Courtney Barnett Isn’t Afraid to Tell You How She Really Feels

By Valerie Osipov, July 15, 2019

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If we were to summarize Courtney Barnett in one sentence, simply put: She’s a self-assured badass. 

The moody Australian artist became an indie starlet quite out of the blue. She put out her first EP, I’ve Got a Friend Called Emily Ferris, through her own Melbourne-based record label dubbed Milk! Records in 2012, and quickly followed it up with another stellar EP How To Carve A Carrot Into A Rose in 2013, which garnered rave reviews and included the excellently droll lead single ‘Avant Gardener.’ These two releases were then condensed into one and dubbed The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas. So, yeah, kind of a badass. 

But beneath the DIY rocker’s ultra-cool vibe is an artist that’s just sharing her own quirks and vulnerabilities and hoping for the best. 

“Put me on a pedestal and I’ll only disappoint you. Tell me I’m exceptional, I promise to exploit you,” sings Barnett on ‘Pedestrian at Best’ off of her first full-length record Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit from 2015. “Give me all your money and I’ll make some origami, honey.” 

It’s this cheeky poetic lyricism delivered in her signature deadpan style that Barnett is best-known for. Lyrics doused in unabashed self-doubt leave a subtle sting of attitude that makes you question if she’s just too clever for her own good and has everyone fooled. 

“I think once a song is finally finished, upon reflection, it becomes a parody of itself. The self-seriousness is almost laughable. The pain just becomes a product” 

Her songs are introspective stories, incredibly witty and inescapably relatable, often depicting abstract characters and eccentric scenes that melt into personal reflections on life. There’s both a sense of shame and shamelessness – it’s all there for you to dissect from her seemingly nonsensical, tongue-in-cheek lines. 

The singer-songwriter went about the business of finding her own sound with the help of mixtapes made by a friend and featuring artists like No Doubt, Nirvana and Red Hot Chili Peppers. The influence of these early listening habits can be heard in guitar-heavy anthems like ‘Nobody Really Cares If You Don’t Go to the Party’ and more recently, ‘I’m Not Your Mother, I’m Not Your B*tch.’ She admits she was also a fan of digging through the oldies: “I loved my parents’ record collection – Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock. Then, I started getting guitar lessons and buying my own CDs and discovered PJ Harvey, Jeff Buckley and The Beatles.” 

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Tell Me How You Really Feel, Barnett’s second album, which was released last summer, comes out of the woodwork in a much similar fashion, using a metaphorical microscope to peer at her insecurities and serving them up raw on a shiny plate for the listener to gulp down. It was a manic process: “I sat down at the desk and started writing. And I didn’t stop writing until I was in the studio recording the album.”

It’s far from a cry for help – Barnett is just begging for some transparency. No, literally: “Open up your insides, show us your inner most lecherous. I’ll rip it out carefully, I promise you won’t feel a thing,” she demands on the down-tempo track ‘Need a Little Time.’ 

Her latest single was released this summer titled ‘Everybody Here Hates You’ – the name masquerades as an insult, but pretty shortly reveals itself to be a deep dive into the difficulties of existing with cloying anxiety. 

“That is a strange song for me. It’s certainly not easy,” she says when asked about how she approaches such heavy material. “I think once a song is finally finished, upon reflection, it becomes a parody of itself. The self-seriousness is almost laughable. The pain just becomes a product.” 

Underneath it all, Barnett is here to say that it’s OK to feel everything – from the ugly to the even uglier – hell, wear your feelings plastered on your forehead for the world to see. 

[All images courtesy of promoters]


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