Court­ney Bar­nett em­pha­sizes em­pa­thy S

MU­SIC

The Georgia Straight - - Music - By

Mike Usinger

elf-con­fi­dence is a funny thing, es­pe­cially when you don’t have it and know that, no mat­ter what you ac­com­plish in life, you prob­a­bly never will.

Court­ney Bar­nett gets that. To pore over the lyrics on her se­cond proper full-length, Tell Me How You Re­ally Feel, is to con­clude that some­times all the plat­i­tudes in the world don’t amount to much. The ragged-glory rocker “Char­ity” has the Aus­tralian out­lier singing “So sub­servient I make my­self sick/are you lis­ten­ing?”, while “Walkin’ on Eggshells” has her la­con­i­cally opin­ing “Say what you want/don’t got a lot/oh but what I got/i’d give it all away.”

As for the bril­liantly ti­tled Track 7, “Crip­pling Self Doubt and a Gen­eral Lack of Self-con­fi­dence”, the mes­sage is re­ceived long be­fore Bar­nett gets to lines like “I never feel as stupid/as when I’m around you.”

As she kicks off a fall tour of North Amer­ica, Bar­nett has every rea­son to feel like she’s ar­rived as an in­die-rock su­per­star, even if she’ll never ad­mit it. Reached by phone in a Den­ver ho­tel room, she self-dep­re­cat­ingly notes that she’s sold out the city’s leg­endary Og­den Theatre, which has hosted ev­ery­one from Harry Hou­dini to Prince and the Pogues. Be­fore head­ing to Van­cou­ver for a two-night stand at the Vogue, she’ll de­tour to Los An­ge­les to head­line the city’s fa­bled Greek Theatre.

Her sum­mer, mean­while, had in­dis­putable highlights like a dou­ble­header at the Syd­ney Opera House in her home­town.

“It was in­cred­i­ble,” says Bar­nett. “I mean, I grew up in Syd­ney, and—ob­vi­ously, as an Aus­tralian—the Syd­ney Opera House is iconic. So it’s a re­ally big deal to play there, and I was re­ally hon­oured that peo­ple came out to show

Tell Me How You Re­ally Feel.

their sup­port. My par­ents were there, so that was pretty amaz­ing.”

But de­spite such tri­umphs, there’s plenty over the course of the in­ter­view to in­di­cate Bar­nett is the same per­son she’s al­ways been since break­ing out at the be­gin­ning of the decade: a self-doubt­ing in­tro­vert who some­times won­ders if any­one truly likes her. To be the 30-yearold Aus­tralian icon in the mak­ing is to be con­vinced you’re never the most in­ter­est­ing per­son in the room, this de­spite be­ing re­spon­si­ble for gold-star lyrics like “The para­medic thinks I’m clever ’cause I play gui­tar/i think she’s clever ’cause she stops peo­ple dy­ing.”

To fur­ther il­lus­trate this nar­ra­tive, re­call—if you were lucky enough to be there—bar­nett’s 2016 head­lin­ing tri­umph at the Com­modore, where she came on like a Crazy Horse–fix­ated gui­tar god­dess riff­ing on undi­luted Seat­tle grunge and golden era Amer­i­can col­lege rock. Halfway through the show, a technical glitch caused a 10-minute in­ter­rup­tion, the singer even­tu­ally step­ping to the mike to note few things hor­rify her more than hav­ing to talk to an au­di­ence be­tween songs.

Just be­cause you’re never at a loss for words with a pen and a piece of pa­per doesn’t make you one of the great rock ’n’ roll or­a­tors of all time on-stage.

“The in­ner con­flict is al­ways there,” Bar­nett ex­plains. “I feel like every day kind of brings those con­flict­ing feel­ings be­tween my in­tro­vert and my ex­tro­vert self. But I guess it’s good to be forced into po­si­tions like that [Com­modore] show, be­cause some­times you’ll sur­prise your­self.”

Con­sider that a sign she’s deep-down con­vinced we have the abil­ity to grow as peo­ple, some­thing that gives Bar­nett a rea­son to keep on go­ing in a world that’s seem­ingly los­ing all its ci­vil­ity.

She’s ob­vi­ously not im­mune to mo­ments when it all seems hope­less, chron­i­cling what it’s like to stare into the void on the de­cep­tively buoy­ant “City Looks Pretty”. But in her typ­i­cally clever fash­ion, she’s in­ter­ested in much more than her­self on Tell Me How You Re­ally Feel, ad­dress­ing ev­ery­thing from sex­ism and dou­ble stan­dards in the mu­sic in­dus­try and be­yond (“I’m Not Your Mother, I’m Not Your Bitch”) to the im­por­tance of reach­ing out for help when the dark clouds roll in (“Help Your Self”).

What ul­ti­mately stands out is her em­pa­thy, even on “Name­less, Face­less”, where Bar­nett takes the high road while ad­dress­ing the key­board gang­sters of the world. As a pub­lic fig­ure, the singer knows what it’s like to be at­tacked by peo­ple who’ve never met her and never will. But rather than com­ing across an­grier than Rico Nasty cov­er­ing Rage Against the Ma­chine, she’s al­most sym­pa­thetic, ad­dress­ing the cy­ber­bul­lies of the world with lines like “Don’t you have any­thing bet­ter to do?/i wish that some­one could hug you” and “You sit alone at home in the dark­ness/with all the pentup rage that you har­ness/i’m real sorry ’bout what­ever hap­pened to you.”

“Em­pa­thy is one of the most im­por­tant things in life,” Bar­nett of­fers. “I don’t think any one of us ever knows what is truly go­ing on with an­other per­son. So all we can re­ally do is to try and lis­ten, un­der­stand, and talk about things with other peo­ple. A lot of my al­bum is about the im­por­tance of com­mu­ni­ca­tion.”

Com­mu­ni­ca­tion that, hope­fully, gets us to a bet­ter place. Bar­nett might not be will­ing to con­sider her­self the in­die-rock ge­nius that she’s fre­quently hailed as. But at least there are times when she un­der­stands that maybe, just maybe, she could be a lit­tle easier on her­self.

“I know that I can dwell on what I think I am, to where you kind of get stuck in this re­volv­ing cy­cle,” she con­fesses. “Like ‘I am shy. I am quiet.’ And ‘I can’t go to the func­tion where there’s go­ing to be peo­ple be­cause I am scared.’ So you avoid things. But I’ve kind of found my­self in this po­si­tion where I al­most have to go some­times. Or at least will go ‘I should re­ally do that.’ Then I end up go­ing, and it’s not as bad as I thought.”

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