Just after his new album dropped I got the chance to chat with Barns Courtney. Funniest guy I have ever met and extremely talented of course. In this interview we discussed his incredible story, his feelings about releasing new music, his little brother picking the tunes that made it on this latest record, his favorite bands, and more. Read on to find out more about this talented artist and make sure to check out The Attractions of Youth out now.
MWN: Thanks so much for taking the time to answer these questions. Let’s kick things off with your debut album The Attractions of Youth – out now on Virgin EMI. How do you mentally prepare for the release of new material?
Barns Courtney: Its hugely exciting to be releasing all my tunes out into the world! What can you do? It’s glorious and terrifying all at once. All I can do is continue the rituals and rites of any musician and continue to make music.
MWN: So this album will also feature a few of the singles you have released such as s ‘Fire’, and ‘Glitter & Gold’, as well as your most current release ‘Golden Dandelions’. These songs are brilliant, but of all three, “Fire” resonated with me the most. The instrumentals and vocals are very powerful. For you, which song resonates with you the most?
Barns Courtney: Of the initial tracks, Fire, Glitter & Gold and Little Boy were particularly personal. It’s a long story, so I’m gunna spin the yarn like Im an old man and these are my memoirs…
I signed my first record deal straight out of high school. All wide eyed and full of the glorious passions of youth. I poured my heart and soul into a record, spent three years touring it, only to get dropped before its release. The producer was tied into the contract and failed to deliver an album. Having spent every day making music and touring since I left home, the rug was well and truly pulled out from under me. With no qualifications and woefully unprepared for the real world, I got a job in Currys and PC world, directly across from the 5 star hotel where I used to stay with my band.
I’d stand outside on my lunch break, looking up at this enormous monolith to all my past failings, my previous manager’s new band literally playing on the radio. I soon realised that the price of my lunch was equivalent to an hour of stacking shelves. Bitter, depressed and extraordinarily jaded by the whole experience, I could see my life stretching out before me, an endless torrent of dead end jobs and patronising bosses.
Two years went by with more or less no progress. I wondered if Id ever make music for a living again. As I watched everyone around me finish university, begin careers and start families, I couldn’t help but resent them all.
The naive and seemingly indomitable passion for music that burned my gut since I could remember was fading fast. Something I thought was so integral to my being was all but gone. Only to be replaced by a heavy, sinking dejection that tugged intently at my resolve like a changing tide. I think that hit me harder than any record company ever could.
And still, out of despondency and endless days spent dodging the mundane questions of job centre officials, I would occasionally find it. Although more defiance than anything. A kicking, screaming, raging denial of circumstance, thelast of a dying itch. “This isn’t my life” I insisted. “…it cant be…surely I haven’t seen the end yet. Theres more fight in me than that isn’t there? There must be. Fuck this. Fuck them! Fuck them all, Im gunna do this till I die!”
“Lord, give me that Fire” a pretty throw away line on the face of things, was a prayer to reconnect with the unbridled ambition of my youth.
“lonely shadows”, “ghosts and devils”, the bitter resentment of my circumstances that I couldn’t shake off.
So I suppose, in incredibly roundabout way, that explains what that EP is about. Desperately trying to reconnect with the naive passions of childhood, after they had long since been extinguished.
Ok end scene, Im 26 year old Barns again. That was fun though.
MWN: How do you decided what songs make the cut to be on the record?
Barns Courtney: Like any serious musician, I took to this task with the utmost professionalism…and let my 14 year old brother choose. Seriously, I’d been so close to the record for so long, I needed an outside, totally unbiased opinion. And who better to decide than ol Cody Becker? The boy wonder who’d rather be listening to Marshmallow and has never heard of Elton John. What a pure lily white opinion to stretch over mine humble recordings!
“That one sounds the same as the other one, get rid of it”
Of course, at once! It’s only about the months of depression I suffered at the hands of a destructive relationship and the fervent alcoholism that followed. The other one’s about the death of our grandfather. Needn’t have both!
But his cutting and unapologetic critique of my music was just the kind of objective, face value opinion I was looking for. Surprisingly difficult to find.
MWN: So you were born in England, and you spent most of your life in Seattle then moved back to England when you were a teenager? How did that shift impact your music?
Barns Courtney: I certainly developed an appreciation for British indie bands. I remember a conversation I had once with the guitarist of the sex pistols. In between anecdotes of stealing bicycles, he theorized that musicians are most influenced by what you were listening to from the ages of 10-12. I tend to agree. Paul Simon, Nirvana and The Backstreet Boy’s Black and Blue album.
MWN: What are some bands you are currently into that you would recommend to our readers?
Barns Courtney: Blackwaters for some pure punk hedonism. Produced by The Libertine’s Carl Baratt, No older than 18 the lot of them! “From the mouths of babes”
Babyteeth, London’s newly formed lady sensation. Think Nirvana meets girl power.
YOTA, saw them at a secret show in LA. Phenomenal! With a Klaxon and a member of Blur in their midst, they’re bound for greatness.
MWN: Something that was really interesting to me is the fact that you made “Glitter&Gold” and “Hell Fire” with your friend in an abandoned retirement home. How was that like?
Barns Courtney: We didn’t really think about it too much at the time. My old band mate and I were poor as dirt and living off very little. It was a means to an end. Only in retrospect, when the old folks home had been knocked down to rubble did we realised there was something special about those recordings. An old filing cabinet for a kick drum, a detuned piano for a bass guitar. Sam’s bedroom was in a decaying office. Slimy pink wallpaper clinging to the dusty bricks, dirty tile floors and a window covered in construction paper. But there was something about that place that delivered a fantastic sound. This shitty acoustic quality that resonated down theadjacent hallway. Pair that with the necessity of making sounds out of whatever was lying around and you had a pretty interesting set up.
MWN: Also you took a big step in your career going from being in a band to a solo career. Was that hard? How did you adjust?
Barns Courtney: I always loved the camaraderie of being in a band. But when you approach your mid 20s, its difficult to find people who still want to be rock stars. Or should I say are naive enough to think they still could be
The hardest part was transitioning from writing the chords, melodies and lyrics to writing all the parts of a song. The drums, the lead guitar lines, the bass, the piano. I missed having someone there who’s entire world was their instrument. Who’s whole life was say, the bass guitar. As a result, a lot of the parts of this album are very basic. Although this turned out to be a happy accident as it shaped a big part of the thumping, flammy style of my first EP.
MWN: I really admire people that get knocked down and are brave enough to get back up. Which is something you did. You went from struggling real hard to now selling out shows. How do you take it all in? Any advice for aspiring musicians?
Barns Courtney: Dont underestimate the benefits of failure. I love that cheesy quote, “The master has failed more times than the apprentice has even tried.” It’s so true. Failure is an integral part of success. Go out there with a willingness to suck. And keep sucking. Hard. Every day until you don’t suck anymore. A lot of people shy away from self-discipline. They see it as a chore. Or a trait that only boring, straight laced people have. But in reality it puts you above the rest. It’s the secret to living an extraordinary life. To becoming an extraordinary person. And the longer you do it, the easier it gets.
MWN: To wrap things up, is there anything you’d like to say to the people that have stuck by your side throughout your entire journey?
Barns Courtney: To my mother, who filled me with the crazy notion that I could be whatever I wanted: You a boss lady.
To everyone else, where were you when I left the womb?
*makes it look like a cool dance move*
*no one is convinced*
*still makes a killing off the dvd sales*
Interview By: Maria Limon | @shotbylimon