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Interview: Courtney Barnett on songwriting, self-confidence, and her record label.

Interview: Courtney Barnett on songwriting, self-confidence, and her record label.

Courtney Barnett's music offers witty observations of the world around her - a world that she invites you into with open arms.

Her debut album 'Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit' led to Barnett's nomination as Best New Artist at the 2016 Grammy's [she unfortunately lost out to Meghan Trainor].

It's an album of articulate ramblings that are so relatable - “I wanna go out / but I wanna stay home,” she sings on 'Nobody Really Cares If You Don't Go To The Party'. With phrasing and a lyrical ability constantly compared to Bob Dylan, it's no wonder that Barnett is one to keep your eye on.

We caught up with Barnett prior to her slot at Laneway 2016, where we spoke about her record label Milk! Records, encouraging girls to rock, and the importance of music festivals…

"...everyone's so scared of other people judging them."

COUP DE MAIN: You hosted the first ever Girls Rock! Camp in Canberra just a few weeks ago, which encourages young women to teach girls different instruments. For those who weren't able to attend, what are the most important lessons you've learnt as a musician?
COURTNEY BARNETT: I reckon... there's so many. I think a lot of it is self-confidence, which I saw at the girls rock camp - that's one. Decision making is kind of a big one, down to songwriting stuff, up to like business-y things. 'Cuz it's such a weird industry, there's no rules or right or wrong ways, all you can really do is trust your instincts.

CDM: Why do you think it's important for young women to have a space - away from men - where they can learn and foster their abilities as musicians?
COURTNEY: I think even though things are changing a bit, we still kind of tend to grow up with girls being like, 'Don't be too loud, don't be too rude, don't be too naughty,' or whatever, to act a certain way. It was cool at the rock camp - girls could just be themselves and they could be silly, they could roll around on the floor playing guitar. Some of the guitar teachers were really cool, they were like, 'Rock out!', getting on their knees and stuff.

CDM: Like without judgement from anyone.
COURTNEY: Yeah, exactly! I think everyone's so scared of other people judging them.

CDM: You lyrics are sung in a very 'stream of consciousness' type way - is this how you write them? Or do you spend a long time planning the phrasing?
COURTNEY: A bit of both. Sometimes it just comes straight out like that. Normally, I write a lot, and it's just to get it out of my head, and a lot of it's really shit.

CDM: So you just use the best bits?
COURTNEY: Yeah, so that's the kind of journey to figuring out what I'm doing. Sometimes it's very ramble-y.


CDM: You've played a lot of music festivals over the years, and now, the market is so saturated. Big Day Out collapsed, and you were set to play Echo Festival in NZ which didn't get off the ground. Do you think music festivals play an important part in the music industry?
COURTNEY: Definitely. It's a good place to foster a whole bunch of people. A lot of people that work or don't get to go to many shows, they get to. When I was a teen, or like 18 to early 20s, I used to go to festivals all the time. I'd save all my money.

CDM: It's good value.
COURTNEY: Yeah, you can see all this stuff in one day, which in the grand scheme of things is pretty cheap I guess. Compared to $100 per show.


CDM: You co-run Milk! Records with your partner Jen, which has 8 artists signed to it. How heavy is your involvement in the running of the record label? It must be difficult when you're off touring the world?
COURTNEY: Jen pretty much-- she's the brains of it, she keeps it going while I'm away. But we're constantly working. When I'm home not touring, I'm always working on Milk!, and when I'm away, we're always keeping in touch. I mean we keep in touch anyway, but on a business level. We're always trying to plan other things. We just have different brains - she's really business-brained and clever, and I'm more creative. I mean, she's totally creative, but I think of ideas, and then she makes them happen.

CDM: In the lyrics to 'Kim's Caravan', you sing, "I would wanna die too / With people putting oil into my air / But to be fair, I've done my share." Fellow Laneway artist Grimes is super aware of the environmental repercussions of touring, and even reuses water bottles instead of using plastic bottles while touring. Do you often consider the immense environmental cost of touring around the world?
COURTNEY: Yeah, I do. I'm kind of at a loss. I think about stuff like that, and I continue down the rabbit-hole of those thoughts - I might as well just kill myself. But then if I'm not touring I'd just be at home, just driving - I'm kind of at a loss for how that stuff works.


CDM: If you could pick any four people (living or dead) to be in your entourage, who would you choose?
COURTNEY: I was thinking of this recently! Someone like Amy Schumer - someone funny. They'd probably all be comedians. Maybe someone like Mother Teresa, just to keep shit real. Like a really good person who can cook well? Nigella [Lawson] - she seems cool. Jimi Hendrix.

CDM: What do you think is the difference between a good song and a great song?
COURTNEY: I think that a good song is catchy, and a great song is not catchy - but it has a deeper meaning.

CDM: What do you have left to achieve on your bucket-list?
COURTNEY: So much. I've got to learn how to play the piano properly. And learn how to speak French properly. I'm sure there's some other ones. Those are the top ones for this year.

CDM: If C.O.U.R.T.N.E.Y. was an acronym, what would each letter stand for?
COURTNEY: Oh wow, like an acrostic poem! I love them. Courageous - 'cuz my Mum always calls me courageous, which is pretty cute. Open-minded. U - I keep thinking of unstable, let's just go with unstable. R - really funny. T - thinks a lot. N - not good at making decisions. E - what's an E word? Excited about everything is a pretty good one for me. Y - YOLO is our band word of 2016.

Courtney Barnett's album 'Sometimes I Sit and Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit' is out now - click here to purchase it via iTunes.

Watch the 'Dead Fox' music video below…

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