Barns Courtney is gearing up to release his debut album The Attractions of Youth this September, so we thought it was the perfect time to catch up with the man himself to find out how it all came together for him and how breaking his foot has made him even more dramatic on stage…
Where are you and what have you been up to today?
I’m in Los Angeles, off to Venice Beach to meet a fashion designer and check out his studio. Not that I know anything about high fashion, I just befriended him and his lady in a bar the other night.
It sounds like you really went through that wild rock & roll phase with your earlier band Dive Bella Dive, did you need that to happen then to bring you to where you are now as a solo artist?
Things got pretty dark in that band house. The constant parties were great for the first two years but after a while you start to descend into an existential vortex! Sleep deprivation and the arrival of several New Zealand drug dealers two doors down certainly added to this. Plumbing issues broke all the lights in the kitchen as well as the heating. We used to heat the house with the oven…which was never cleaned resulting in a thick black smoke that smelled vaguely of chicken nuggets. The dream died slowly over the last year of our deal. When we were dropped, I had nothing. No qualifications, no money, no place to go apart from my mom’s house back in Seattle. It took three years of struggling, selling cigarettes in night clubs, working at PC world and other odd jobs before I could get back into the industry. But people underestimate the power of failure. There’s a lot of drive and energy to be found at rock bottom. For the first time, I had something real to write about. The entirety of my first EP is inspired by those experiences.
How pivotal was it for your career to have ‘Fire’ featured in the film Burnt?
When I got the call about ‘Fire,’ I was on the shop floor at PC World. This young kid, Seb Foux who’d been dabbling in my project had somehow landed my tune on the desk of Mike Smith at Virgin and by extension Harvey Weinstein. Before I knew it I was being contacted by every major label, booking agent and manager in London. This Frankenstein demo of two productions I’d mashed together was suddenly in a movie, unfinished and being picked up by American radio stations. People at my label who didn’t even know I existed were getting calls about me. Within a week of signing my deal, I was on the road in America. There wasn’t much of a budget, just me and my acoustic guitar, but the contrast to the previous months was almost unfathomable. Soon after my A&R left Virgin. 20 of his 22 acts were dropped. If it hadn’t been for that film, my career would’ve died before it even started.
Your debut album The Attractions of Youth is coming out this September, what can we expect from the record?
I explore a little outside of the blues driven sound of ‘Fire’ and ‘Glitter & Gold’. Of course there are a few more tunes in that vein but there’s also some Beck influence, a Sargent Pepper’s inspired ballad, and a dirty, simplified Prince sounding track called Never Let You Down’.
You definitely go for it when you perform live, like breaking your foot after a stage dive at Summerfest. Is your headline Shoestring Tour going to be as crazy?
If anything the broken foot has given me license to be even more dramatic. I played Lollapolooza from a gurney, dressed in a hospital gown, as a blonde nurse pushed me around the stage. Also, hopping around on one foot adds a lot of suspense. You can almost read people’s minds from the stage. “Is he gunna fall over and break his other foot?” “Is he gunna fall off stage?” These one legged shows have actually been some of the most enjoyable.
What are you listening to at the moment?