courtney barnett wrote a song about your crippling self-doubt and general lack of confidence
The ultimate 2018 soundtrack.
Photography Pooneh Ghana
Melbourne musician Courtney Barnett writes music about the everyday insecurities plaguing our generation. Depression? Check. Imposter syndrome? Sure. Crippling Self-Doubt And A General Lack Of Confidence? You betcha. The latter, a track from Tell Me How You Really Feel, the album she released last month, is a very modern anthem. Chants of “I don’t know / I don’t know anything” on repeat make up the entirety of the chorus, before a verse sweeps in disclosing the fact that, “I never feel as stupid as when I’m around you.” Oh, insecurity. You suck.
But Courtney doesn’t. She’s been putting out music for 6 whole years and the new record is her third, following on from 2015’s Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit and 2017’s completely beautiful Kurt Vile collab, Lotta Sea Lice. Another stand-out from Tell Me How You Really Feel is Nameless, Faceless, which furiously references a Margaret Atwood quote: “I wanna walk through the park in the dark / men are scared that women will laugh at them / I wanna walk through the park in the dark / women are scared that men will kill them” before dropping into an equally-relatable post-chorus of “I hold my keys/ between my fingers.”
After witnessing Courtney play a killer show at London’s Roundhouse and cheering her off on her way to tour Europe, we gave her a call to discuss the most important aspects of Tell Me How You Really Feel. If you’ve heard any of the record at all, you’ll know that Courtney’s music is conversational and deadpan, so there’s really no surprise when she tells us that the character she most relates to is the eye-rolling queen of awesome that is Daria. “I don’t think I’m quite as cynical, but I enjoy Daria’s dry humour and I admire her for sticking to what she believes in.” On to the questions!
Hi Courtney Barnett! Gonna start with a hard-hitting one: what hot drink did you make with the kettle that we can hear boiling at the end of Hopefulessness ?
Peppermint tea. I drink a lot of tea and if I have too much caffeine I go crazy, so peppermint it is.
Where were you when you wrote City Looks Pretty? I kind of imagine you sitting on top of a hill at night time, surveying your kingdom.
Yeah, it definitely evokes that image. You know what? I actually started writing it when I was living in Melbourne. I started writing it maybe seven years ago when I would spend a fair a bit of time walking around the city at night because I had bar jobs. Since then, I’ve travelled and been in many different places, so I guess it’s kind of all over, but I definitely started there.
So it’s a general appreciation of cities at night?
Yeah, but also that idea that there’s a big existence that so much bigger than you... there’s a whole world and community and you’re just a tiny little part of it.
Gotcha! So Charity touches on mindfulness. I was wondering how you got into that?
Just through reading different books and listening to podcasts, plus friends sharing their stories and situations with me. I’ve given that Headspace app a go.
And when you Need A Little Time out, where’s your favourite place to go?
Just bed. Bed or a bath.
Both very good options. How did you land on the title Nameless, Faceless ?
I think it was just a blurry line between the idea of online anonymity and people being violent or misogynistic, just treating people like they have no value. So being nameless, faceless... having no value.
How do you feel when you perform I’m Not Your Mother, I’m Not Your Bitch? To watch, it’s as though another part of your personality comes out; you’re more snarly and angry and awesome.
Yeah, it feels fantastic to sing that song. It’s so angry and there’s a lot going on -- it’s very passionate and it’s very helpful.
You’re tackling the patriarchy one line at a time! What you do to make yourself feel better when having a particularly bad bout of Crippling Self-Doubt And A General Lack Of Confidence ?
I love listening to sad music. Yesterday I was listening to the first Joan As Police Woman album. And my friend sent me this guy called Stephen Steinbrink. He makes very calming, peaceful music.
That’s cool. I have an anti-anxiety playlist to help me breathe through those moments.
It’s so important. Music is so capable of fixing those overwhelming emotions.
Now, in the words of the Deal sisters on this track: tell me how you really feel.
I don’t know if I can honestly share that today. On top of everything, I just feel grateful to be alive.
How did you end up friends with the Deal sisters?
I did this podcast with Kim Deal a couple of years ago, so that’s when we first met. Then they invited us by the studio where they were making their new album, so I went there and sang a song and I asked them to sing a song on my album too. It worked out really well!
Before you were friends, were you a fan of The Breeders?
Yeah, I was probably in my early 20s was when I discovered them, so a bit later than everyone else. I love them. They’re such a damn good band. I like Kim’s other projects too. I just think she’s a really inspiring person.
What does “no use drinking from a leaking cup” mean in Walkin’ On Eggshells ?
You’re the first person to ask me that. I guess it’s like; you’re using something that’s broken. You’re drinking from a leaking cup, half of it's leaking out the bottom. I think I’m trying to talk about efficiency. You should fix the cup before you use it… or just get a new cup.
On to the last track, Sunday Roast. Where’s your favourite place for it?
I don’t actually know. That song is about sharing a moment with friends and close loved ones. I guess it doesn’t matter where you are. That’s the point of the song -- it’s the company and the intention that I think is important.