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Courtney Barnett: Queen of the festivals

The Australian singer-songwriter the hardest working slacker at the party.

Courtney Barnett at Falls Festival on JanuaryCassandra Hannagan/WireImage

There’s an impossible buzz around Courtney Barnett. First things first — she doesn’t sound like anyone else in mainstream music right now. The Melbourne native makes addictively boisterous, rambling rock with storytelling skills that teeter on the nonsensical and the way too real.

Secondly, the accolades aren’t bad: Barnett’s 2015 debut studio album, “Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit,” earned her a Best New Artist nomination at this year’s Grammy Awards, as well as eight nominations including Album of the Year from her native Australia’s ARIA Music Awards. Rolling Stone deemed her single “Pedestrian at Best” number four on their 50 best songs of 2015, calling the chorus one “that your favorite Nineties alt band would have eaten its Doc Martens to have written.”

Barnett was invited to “Saturday Night Live” last weekend to perform for the season 41 finale hosted by fellow rocker Fred Armisen, before a gig at Alabama’s increasingly popular, beachfront Hangout Music Festival. She calls during a rare moment of downtime between gigs and a Saturday spot at Boston Calling in City Hall Plaza, June’s Governors Ball and Mountain Jam and a packed European July.

What was performing at “Saturday Night Live” like?

I don’t think I ate for six days. I get like that when I’m nervous. I admire those comedians and the [finale] was extra crazy because there was Larry David and Maya Rudolph. I look up to them. Then we flew out the next morning to play a festival on the Gulf Shore of Alabama.

What’s the difference in playing for a festival crowd versus a normal gig?

It’s cool, nice change. It’s different because you’ve been asked to perform outdoors, so everyone is in a good mood when they’re in the actual world and the sun’s on them. Well, as long as it’s not raining.

Your schedule seems so intense this summer — what are you doing to keep your energy and spirits levels up?

I’ve just started walking around a lot. I know that sounds so obvious, but I think it’s important to remember to exercise. I realized I get into that habit where you lay down and watch TV, go to a gig, get drunk and then repeat. It’s important to force yourself to get up, walk around and see the city that you’re in. I like going to markets and listening to people jabber on and see how different places work.

Which city has the best people watching?

New York has so much going on that you’re bound to find something interesting, but I like somewhere like Paris, because it has its own language and [unless you understand it], you’re in the dark.

When you’re writing something like “History Eraser” or “Nobody Really Cares If You Don’t Go to the Party,” are you writing in a stream of consciousness that’s based on reality, or is it an imaginary narrative?

I think it depends — a lot of the time, it’ll be a story that I’ve gone through, but sometimes I’ll do writing based on short stories or drawing on other people’s experiences. I’ll filter in this and that, making it more absurd and hyper-real. The songs I’ve released haven’t displayed much of that so far, but I’m into intellectual storytelling. Most of my songs are from real life when real life has a story.

Is “History Eraser” based on a real party?

“History Eraser” is a dream, so it's a messy and un-sequential amalgamation of many times andplaces. Lots of warped memories, but probably truest, being straight from the deep subconscious.

But is something like “Three Packs a Day” as literal as it gets? Is it really about ramen noodles?

Well, yeah, but there are other elements, too. We call them two-minute noodles; it’s about my addiction.

What do you do about writer’s block?

It’s interesting talking to other artists about it because I don’t get it, really. I think it’s one of those things that are psychological. I know from years of writing that you write so much s—t that it gets overwhelming and you think it’s all you can write, so that gets down heartening. Still, I try to continue to do it every day.

So like an exercise.

Yeah, sometimes. I think it helps me because I’m not that disciplined, obviously. [Laughs] I try to do 10 minutes of not looking at my phone or looking out a window. It’s not as hard as you think. You’re not going to fall apart from exploring what’s going on in your head, or finding out that nothing is going on either.

How do you feel about these comparisons to you being the Millennials’ answer to Bob Dylan?

It’s funny. I don’t think I have anything to say about it, but when people connect with the music that way, that’s gotta count for something. I try not to put a huge pressure on anything because I get stressed out and end up not eating anything. I was sick to my stomach this week [leading up to “Saturday Night Live”] so it’s better for me to find a balance between not caring — no, that’s stupid. Not caring is stupid. But not stressing out too much and just being excited to play my songs for people.

 

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