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Interview: Courtney Barnett Talks About Her Album 'Tell Me How You Really Feel'

Interview: Courtney Barnett Talks About Her Album 'Tell Me How You Really Feel'

Roy Irwin / Wednesday 8th August, 2018 8:56AM

Roy Irwin is a solo artist from Auckland who has been writing, recording and producing his music for over ten years. When he is not making music, Roy spends his time skateboarding, painting and designing posters for local and international acts.

Courtney Barnett’s second studio album Tell Me How You Really Feel is a beautiful, pissed off, anxious and depressive collection of songs which I instantly fell in love with. Being my first interview with another artist, I waited nervously to record what potentially would be me making a fool out of myself. After introducing myself I thought Courtney sounded a bit over it all and if I was her I would be too. Having a string of phone interviews with strangers who are picking your brain can’t be that fun. But, Courtney was charming, honest and captivating and, like the content of her songs, I found her to be a person I could relate to and someone who was very connected to the world around her. We talked about songwriting, serendipitous friendships and misogyny in the music industry ahead of this month's New Zealand shows...

Hey Courtney, how are you today?

Hi, very well. Thank you.

Your new album Tell Me How You Really Feel is beautiful. A track I really love on it is 'Hopefulessness'. I feel like I can relate to it in a way. I get depressive and anxious feelings from it and also the anger. Would you say that is right and is it cool to ask you what the song is about or what inspired it?

That's definitely on track. It's that balance between being hopeless and feeling hopeless and wanting to be hopeful and that kinda like push and pull, that kind of... anger, anxiety. I guess recognising in myself and people around me that those two kind of conflicting feelings and I think how to not get lost with seeing them and how to turn it into something useful and positive.

I can definitely understand that. On the album you had Dan Luscombe (The Drones) and Burke Reid (Gerling) on board to produce the album with you, I was wondering if there was any difference in comparison to producing the last album together or whether it was a fairly similar approach?

Yeah it was quite similar. It was a quite similar set up I guess. We almost just jumped back in where we left off. It was great. It was great working with them again.

The lyrics on the album, I read somewhere that you were kinda just writing things down on a typewriter everyday or whenever something came to you. Is that right?


I ask about this because I do it myself and because it's such a stream of consciousness sometimes that I look at lyrics and think "What the hell am I talking about?" but then maybe a month or a year later they sometimes start to make sense. Do you experience this too because of this way of writing?

Yeah, that always happens with me. I find it a fun part of the process... so much of it can be so frustrating and feeling like your getting nowhere and saying nothing and just writing all this weird stuff that doesn't make sense, but I think sometimes with that kind of time or different perspective it jumps out. That was an interesting part of my process, which was just writing everyday with no intention and no goal except maybe I'd set myself up for a couple of pages or a time limit. Then I'd read back over it months later with like a highlighter and, just kind of pick out the stand out lines or things. It was really interesting.

It can be kinda freaky sometimes when it all starts to make sense. It's kind of a weird feeling right?


I'm not making any assumptions but you seem like a laid back person, just from watching past interviews and things. It made me wanna ask whether you find it hard touring sometimes, because one of the things that makes me anxious is the thought of long periods of travel or perhaps talking to somebody like me, when you might not wanna talk y'know?

I think I've gotten more used to the travel. I definitely have had anxiety with that in the past and sometimes I still do, but it's almost like a bit of time of peace now. It's a kinda like a slowing down process or something. But yeah I definitely have and get plenty of anxieties of talking to people. I think my thing is sometimes I have trouble communicating what I'm trying to say and then I get kinda frustrated or self-conscious and that can send me to a weird place... hah!

I understand. It's nice to hear when someone else feels the same way. I was wondering who your favourite Australian band is at the moment?

[pondering silence] Ohhhh at the moment um. Well...

It's a pretty hard question really. [laughs]

Yeah, I think pretty much all the bands on Milk! Records which is the label that I have. I love all of them and I wouldn't work with them unless I loved them, haha. There is a lot. But I guess a non-Milk! band... I'm really loving the new Laura Jean album.

Oh yeah, I still haven't listened to the album but I was listening to a few of her tracks the other day. Have you heard an older Sydney band called Smudge?

Yeah, yeah! I love Smudge.

I'm a big fan too. I was thinking about Smudge because of Tom Morgan who co wrote a lot of Lemonheads songs because you played 'Being Around' with Evan Dando. What was that like? Do you keep in touch with him?

Oh no, we don't keep in touch but I guess we bump into each other over time. Like I did a tour in America where I took... Evan had or has this kind of side-project called the Sandwich Police. [both laugh]

I took them on tour and that was awesome. Just watching him perform every night was cool. I did a thing with Smudge in Sydney a couple of years ago and I recorded a version of their song, 'Divan'. They did that re-release with all these people doing covers of all of their songs, I'm a big fan of those guys and their songs.

For sure. Are you a fan of other Half-A-Cow bands as well?

That was the label right?

Yeah I think it was like, Nic Dalton's who played in the Plunderers and The Lemonheads for a while.

That's right. Yeah, I've been exposed to some of that stuff.

Rad. I heard you and your partner Jen Cloher listened to a lot of Kurt Vile, the album - Smoke Ring For My Halo when you first met. Was that before you met Kurt?

Yeah definitely. I probably didn't meet him til... oh I dunno maybe a year or so later? I supported a show he did in Melbourne but we didn't really become friends until a little bit later after that. So it was a pretty drawn out meeting process.

Was it surreal to become friends and then make music with this person who you've had an intimate experience with their music, so to speak?

Yeah. [laughs] Yeah it's crazy, I mean. I've had so many experiences like that and I guess it's just good to keep an open mind I guess and be open to the world around us.

Absolutely. I really love a line in the song 'Nameless / Faceless' where you sing "I could eat a bowl of alphabet soup and spit better words than you. But you didn't." I understand that came from a comment from some guy on the internet and I thought, do you see many reviews or other comments because speaking from some experience they can be pretty fuckin' stupid right?

Yeah. I mean, I see some I guess. I read some. I think it's hard to take anything negative which is always gonna be the louder voice in your head. [laughs] But it's healthy to read those and know they exist because that is the world and that is reality. Not everyone likes everything and that's normal. I think it's unhealthy to only read one side. I think I'm pretty at peace with that reality... ahah.

You'd have a hard time I guess if you weren't. There would be no escape out of it. Another line I really love in that song is "I hold my keys between my fingers" when referring to walking through a park in the dark. As a male who gets mistaken as a woman often or yelled at by super masculine dudes passing in cars, I do this as well. As a woman in the music industry, how often do you experience bullshit from men? I ask because although we are evolving as humans I feel as though misogyny in all industries is still something that does get swept under the rug.

Yeah it does and I was talking about this. I'm always talking about it on some level. I was talking about it with friends the other night about how it's kind of changed over time and how it used to just be so kinda out in the open and It's better now, but it's almost like it's so much more covert and a lot of it is through much more subtle manipulation and hidden remarks. It's definitely still there and I think with all these conversations that it's really opening eyes to how things can change and be better. It's definitely better but it could be a whole lot better that's for sure.

I agree. I wanted to also tell you about how I have long hair and because of this people constantly compare my music to Kurt Vile's even though our music is pretty different I'd say. [both laugh]

I recently cut myself a fringe and now my hair kinda looks more like yours and I've been joking that people will start comparing my music to your music. Do you get any comparisons that you find really funny.

I think any comparison is funny. Even that is funny, that you have long hair and people say "Kurt Vile". It's just y'know... [laughs] I get why we all make comparisons... it's easy.

It makes people feel safe I guess...

Yeah, put things in a box and to kinda know the sound that something sounds like something else or looks like something. I dunno. I try not to take any of it to heart.

I better let you go but thank you so much for your time today and I'm looking forward to seeing you play in Auckland. Just one last question though, Are you a fan of Jurassic Park and do you think you'll watch Jurassic World?

Oh yeah I love Jurassic Park. I'll probably go when I'm on tour. We like going to the movies. [laughs] When we are somewhere weird. But yeah I'll probably go see it.

Have a great day Courtney.

Yeah, you too. See ya.

Courtney Barnett is playing with East Brunswick All Girls Choir at Auckland's The Powerstation on Tuesday 28th August & Wednesday 29th August, and at Wellington's The Opera House on Thursday 30th August. For more info head along here.

You can listen to Roy Irwin's music online via Bandcamp or any music streaming service and / or check out his visual art and daily musings on Instagram.


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Courtney Barnett
Tue 28th Aug 8:00pm
The Powerstation, Auckland
Courtney Barnett (Sold Out)
Wed 29th Aug 8:00pm
The Powerstation, Auckland
Courtney Barnett
Thu 30th Aug 8:00pm
The Opera House, Wellington