By Andy Downing
RedEye special contributor
6:24 PM CDT, July 22, 2014
Though Courtney Barnett was born and raised in Australia, the Melbourne-based musician has experienced more success stateside than in her native land, selling out a string of U.S. dates before selling out a single gig back home.
“It’s kind of a funny situation,” said Barnett, who performs Friday, Aug. 1 at Lollapalooza following a more intimate gig Wednesday, July 30 at Schubas, by phone. “We’ve been playing around Australia for so long, and we still haven’t really done our big, headlining shows here.”
It shouldn’t be long before her countrymen catch up to the rest of the world in appreciating the jangly, indie rock gems populating last year’s “The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas,” a compilation album designed to whet appetites while the 26-year-old singer-songwriter puts the finishing touches on her full-length debut.
You titled this release “The Double EP.” Did you want to make sure people didn’t confuse this with a full-length album?I guess that’s why I called it “The Double EP,” just to make it blatantly obvious to everyone. Lots of people still seem to confuse it a little bit, but at the end of the day I don’t care. People can call it whatever they want as long as they enjoy it and get something out of it.
The first full-length is done now, correct?Yeah, we recorded in Melbourne just before we went overseas in April, and I’m trying to get it finished up and ready to release maybe later in the year or early next year. It feels like the next step for me. The songs and ideas are from the same place, but the sound is a bit more realized because we’ve spent so long touring and the one band recorded all the songs. With the 12 songs on the first two EPs, I got whoever was around to play whatever they could play. I think there were around 30 musicians who appeared on those songs.
From listening to “Avant Gardener” (a song where the narrator attempts gardening and ends up suffering a panic attack), I’m guessing the answer is no, but do you have much of a green thumb?[Laughs] Yeah, I do actually. That was just a bad day. I had [an elaborate garden] at home, but we had a really hot summer and I went away a few months, so I let it die for a bit. I’m going to redo it all eventually.
Is being known as a witty songwriter a double-edged sword? Do you feel any pressure to be witty in interviews?
No [laughs]. That’s a funny question because I think I’m really [bleeping] boring. You know how there’s people who are really funny at parties and have a crowd of people around them that laugh at all their jokes? I’m not that person. I’m a quiet, shy person who doesn’t want to talk to anyone. There’s the answer to your question.
Did that make it difficult to stand in front of people and perform these songs?Yeah, that was a long process. I guess I started singing my own songs when I was 18 and was always super shy and really nervous. Since then I’ve been playing and touring … and gaining confidence and finding my own thing.
You mentioned you read a lot growing up. What authors left a mark on you?A big one when I was a kid was Roald Dahl. I liked that weird, slightly surreal thing, and I just love that all of his children’s stories are so [bleeped] up. They’re really nasty and quite violent, and I find it really funny [that] he writes these crazy stories empowering kids against their evil parents.
You’ve also talked about being a huge fan of biographies. Do you have a recent favorite? Why do you think you’re so drawn toward them?You know [Australian musician] Paul Kelly? He’s got a great biography I read earlier this year. It’s a really honest look into his life. It’s interesting to hear about people’s lives and what they do and what they go through. Everyone is doing the same thing, which is trying to get through life in whatever way they can, and it’s interesting to hear how everyone faces it and how everyone interprets the challenge differently.
You’ve talked about writing 10 bad songs for every good one. What’s the last bad song you wrote?There are a lot. You have to write bad songs to get to the good ones, I reckon.
How do you know when you’ve hit on a good one?
Sometimes it takes a while to accept [a song is] OK. You sing it a lot around the house, and it just keeps creeping back. When I don’t cringe at my own lyrics, I know I’m happy with them. It’s a long process ’cause I’m a bit of a perfectionist. If there’s even one word I don’t like, it can throw the whole thing off.
Andy Downing is a RedEye special contributor. @redeyechimusic @andydowning33
Courtney Barnett, 9 p.m. July 30 at Schubas, $15. 2:15 p.m. Aug. 1 at the Grove stage at Lollapalooza in Grant Park, sold out.
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