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Keeping It Real with Courtney Barnett

The Australian musician discusses mental health, gender inequality, and more

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Keeping It Real with Courtney Barnett

Courtney Barnett may best be described as a bona fide badass.

Known for her sharp songwriting and shredding guitar work, the Australian singer-songwriter heads to Indianapolis on Wednesday, June 26, performing an intimate in-store at Indy CD & Vinyl before heading to the Farm Bureau Insurance Lawn for a show with The National.

Ahead of her visit to Indy, our Seth Johnson caught up with Barnett for a quick phone interview, discussing inclusivity, her Australian roots, and more.

SETH JOHNSON: When you first started playing music, what was the scene around you like?

COURTNEY BARNETT: It was when I was living in Hobart in Tasmania. I was playing acoustic-type songs, and I had friends who did open mic nights. So the community was a bit folk-y I guess and very singer-songwriter-y. But it was supportive in that way because you’d sit around watching each other play, and then you’d get up to have your turn.

I moved to Melbourne and found another community through working in bars, which were also music venues. [That’s how I started] meeting bands and stuff.

JOHNSON: I’ve read a little bit about Rapid Transit and the other bands you were in early on. Was Rapid Transit the first band you were technically in?

BARNETT: Maybe? I kind of don’t remember. I was doing my solo stuff, and then I got some other musicians to play with me. So I kind of had a band, and then I played with them [Rapid Transit]. And then, I played with Immigrant Union.

JOHNSON: Since I’m calling you from Indianapolis, I have to ask you about Tropical Fuck Storm, an Australian band signed to Indy-based label Joyful Noise Recordings. Do you have a relationship with them at all?

BARNETT: Oh my god, yeah. I think they’re such a great band. I guess my relationship [with them] is that I was a fan of the Drones, which is kind of an offshoot of that band in a way. I’ve just become friends with those people over the years. Dan Luscombe, who plays guitar in the Drones, played on some of my records, and he used to tour with me. Gareth and Fiona [of the Drones] do Tropical Fuck Storm. We actually just saw them the other day in Italy, and that was really cool.

JOHNSON: Staying on the topic of Indiana, I’m curious to hear if you have any thoughts on famed Indianapolis author Kurt Vonnegut, considering how your lyrics are often quite literary.

BARNNETT: I don’t know Kurt Vonnegut. [laughs] I mean, I know the name, but I don’t think I’ve ever read a book.

JOHNSON: Fair enough. Is there maybe something you’ve read recently that particularly stuck with you?

BARNETT: I’ve been reading lots of poetry and stuff. At the moment, I’m reading this Zadie Smith book called Feel Free, which is more like a collection of essays.[pauses] I can’t think what else I’ve read lately. [laughs]

JOHNSON: I recently revisited an article about Australian band Camp Cope and their fight against gender inequality in music. I would also be curious to hear your thoughts on that matter as well.

BARNETT: They [Camp Cope] are friends of mine, and I’ve always found them really inspiring. They speak out very loudly for things that they believe in, and [they are things] that I believe in as well. They’ve really put their neck on the line a few times.

JOHNSON: Do you share a lot of the same frustrations as them when it comes to gender inequality in music?

BARNETT: Yeah, of course. There’s so much work to be done. There’s so much learning for us all to do, as well as un-learning of shitty old behaviors.

JOHNSON: Indianapolis is actually hosting a music festival in 2019 called BUZZ/cut that features all queer artists. That being said, what are your thoughts on queer representation in music right now?

BARNETT: It’s definitely getting better. I’m a queer artist, and it’s always inspiring seeing other queer people on stage. [It was inspiring] especially when I was a bit younger and thought it maybe wasn’t a space for me. I think that crosses over into every representation that exists. That’s why it’s so important for every single strain of equality to happen, so that it’s just a normal fucking world that reflects the world we live in.

There seems to be really strong queer representation lately. Maybe more so than before, but I’m not sure. Maybe it’s just that we’re talking about it more.

JOHNSON: In what ways would you like to see music venues be more inclusive?

BARNETT: I’ve definitely noticed that people have really stepped up their game. I’ve got a thing in my advancing rider that spells out what we want and what we won’t tolerate to venues. I think [there should be] general training and an open conversation about diversity. There’s so much, but that’s always been a good start. You want to feel safe in the space that you’re in, and that’s the job of the people that are working there.

I think the big one that’s often not talked about as much is accessibility for people with disabilities, but I think even that is stepping up and becoming better.

JOHNSON: You often have lyrics in your songs that speak on the topic of mental health. As someone that’s out on the road as much as you are, I’d be curious to hear how you go about staying healthy while touring. Do you have routines or other specific things that you do in order to stay well?

BARNETT: I don’t know if I’ve really figured it out. [There are] simple things like exercising, eating well, not drinking as much, and taking time out to be by yourself. I think it’s a learning process though. I think that’s all part of learning how to be a human as well, but with the added stress of being on tour and being in small spaces with lots of people.

JOHNSON: You’ll be opening up for The National when you come to Indianapolis. What have you enjoyed about doing this stretch of dates with them?

BARNETT: It’s been really fun. They’re a really great band. They’re really great humans and great musicians. It’s been really fun to watch them play and see how it all comes together. They’re just a great live band.

Excited about a concert coming to Indy this summer? Let us know about it here!

Seth Johnson, Music Editor at NUVO, can be reached by email at sjohnson@nuvo.net, by phone at 317-254-2400 or on Twitter @sethvthem

Writer - Music, Comedy & Sports

An Indianapolis native, I love all things music, especially of the local variety. My other passions also include comedy, social justice, and the Indiana Pacers.

(1) comment

Scott Hall

Love her so much.[love]

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