COURT­NEY BAR­NETT

TELLS IT LIKE IT IS MELBOURNE’S IN­DIE-PUNK TRAIL­BLAZER REACHES NEW HEIGHTS ON HER HEAD-TURN­ING SEC­OND SOLO AL­BUM. WORDS BY MATT DO­RIA

Australian Guitar - - Feature -

Alot has hap­pened in the three years since Court­ney Bar­nett dropped her main­stream-crash­ing de­but, Some­times IS it And Think, And Some­times I Just

Sit (hence­forth Some­times). World tours, co­pi­ous ac­co­lades and a duet al­bum with in­die twanger Kurt Vile all filled her jour­nals, and though most of the jour­ney has been ex­hil­a­rat­ing, it hasn’t been with­out its pit­falls as well. Both sides are ex­plored on Bar­nett’s sec­ond solo al­bum,

Tell Me How You Re­ally Feel: an al­bum that me­di­ates as much on the Melbourne song­writer’s cat­a­pult­ing suc­cess as it does on the al­ways erupt­ing su­per­vol­cano that is her in­ner monologue. On the strik­ing lead sin­gle “Name­less, Face­less”, she bites at the com­ment sec­tion war­riors that plagued her rise to the spot­light, and how vi­o­lent quips aimed at women aren’t un­com­mon com­ing from men in (and out of) the mu­sic scene. On its fol­low-up, the mel­low and melodic “Need A Lit­tle Time” (which is an in­dis­putable high­light, if we may say so our­selves), Bar­nett ru­mi­nates on the stresses that weigh down her per­sonal re­la­tion­ships.

The record is equally po­lar­is­ing from a mu­si­cal stand­point. Struc­tures are pulled apart and pieced to­gether in ways that scream orig­i­nal­ity. Gui­tar parts are more am­bi­tious and of­ten ex­per­i­men­tal, and from the bleak throbs of “Hope­fu­less­ness” to the el­e­gant strums of “Sun­day Roast”, she dives into a wealth of new­found crafts­man­ship. From the bustling cor­ner of a cute

in­ner-city Syd­ney café, we caught up with Bar­nett to dig deep on the mu­si­cal pro­fu­sion that makes LP2 her most ex­cit­ing record yet.

Why would you say Tell Me How You Re­ally Feel is your best record thus far?

I guess it’s spe­cial be­cause it’s the most re­cent one, and it cov­ers the most rel­e­vant thoughts that were go­ing around. I think with each thing I’ve made – and I’m sure this will con­tinue over time – I’ve picked up new skills as a gui­tarist, a song­writer and a singer, and it’s fun to just ex­per­i­ment with that. I think af­ter a cou­ple of years of just straight up tour­ing, mostly as a three-piece but some­times as a four-piece, I’ve had to re­ally step up my gui­tar, so I felt like I got to play a few more cool gui­tar bits on this al­bum as an out­come.

The big­gest thing that stands out about this record is how bold a lot of the gui­tars are – you’re not afraid to bust out a sick hook or a rip­ping solo on some of th­ese tracks. Was it a grat­i­fy­ing al­bum to record as a gui­tarist?

Yeah, I had a lot of fun. In the past , I hadn’t re­ally been in that many stu­dios. I’ve only made a hand­ful of al­bums – ei­ther mine or other peo­ple’s – and my ex­pe­ri­ences so far had just been learn­ing and get­ting com­fort­able in the stu­dio, be­cause it’s quite in­tim­i­dat­ing at first. But I was a lit­tle more com­fort­able this time around, so I was do­ing a lot more ex­per­i­ment­ing; just turn­ing amps up re­ally loud, putting earplugs in and see­ing how the sound would be dif­fer­ent, and try­ing heaps of weird ped­als and stuff – stuff that I wouldn’t be both­ered to use in the past be­cause I’d be like, “Oh my god, we need to do this all quickly!”

Did it push you out of your com­fort zone to try all those new tech­niques?

Yeah, I reckon so. The first chunk of record­ing I did was all by my­self. I was just go­ing to write and demo some ba­sic melodies, but I ended up demo­ing nearly all of the songs play­ing drums and bass, and then play­ing gui­tar as well. That was re­ally fun and re­ally chal­leng­ing be­cause I’m not a very pro­fi­cient player of any of those things, but I’ve been learn­ing a lot re­cently. I love it. I love play­ing the drums so much!

I feel like this record is a lot more un­hinged and raw-sound­ing than Some­times was. Was that a creative de­ci­sion to match the more vul­ner­a­ble and emo­tion­ally strained lyrics at play?

Yeah. I think along the way, I learnt the im­por­tance of play­ing the gui­tar emo­tion­ally, and how much more pow­er­ful it can be to have that con­nec­tion be­tween the gui­tars and the lyrics. I think be­fore, those parts were re­ally sep­a­rate and the gui­tar was re­ally just some­thing to sing over. It took me a while to fig­ure out, but I dis­cov­ered just how much ex­tra the gui­tar can say dy­nam­i­cally.

My un­der­stand­ing is that you wrote this al­bum at the same time that you were writ­ing Lot­taSeaLice with Kurt Vile. Yeah. Did mak­ing both of those al­bums back-to-back give you a bit of a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive or in­flu­ence that you were able to bounce back and forth on?

I think ev­ery­thing kind of adds to and in­spires those things. The stuff with Kurt was so spread

out; we did it over three days one sum­mer, three days the next sum­mer, and so on. It was re­ally spread out and we were do­ing all of this other stuff in-be­tween, but hav­ing the project in the back of my mind, chat­ting with Kurt and swap­ping ideas here and there, it in­flu­enced [ Tel­lMeHowYouReal­lyFeel] in a round­about way. Hav­ing that kind of friend­ship and sup­port was just dif­fer­ent, cre­atively, and mak­ing mu­sic with him was in­spir­ing as well.

Were you work­ing on this al­bum as a des­ig­nated project from the start, or were the songs just lit­tle jams that you’d write to get out of the headspace of col­lab­o­ra­tion?

I think my main project was this al­bum. He was work­ing on an al­bum as well, which I guess he’s still work­ing on. But I kind of feel like ev­ery­thing is a part of the same big­ger project, which is a life’s work of stuff – it’s all just scat­tered around. I think I was do­ing the Jen Clo­her al­bum some­where in-be­tween all of that as well, so it was kind of all over the place.

How many songs did you end up with in the end? Is there much you had to leave on the cut­ting room floor?

There was one more full song that we recorded, and then there were a cou­ple of other ones that were more folky and a lit­tle less worked out. That one fully recorded song will prob­a­bly end up some­where even­tu­ally, but the oth­ers just weren’t quite there yet. I al­ways have songs that take a good five years to fin­ish [ laughs].

And you recorded this al­bum as the CB3 again, didn’t you?

Yep! We had Dan Lus­combe [of The Drones] with us in the stu­dio as well.

The leg­end him­self! How did you man­age to bring Dan into the fold?

I’ve been friends with Dan since I was work­ing on my sec­ond EP [2013’s HowToCarveACar­rotIn­toA

Rose] – I’d recorded all of the songs but I hit a bit of a road­block with the mix­ing, so I took it to him and I was like, “Can you please help me fin­ish this EP!?” He added a bit of gui­tar on “Avant Gar­dener” and I recorded a lot of the vo­cals at his house, and we’ve been re­ally good friends since then. He’s just such an amaz­ing mu­si­cian, and he has so much knowl­edge about his­tor­i­cal mu­sic that it’s scary. He’s good to have around be­cause I’ll be like, “Does this sound like an­other song?” And he’ll go, “Yes! That is this riff from this song,” and I’m like, “Ah, damn it!” He played a lot of gui­tar on [ Some­times], but I was like, “This time I want to play more gui­tar, and you’re go­ing to play keys and synth.” He’s great at that, and he painted all of th­ese beau­ti­ful tex­tu­ral sounds all around the al­bum.

I no­ticed there are a lot of at­mo­spheric lit­tle bits here and there.

Yeah, I just wanted a bit more sound­scape – less melodic hooks and a few more rum­bles and tones and high… Sounds.

How do you think all of that will trans­late to the live set? Can we ex­pect to see Dan in the cor­ner with a lit­tle MIDI setup?

Well not Dan, but my friend Katie Harkin is go­ing to play keys and gui­tar for this tour. She was in the Sea Lice band with Kurt and I too, and she’s an amaz­ing mu­si­cian and song­writer.

Speak­ing of the live show, you’re cur­rently on a mas­sive world tour play­ing some of the most pres­ti­gious venues on the planet. Did you have th­ese big, grandiose the­atres in mind when you were writ­ing the al­bum?

Not re­ally, be­cause I write most of them at home, in my ware­house. I’ve no­ticed that it doesn’t re­ally mat­ter. Some­times [the live show] changes the en­ergy of the song, but I def­i­nitely wouldn’t try to write for it, y’know? I re­mem­ber ac­tu­ally hav­ing a mo­ment at a fes­ti­val where I was watch­ing a band that I like, but I was notic­ing all of th­ese lit­tle fes­ti­val tricks, and I was like, “I’m go­ing to try not to do that on pur­pose.” I think it’s a nice thing when the crowd gets re­ally into a part, but to write a song and be like, “This will be such a great an­them, and this is the bit where peo­ple put their lighters up…” I don’t like that.

It all comes down to serv­ing the song on its own merit.

Ex­actly! I think that if you can play a song on one acous­tic gui­tar, or a straight elec­tric gui­tar with no ped­als, and you can still get the mes­sage and that emo­tion across, then that’s a real good sign that it passes. I love it when songs are re­ally adapt­able – you can play them acous­ti­cally or they could be played with a full orches­tra, and they’d still have the same mes­sage.

With that in mind, do your songs change much when you take them to the stage as a band?

We start re­hearsals for the tour next week, and I ac­tu­ally don’t re­ally know how they’re go­ing to trans­late. I guess that’s the re­ally scary part of start­ing a tour some­times, but I think it’ll be great. I’m re­ally ex­cited to see what hap­pens, be­cause they al­ways change with dif­fer­ent play­ers and in dif­fer­ent sce­nar­ios.

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