Courtney Barnett plays her first-ever headlining show at Mojos this Saturday, March 8, and supports Billy Bragg at the Perth Concert Hall on Sunday, March 9. BOB GORDON reports.
Courtney Barnett is having a moment to herself.
“I’m standing in the middle of a field,” she says down the line to X-Press, this past Monday morning, “because I don’t have very good reception.”
It’s a long way from Los Angeles to Nannup – in more ways than distance – but that was Barnett’s schedule last week, and she headed to WA for the much-loved Nannup Festival.
“We got off the plane in Melbourne and then I went home and had some lunch and unpacked my bag,” she recalls cheerily. “Then I packed my bag again and a few hours later we were on the plane to Perth. It’s been a hectic week.”
From headlining shows in Europe and the US in the last month, to playing in good friend Jen Cloher’s backing band, it’s all music and it’s all good. Needless to say, Barnett – who also has her own label, Milk Records – is lapping it up.
“I love it,” she enthuses. “I love playing in Jen’s band. I love playing in anyone’s band whom I admire. And on any stage. I feel really grateful, any gig I play, whether it’s my gig or playing in someone else’s band. I always feel grateful to stand onstage and play music for people who want to listen to it, no matter where it is.”
It’s a good attitude to have. Even when a music career is going well, it’s never easy. At least if an artist remembers why they ever started doing it in the first place at least that part’s going right.
“Yeah, I reckon it’s pretty easy to lose sight of,” echoes Barnett. “I hear that from other musicians who’ve been around a lot longer than me; I’ve learned a lot from them. It’s good to have that philosophy.”
Barnett’s trip to Europe and the US might be seen by many as a time to step up to the plate. From the sound of it however, it was more a case of going with the flow.
“It was something that I never expected would happen, I didn’t really prepare any differently for it,” she notes. “Maybe I should’ve… I don’t know, but maybe that’s a good thing. We just did what we always do; play how we’ve always played; acted how we always act. I don’t really change anything for different audiences, or anything. I think it’s important to do what you do and do what you know.
“But it was really amazing. All the shows were sold out and the crowds were incredible. I took the time to meet as many people as I could afterwards and they were all so nice and so interested. And so genuinely into the music… and into music in general. It’s cool to meet people like that.”
Barnett is now looking into wide open arms of her first album, though she seems like an ‘album artist’ already, given the quality of, and reaction to, her first two EPs.
“Regardless of how the EPs have gone I’m just gonna record the kind of music that I would record anyway,” she explains. “I’m learning more and more about my own songwriting as I go on. I can even see that in the first two EPs. I’m trying not to put any weird pressure on myself because a few people liked those EPs. I just want to record some more songs and not make it a really big deal or anything (laughs).”
It’s interesting to note, however, that as Barnett learns more about her own songwriting in last year there’s been more travel, shows and promo involved and less time for that quieter reflection which probably went into the EPs.
“A little bit,” she allows, “but in a way it’s kind of equalled out because when I did those two EPs I was working a lot and doing a lot of songwriting late at night. Like when I got home from working at the pub. I’m travelling a lot but I still have so much spare time between travel… sitting on planes and driving around. It’s not really the same, but it kind of equals out in a strange way.
“It wasn’t like I rushed the songs on the EPs, but I didn’t sit around with them for ages. Lots of them were first drafts, straight into the studio and recording them. Some of them I’d only played with the band two times before we recorded them. But even with some of the new songs for the album I can guarantee that there’s gonna be a few that I finish the day before we go to the studio to add to the bunch I’ve already got written (laughs).
“It’s always a balance of stability, stability and not knowing what you’re doing. It makes it more interesting.”
Courtney Barnet will also participate in the next I Manage My Music Workshop on Sunday, March 8, from 10-5pm with Abbe May and Jen Cloher, RTRFM Music Director Adam Christou at the State Theatre Centre. Full details at imanagemymusic.com.