Courtney Barnett: Beauty in the Most Boring Things
“Put me on a pedestal and I’ll only disappoint you”
Those words, from Courtney Barnett’s lead single “Pedestrian at Best,” have fortunately not proved to be prophetic.
This Australian guitarist and storyteller gained wide acclaim in 2013 after the international release of her double EP, A Sea of Split Peas, and the track “Avant Gardener.” Almost immediately, she was placed on everyone “artists to watch” list.
That hype and ensuing world tour took so much time that we had to wait until now for her proper full-length debut, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit.
The title, borrowed from Winnie the Pooh writer A. A. Milne, perfectly captures the spirit of Courtney Barnett’s lyrics, which are one of the most characteristic features of her work. Her plainspoken words, deadpan delivery and slacker guitar warrant comparisons to Pavement, Lou Reed, grunge, garage and psychedelia, but Barnett manages to extract a smile out her listeners better than any of her likenesses.
Such a mix of humor, humility and catchy melodies serve to make Sometimes I Sit a joyous treat to listen to, proving that music doesn’t have to be dense or deep to be genuine.
In a glowing review, the Guardian wrote of the album, “It’s been a while since western rock music – let alone Melbourne’s fiercely insular and often too-precious indie scene – has thrown up a songwriter and lyricist as intriguing, compelling and down-to-earth, yet surreal and morbidly funny, as Barnett.”
We got to talk with Barnett about her long-awaited debut.
We had to wait quite a while for your debut album. What part of making it took the most time and was the most challenging?
I guess it took about a year to write, and ten days to record. Then we were on tour and doing other stuff and life just got in the way and it got held up. The most challenging part? I don’t know. It’s all challenging. It’s unknown territory. It’s a constant learning experience.
The first single, “Pedestrian at Best,” seems to sound more edgy than your previous work. How does it compare it to the sound of the whole album?
It doesn’t define the sound of the whole album. The album as a whole jumps all over the place. That’s kinda one of the more heavy songs, but it’s pretty genre un-specific. I just wrote songs and they end up sounding like how they come out.
You have your own label, design your artwork and merch, and of course write your own songs. Is that a matter of having control or rather taking things into your own hands?
It’s just my way of getting things done. I don’t expect anybody else to do things for me. It’s hard to rely on anybody in world where most people think about themselves first. Plus, I love making music and making art. They’re my two favourite things. It’s not about control, it’s just about doing what I like.
I saw you at Primavera Sound Festival in Barcelona last year and you seem to totally own the stage when you are performing. Is this something that you had to work on or is it natural for you?
Thanks! Ah I remember being super super nervous. But once I was on stage I just did what I knew. There’s no way for me to work myself into a special performance state of mind, it just doesn’t work. Every gig is different and I’m always in a different mood. There’s no formula.
In one of the interview you said “I don’t wanna talk about myself, I’m so boring,” but as a musician you also have to believe that you’re interesting enough for people to listen to you. What do you think makes you stand out?
No idea. I’m no more interesting than any other person. And surely my songs should amplify that point. I sing about the fact that there’s beauty in the most boring things.
For me one of the things that definitely make you stand out are your lyrics. You’ve got a unique style of lyrics’ narration: ironic, bitter-sweet, sometimes a little bit quirky. How much of a perfectionist are you when it comes to lyrics?
Yeah, I’m kind of a perfectionist. Songs last forever you know, so you don’t want them to be shit or cringeworthy.
Do you have to restrain yourself sometimes so as not to be too honest or confessional when you write?
I think it just depends on the moment. It’s never my intention to hurt people, no matter how much they hurt you. But sometimes it might be an important part of the process.
If you could pick one decade to live and make music in, which would it be?
I’m a realist, not an idealist. I choose now.
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