Courtney Barnett is an unassuming young woman with a lot on her plate. Although the 26 year-old has been an actively gigging singer-songwriter for the past seven years, it has only been in the last eighteen months that she has recorded and released her first two EPs, I’ve got a friend named Emily Ferris and How to Carve a Carrot into a Rose; collections of musings on the mundane day-to-day in Melbourne’s inner north.
When we meet her on a sweltering day at a bowls club in Carlton North, she is giggly from her recent two-week trip to the United States and Europe, professing that it was the best fun she’s ever had. Barnett had never travelled internationally (except to New Zealand) before her band, Courtney Barnett and the Courtney Barnetts, was invited to play music conference CMJ in New York and a couple of shows in London and Paris. The French capital reigns as her favourite destination, despite the fact she can’t speak the language. “I didn’t really think about it, but I got off the plane and I thought, ‘I can’t speak French!’” she says. “I can say like five things. At the show I began with, ‘Bonjour, je m’appelle Courtney. I’m from Australia.’”
Despite her references to Weet-Bix and the Epping line in her lyrics, the language barrier didn’t seem to perturb the crowd at all, and they approached the performance with warmth and welcome. “It was cool… they were really nice,” says Barnett. “Lots of people came and talked to me after the show. There was one guy there with his nine-year-old daughter. She told me, ‘I’m learning guitar.’ And I said, ‘that’s so cool, keep playing!’” The success of these shows means that Barnett is enthusiastic to travel again, and has already booked small tours for February and mid-2014. Having been named as one of the best new artists for November by Spin Magazine, and receiving a glowing review from Pitchfork for her lead single Avant Gardener, it’s clear that Barnett’s songwriting is resonating well beyond the Melbourne suburbia it sprang from.
She is excited for the launch of her latest EP How to Carve a Carrot into a Rose (named for her love of the garnish in Chinese restaurants she visited as a child), her first show back in the country, which has sold out, despite the release of extra tickets last week.
The main appeal of Barnett’s songwriting is its honesty and everyday life subject matter. There are no smoke and mirrors with Barnett’s music, and it would be wrong to class her as complex or mysterious. However, there is an air to her that is slightly shy, tinged with a sweet awkwardness. It makes it somewhat difficult to believe that she will be involved in two public events on the program at Melbourne music conference, Face The Music. This includes running a songwriting workshop for eight young songwriters, as well as sitting on a panel at Face The Music to discuss the different ways in which labels of all degrees sell artists’ music. Barnett is the owner and founder of independent label Milk! Records, which she began just over a year ago. Some noteworthy local artists are on her roster, including Jen Cloher, Fraser A Gorman, Royston Vasie and of course, herself. The label is a project that she has gone into headfirst, although she claims not to know all the ropes. “I love it; it’s only been going for a year, and it started off as a little idea that I didn’t think would get very far, and now it’s really chugging along,” she says. “Everyone’s catching on to it and how it embodies a nice idea of sharing and music community and friends helping each other.”
The end of 2013 signals some exciting shows for Barnett, including a spot on the line-up of Meredith Music Festival for the first time. “Normally I can’t get the time off work because I work at a pub. Everyone wants to go to Meredith, so I stay back and get their hours.” She will also be playing support for Billy Bragg in March next year, and he has requested that she perform solo - a sure indication of how far Barnett has come, and how far she will continue to go.
Courtney Barnett plays a sold out show at the Shadow Electric this Friday November 8, Singhala Music's Melbourne Music Revue at Melbourne Music Week on November 19, Meredith Music Festival December 13 – 15, and at Milk! Records Christmas Party at the Tote on December 22.