Suburban pop poet Courtney Barnett has won over fans around the world with her amusing anecdotes and cruisy rock style.
The Melbourne-based slacker songstress gained international attention on the back of the release of her debut studio album, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit. Known for her witty storytelling and deadpan vocal delivery, Barnett’s unashamed Australiana style is a winning formula.
The 27 year-old travels the world telling tales of Northcote noodle bars and house-hunting, but her left-handed guitar style is just as interesting. See-sawing between lead and rhythm, Barnett’s music can range from melodic to discordant and everything in-between.
Barnett was born on November 3rd (my birthday too!) 1987 in Pittwater, and grew up in Sydney’s Northern Beaches. When she was 16, her family moved from Sydney to Hobart. Having grown up listening to American bands, she discovered Australian singer-songwriters Darren Hanlon and Dan Kelly which inspired her to start writing.
From 2010 – 2011 Barnett played second guitar in Melbourne garage grunge band Rapid Transit. Between 2011 and 2013 she was a member of Australian psych/country band Immigrant Union, a musical project founded by Brent DeBoer of The Dandy Warhols and Bob Harrow. Along with sharing vocal duties, Barnett predominantly played slide guitar. In 2012, Barnett established her own label, Milk! Records, and released her debut EP, I’ve Got a Friend called Emily Ferris, to glowing reviews around Australia.
After a string of EP’s, Barnett finally recorded and released her debut album, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit, in March this year and has been touring as a trio (Bones Sloane on bass and Dave Mudie on drums) ever since. She leads the number of nominations – eight – for the ARIA Music Awards of 2015, including for Breakthrough Artist, Best Female Artist and Album of the Year. Barnett is openly gay and lives in Melbourne with her musician girlfriend of four years, Jen Cloher.
Although she started off on a gorgeous red Harmony (which she cracked on tour), Barnett’s touring axe of choice nowadays is a Fender American Standard Telecaster. Sometimes, she can be spied widening a Fender Jaguar too.
A languid leftie, Barnett suits the simplicity and stability of the Tele though – particularly on tour. A classic model, it was the tone and unwavering tuning that predominately appealed most to Barnett when she was sourcing a new guitar. Barnett’s guitar has the typical 70s style headstock, maple neck and black-and-white body contour shape.
Amp wise, Barnett keeps it consistent with a Fender – a Deluxe or Twin or DeVille – in the studio and on the road.
Courtney Barnett hated the sound of picks on an acoustic guitar, so she developed her own fingerpicking style, and therefore, sound.
Ranging from a discordant series of sounds to dainty melancholic melodies, Barnett’s arsenal features dense feedback, oddball oscillations, and good-old-fashioned-fuzzed-out-hook-driven riffage.
Her guitar-centric approach is fundamental to her unique and becoming distinctive sound and as a leftie with her own technique (her index finger and thumb acts like a pick!), Barnett’s sound and style is even more incredible and magnetic live.
The relentless fuzz-fest of ‘Pedestrian at Best’, the feedback assault amid the otherwise laid-back ‘Avant Gardener’, the smooth strums and slides of ‘Depreston’, the grunge grooves of ‘Pickles from the Jar’, the bluesy slides of ‘Dead Fox’, the electrified arpeggiated chords of ‘Elevator Operator’, the psychedelic punchy picks of ‘History Eraser’, the stuttering sounds of ‘Kim’s Caravan’, the delicate punctuated notes of ‘Boxing Day Blues’ and the vampy, plodding Jack White-produced Boys Next Door-cover ‘Shivers’.
Most of Barnett’s official music videos (they are worth checking out purely for their off-kilter subject matter).
Below, watch NME take Barnett to Wunjo Guitars in London to talk about how she learned to play, honing her craft and the making of her debut album: