Courtney Barnett on being forced to quit: “I felt open in a different way” | Courtney barnett
AIn early 2020, as her home country burned down and the rest of the world woke up to a global pandemic, Courtney Barnett was in Los Angeles. She had just finished an American tour; his plan was to find an apartment and stay a little longer to work on songs.
Then – after “everything got really wild” – she returned to Melbourne. For perhaps the first time in six years – since her 2016 hit Avant Gardener turned her into the most recent âNew Dylanâ – Barnett has finally had time to sit down and think.
“There has been a small personal change in my brain,” she said cautiously to Zoom, from a spartan-looking room that offered no clue. “I felt myself opening up in a different way.”
Barnett’s personal life had been turned upside down, even beyond the virus that wreaked havoc on his industry. Her relationship with Jen Cloher, with whom she founded her label Milk! The records in 2012 ended in 2018 (the commercial partnership remains intact). There had also been “a few deaths” – she does not say who. “I was just checking with myself, on a different level than maybe I had done before.”
Barnett tends to speak in deep brushstrokes, with long pauses, sometimes repeating himself in search of a better choice of words. It’s easy to see why. Her first two EPs (released in 2013 as A Sea of ââSplit Peas) and her debut album Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit turned her into one of the most talked about Australian songwriters. the most of his generation, which earned him a Grammy nomination. for the best new artist. She has also become the darling of the American cat-show circuit.
Barnett’s third album is called Things Take Time, Take Time. Lyrically, it’s a return to his first conversational and verbose EPs. Words – many of them – tumble down, offering solace and solace. “When you sleep are you hot, can you feel my cold feet? Are you good, can you make ends meet? She asks on Sunfair Sundown.
Many songs – particularly the second single, Before You Gotta Go – could be interpreted as addressed to Cloher, given the couple’s shared songwriting history. with, towards each other. But Barnett, between long pauses, insists it’s both more universal and more complicated than that.
âI’ve heard a few people refer to it as a breakup song, and I don’t mean that anyone is right or wrong, but I think that diminishes the intention of the song,â she says. “It’s more global, and I feel like it wouldn’t do the song a favor for me to lock it into a moment or a person.”
No matter who it was meant for, it radiates cuteness – “One of the biggest unspoken themes on the album,” she says. The song itself “is about relationships, but also about friendships, and not clinging to regrets. I feel like it’s a universal song. It’s one of my favorite songs I’ve written, and I’m so proud of it.
Barnett says she wrote much of the album as if she was reaching out a “comforting arm. [around] a friend “; the songs are all directed outward, to other people. The music is also softer, in part because of the space it was written in:” I was writing in an apartment, so it was pretty quiet because I didn’t want angry neighbors. â
But in a way, Barnett sought solace herself, focusing on the cyclic patterns of the drum machine she was using to accompany her acoustic guitar. At home, she sought solace in the music of Arthur Russell, Leonard Cohen, and Brian Eno. “I made the music I wanted to listen to – calm, repetitive, very heartwarming music.”
She sent the demos to Warpaint drummer Stella Mozgawa, ultimately asking her to co-produce the album. It was recorded in Sydney in the summer of 2020-21, without Barnett’s usual collaborators, drummer Dave Mudie and bassist Bones Sloane (they returned to their usual roles on tour, with Mozgawa joining the band, now back in the States. -United).
Live, she says, the songs are more bubbly. âI like to play loud, aggressive, disjointed music, and I like that songs can have different lives. So I’m sure they’re going to get a little faster, have a little more energy, get a little louder. But what I wanted the recorded version to sound like was to keep that feeling of calm under control. “
Being forced to stop, in the midst of fire and pestilence, gave Barnett perspective. âThere was a lot of time to think, be grateful, and see these things fully and truly, not just some sort of fleeting buzzword. Just to really understand what these things mean.
On Rae Street, the first single, Barnett sings, “You seem so stable, but you just hang on / Drop the wait, change stations, find out what you want”. It could be addressed to anyone who blows their way through time, but perhaps more than any other song on Things Take Time, Take Time, it reflected Barnett’s state of mind before coming home.
âI think it was just an abandonment of the structure – maybe just a different relationship to life and death, and accepting all the unknown things that you can’t control,â she says. âTime needs patience – taking each of those moments and how we react to it. I think that was my biggest lesson, and the biggest lesson from the album.