Courtney Barnett admits she enjoys making music “the messy way, the stressful way.”
It feels a bit weird that Courtney Barnett doesn’t yet have an album to call her own. She’s everywhere – on the radio, on festival line-ups, on the road, on a London billboard – but the one thing she’s not yet doing is stocking record store shelves with shiny LPs. Well actually, she kind of is, but the LPs she’s packin’ are those of her Milk! Records roster. EPs? Sure, she’s got a couple of her own. Singles? Yup, there’s plenty. But an LP is the one hurdle this artist’s yet to overcome. No pressure, Courtney.
Barnett doesn’t come across as someone much affected by the burden of her art. Her nonchalance in demeanour and in her music is a big part of the charm. So it’s not so much that the album’s any kind of sticking point or sly ‘make the bastards wait’ marketing ploy. According to Barnett it’s more a case of wanting to get the thing perfect before unleashing it on her ever-growing legions of fans (a term she wouldn’t ever likely use).
"I’ve heard recordings of the songs on tour recently and it sounds like a different fucken album, a different band..."
“I guess it just feels like a slightly bigger version of one of [the EPs],” says Barnett, when queried over the ins and outs of getting the LP together. “It was the same with the EPs, ‘cause I procrastinate so much everything takes, like, ten times longer than it probably takes another person. At least with the album we had the studio and we recorded the songs, you know. Whereas when I did the EPs it was like, ‘Oh, I’ll work on this in my room.’”
It feels a lot longer than two-and-a-bit years since Barnett’s first EP I’ve Got A Friend Called Emily Ferris landed. Around that time she was also playing guitar in Melbourne band Immigrant Union. The decision to go it alone was born more out of a desire to experiment with some different ideas than any clear vision of what ‘Courtney Barnett: Solo Artist’ would become.
“I’d been recording these songs in my room,” she says. “And it’s not like they were wildly different to any of the bands I was in or anything. It wasn’t like, ‘I’m going to do this by myself because rah-rah-rah.’ I work well alone because I’m kind of slow and then sometimes I get obsessive... so I don’t like other people having to work around me. It was more that I had these ideas and they were like little experiments, kind of like, ‘I’ll just see how this pans out and if it’s a disaster I can just do something else, move onto the next thing.’
“The very first EP, I recorded the whole thing at home and then I showed the band the day that we recorded it, pretty much. I think I was a little bit scared, probably. I don’t know what of, really: that they wouldn’t like the songs or that they wouldn’t sound as good as [they did] in my head – I guess just normal kind of worries. The second EP, the songs were really new and I pretty much showed them to [the band] the week we went into the studio and then people made up their parts. That was people interpreting on their toes a bit, which is kind of good because you don’t have time to get everything all perfect or, like, come up with fancy bass lines or fancy drum fills. You’re still going, ‘Is this the part where the thing happens?’ and I kinda like that. I don’t like it when it sounds too thought-out; you can overthink things and overcook an idea.”
In taking the songs to her bandmates and essentially setting them free, Barnett found the things injected with a whole new life. And to see the band performing live after first listening to the recorded versions takes the songs to a whole other level.
“Since recording them,” says Barnett, “which feels like ages ago now, and touring so much – I’ve heard recordings of the songs on tour recently and it sounds like a different fucken album, a different band... You can do it either way: you can record songs straight away and then tour them, or you can tour them for a year and get them all awesome and figure out new things and then record them. I kinda like doing it the other way around – the messy way, the stressful way.”
Barnett’s upcoming Australian tour is copping some outrageous support from punters, with multiple shows added due to ticket demand. From there she’s taking the band back to the US, where they already did a sold out month of shows earlier in the year, and over to Europe for the first time. It’s an incredible rise to prominence and Barnett’s quick to shift the focus of that success to the team of people that surround her, making shit happen. But all this interest on the back of a couple of EPs! It’s hard to imagine what amazing successes the album will bring.
“I was blown away that we were selling out these shows,” says Barnett of their previous US tour. “It’s just amazing that they’ve even heard [my music]. It’s very overwhelming. There’s so much music around it’s impossible to think that people would hear your music. I don’t know any music – I just panic! People are like, ‘Have you heard blah-blah-blah and blah-blah-blah, you’d love it they’re just like blah-blah-blah.’ And then I forget it, like, two seconds later. I want to go and check out whatever someone says is really good but I just, like, freak out and forget.”