Courtney Barnett: Unguarded ‘Gardener’

Courtney Barnett plays Union Transfer in Philly on  Thursday, Feb. 20, Mercury Lounge in NYC on Friday, Feb. 21 and the Knitting Factory in Brooklyn on Saturday, Feb. 22.
Courtney Barnett plays Union Transfer in Philly on Thursday, Feb. 20, Mercury Lounge in NYC on Friday, Feb. 21 and the Knitting Factory in Brooklyn on Saturday, Feb. 22.

Last year was Courtney Barnett’s first time out of her native Australia besides two trips to New Zealand, and it went exactly the way it was supposed to. At the CMJ music festival in New York, the 24-year-old singer/songwriter’s unapologetic tunes garnered the attention of high-profile media outlets and scores of new followers alike.

“[CMJ] was cool because it’s kind of a mix of industry people, which is always a bit weird, but there’s an awesome off-the-street kind of crowd of music lovers, so it was fun playing to them and just talking to people afterwards,” she says. “Some of them had heard of us and some hadn’t. Well, most hadn’t, so, it’s good.”

Though she claims to have a shy, quiet nature, any and all trace of that melts away on stage, where she performs as though there’s nowhere else she could be more at ease. She’s like Lena Dunham in music-form, but with the short story skills of someone like Miranda July. From under shaggy brunette bangs her lyrics come like a lazy challenge: “I sleep in late / Another day / Oh what a wonder / Oh what a waste. / It’s a Monday / It’s so mundane / What exciting things / Will happen today?” Those are the first lines of her breakout hit, “Avant Gardener,” from “The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas,” set to release in North America April 15 via Mom+Pop.

A few tracks later, on “Are you Looking After Yourself?” she sings, “I don’t know what I was thinking, I should get a job / I don’t know what I was drinking, I should get a dog / Should get married, have some babies, watch the evening news,” and echoes the private, innermost thoughts of her entire generation.

Her maiden voyage now over, Barnett is making her way back through a slew of sold-out shows in the States before a gig supporting Billy Bragg on his Australian tour, which kicks off in March.

“Going from not even having ever traveled and just assuming I would never travel, I just assumed that no one would ever hear my music outside of Melbourne,” she says. “Every time it grows a little bit more, it gets a bit more surreal.”

A self-proclaimed compulsive note-keeper, Barnett draws on real life experiences for inspiration for her music. “Avant Gardener” chronicles a seemingly innocuous attempt at gardening that ends in an ambulance ride: “It was just an anxiety attack or something I think, and we didn’t know if it was like an allergy on top of it because I got this weird rash and then I stopped breathing,” she says. “Just after it happened I went and stayed in the country for two weeks and did heaps of writing and stuff and that’s when I wrote it, but we’d already written the music. It was weird, it was back-to-front. It kind of happened all separately, and then I kind of figured out how the words went with the music.”


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