Courtney Barnett lets music do talking for her


Lou Foglia

Australian singer/songwriter Courtney Barnett is quickly making a name for herself as one of the top indie rockers to watch thanks to her wry lyrics and edgy live performances.

By Assistant Arts & Culture Editor

Hailing from Melbourne, Australia, Courtney Barnett is quickly becoming one of the most sought-after singer/songwriters in the indie music scene. Thanks in part to her raspy vocals and carefree live performances, Barnett has garnered recognition as an artist to watch from music publications such as Pitchfork and Rolling Stone. 

Barnett’s personal lyricism and wry, straight-forward singing style harkens back to early ‘90s guitar rock. Influenced by groups such as Nirvana and The Breeders, Barnett is putting her music first and everything else second. 

With her 2012 EP I’ve Got a Friend Called Emily Ferris and 2013 debut album How to Carve a Carrot into a Rose, Barnett has taken her infectious stage performances and stellar lyricism to the U.S. with a co-headlining tour with Brooklyn-based San Fermin. 

The Chronicle spoke with Barnett about writing lyrics and gaining international and critical acclaim in both Australia and the U.S.

THE CHRONICLE: What has it been like coming to the U.S.?

COURTNEY BARNETT: It’s been a bit of a surreal feeling. It’s been really fun. I’ve been playing a lot bigger venues than I’ve been used to.

Have you been working on new material on the road?

CB: I pretty much write all of the time. Away or home, it doesn’t really make too much of a difference. I connect to a bunch of stuff, and then when I sit down and concentrate, that’s when I’m able to turn [it all] into actual songs. I write a lot, not necessarily lyrical writing. I write general observations of what’s happening around me a lot of the time.

Do you usually work on lyrics before the music is written?

CB: They kind of both just happen differently. When I finally sit down and try to turn them into songs, I might just have a bunch of chords that work nicely together, and I sing bits over it and see what works and what feels right. But there is not really any formula to it.

Your song “Avant Gardener,” has autobiographical lyrics. Why is that?

CB: It’s kind of a weird process because I already toyed with some music and then recorded it in a day in the studio. It wasn’t really finished because I didn’t have any lyrics or anything, but I did it for the sake of it. Then a couple months after I had that [anaphylactic asthma attack], I kind of came up with the idea and realized that it fit pretty well with the music.

A lot of bands, such as Tame Impala and The Temper Trap, have recently come from the Australia indie music scene. Is there a certain type of kinship you feel with these fellow Australian musical acts?

CB: Yeah, I guess there’s a certain natural bond with them. There’s a bunch of other Australian bands that you hear about all the time at home. The first time I’ve met a lot of them has been when we’ve been overseas, so it’s kind of weird that you know of each other, but the first time you ever actually have to be together is at something like CMJ in New York. But there is a certain type of bond with them.

You have been written about in Rolling Stone as a breakout act of 2014. Was this type of recognition surprising to you?

CB: Of course. I don’t know how many people look at stuff like that, but I’d imagine that it’s probably a lot. All of those things, in addition to the Internet with everyone sharing things, it’s going to make sharing music a whole lot easier and sharing stuff that people are into.