseas, and then we came back and did an Australian tour, I wanted to give it the credit it deserves. And then I wanted some time off because I was exhausted.
We could have released it in October last year, but it just didn’t feel right and I was still trying to do artwork and we were still touring the other album. I’m really proud of this album so I didn’t want to just chuck it out, I wanted to give it what it deserves so this is the time that fit best and it’s worked well.
I guess people could think that the double EP was your first album, when this new release is actually your first album. Can you describe the feel of the ‘long player’, to finally get a larger group of songs out at once?
It’s great. The two EPs were a year apart really, and even though I think they fit really well together, they’re different parts of my life. But that’s me knowing that I think. Lots of different people have told me that they feel it all works together, and they really connect with it as a group of songs. I dunno a name’s just a name so it’s a bunch of songs. The album for me, which is all I can really honestly talk about, is a collection of songs, even in recording all in one lump with the one chunk of energy, it feels pretty unified. Even sonically it all feels like one album.
Your songs look at the minutiae of life and it made sense that at the triple j Beat The Drum concert you performed with Tim Rogers…
I definitely connect with that kind of song writing.
Especially on You Am I’s ‘90s albums, he really captured that feeling of everyday life in the neighbourhood. Is it the kind of songwriting you naturally are drawn to, like with notes you scribble down, or poetry you wrote as a kid?
I think so, I’m kind of drawn to it, it’s what I connect with so in turn it’s what I write about. You connect with it because it’s you as well as them. When you hear someone like Tim Rogers singing about what you were just saying, kind of neighourhoody stuff, it’s you as well, you know?
And that’s lovely because you take that around the world, whether it’s touring or just the songs being out there, and you think of it being very Australian, but I suppose when you tour you see it back to you as very universal. It’s fascinating that you can write a song and see it come back at you as recognisable by the audience.
Yeah, I mean a song should be adaptable. People should be able to insert themselves into it. I mean that’s what everyone does. You listen to a love song and you’ve just broken up with someone and you’re like I can totally relate to this song because the singer’s heartbroken and I’m heartbroken, and it makes me feel better because it makes me feel less alone, because that person is suffering the same thing I am right now. And that’s how music works it seems, it’s a fucking beautiful thing. So regardless of the subject matter if someone connects with what you’re talking about then it means something.
When you’re playing a show are you in the moment of the show, are you conscious of where you are, or are you in the moment of the memory and reflection of that song?
It kind of always changes depending on the mood, every gig has a different energy. Even just my mood on the day, sometimes you’re transported back to the original thing you were singing about, sometimes the songs grow and you relate it to something else, or sometimes you just sing the song and you’re looking around at people wondering what they’re thinking. It’s always completely different for me.