On October 11, Barns Courtney returns to Montreal to play the Beanfield Theatre, five years after he last played there, opening for The Wombats. This time, he’s headlining.
We caught up with the singer/songwriter ahead of the show to talk about his teenage years, what makes a great show, and what to expect from his next album
How are you, mate?
I’m great, dude. It’s been amazing to be back out for the first time in six months, I think.
Yeah, I was going to say, what were you doing over summer?
Just writing an enormous amount of songs and going to a lot of pool parties on the weekends.
That sounds alright.
It’s not the worst job in the world.
I like that I can call you mate because even though you don’t sound it, you’re technically British, right?
Yeah, I was born in England, moved to Seattle when I was four and then back to Ipswich when I was 14, and then lived in England for 10 years.
Do you have a British passport?
Yeah, yeah, wholly British. Very much like Mid-Atlantic, unloved by either side.
Moving from Seattle back to the UK when you were 14. What was that like? That’s a weird time to move countries, right?
Especially going from Seattle to Ipswich, the culture shock was massive. I was going to a pretty decent school in Seattle, and then I found myself in one of the worst council estates in Suffolk County. Walking two miles to school every day and having guys get out of their car, punch me in the back of the head twice, then get back in and drive off.
It was great. It was amazing because, for the first time in my life, they were more concerned about the guy that just burned the school gymnasium down than my grades and whether or not I was skipping classes to go and write songs with my friends in the fields.
You started really early writing songs.
Yeah, I was always writing bits and bobs from the age of six or seven. But I think I started learning the guitar when I was around 14. What kind of songs were you writing when you were six or seven?
I literally remember them. I wrote a song about a happy yodeler. I can literally remember the melody.
Do you think it’ll ever make it onto an album?
maybe if I get really stuck for content, maybe I’ll just revert back to all those songs that I wrote.
If you can still remember the melody, then it must be a pretty good melody, right?
I don’t know if that’s always the case. Maybe that’s my life’s work. Maybe that’s my opus that I wrote when I was six, but I feel like it’s probably not.
When we reviewed the show you did with The Wombats, our reviewer said about you, that you were the support, but you would never know that you were the support because you put so much effort into the show and so many people knew all the words to your songs.
So have you felt like this kind of growing popularity for a while now?
I like the way Rick Rubin looks at it in that all your creative efforts are just an offering to God. And you shouldn’t really put too much of your time and effort and thought process into thinking about how big it’s going to get or how well it’s doing. Really, a real artist just thinks about the art. And it’s something that I have to really remind myself because I get sucked into that trench of comparison quite a lot. Or like the void of ideals of where I want to be. And of course, it’s important to know where you’re going in life and have goals. But I think for me at this particular moment in my life, the lesson I really am concentrating on learning is just how to put as much time and energy into the art itself, into the music and the live show and the imagery and the artwork that’s on the merch, all that kind of stuff.
Because I think in the past, I’ve definitely– I’m very ambitious. And sometimes, when I pay too much attention, just feel like, oh, well, it’s all coming up Barnzy. It can distract me from what’s important. You never know, do you? You’ve got to do what Andy Warhol says and make art. And while people are deciding whether or not they like it, just make more art, right?
Yeah. I love that quote. I have Rick Rubin’s book here.
It’s probably one of the best books on creativity that I’ve ever read. It’s really amazing. It’s amazing to hear in interviews as well, but so many people fought him on writing that book. Nobody wanted to publish it. So many people were saying, well, I think what people really would want is a book about your experiences with Johnny Cash and all the celebrities you’ve met and what they’re like and pulling back the curtain.
And such a nice bow to tie everything off with for that book, the fact that he stuck to his guns, didn’t write with the ideals of success or pleasing people or trying to second guess what the audience would like. He just wrote the book that he wanted to write. And it turned out to be incredible and extremely useful for people like me.
When you walk out onto a stage, what’s going through your head? What’s your goal for the show?
I try my best, and I don’t always succeed, to be as meditative as possible when I go out. I think, you know, a lot of the time the best shows are ones where my mind is very quiet, and I’m very present and, like, plugged into the perceived source that most creatives feel. Their connection to their art, you know to like that other dimension where ideas and performance come from and really the best shows I feel more like a conduit than I do like the actual generator of the performance. Sometimes if I’m really really going through something, like a like a breakup or something’s really riled me up, I can channel that energy into the show and that can be useful. But for the most part, I find a very quiet zen state is the best.
So what’s next for you after the tour?
I think probably like a lot more writing and I think we’ll probably do a European tour at some point in the near future. I’ve had an album finished that I’ve been waiting to release for a couple of years, but I’ve been very unlucky with record labels, you know, but we’re starting this new deal with Avenue A under Virgin. So I think, in a short space of time, everything should be back on track.
So this latest single, Young In America, is that a sign of what’s to come?
No, not really. The album’s like an ADHD love letter to careless frivolity. It’s all over the place stylistically. And I don’t know if that, you know, helps or hinders me on a record. Sometimes people like to sign up to a specific cult with certain boundaries that they can affix to their own personalities. But, I suppose my personality is quite all over the place, you know, so it’s a true expression of who I am at the very least, but I would say that, you know, Young In America is just like the single that preceded it.
It’s quite different from the rest of the album. You know, supernatural was like a bubblegum pop song with a glam rock chorus and Young In America is kind of like a Springsteen killer song. We’ve got Iggy Pop punk tunes on this album. We’ve got like weird funk tunes about a cult leader who dresses like Mother Teresa, robbing a bank. Um, it’s pretty scary.
Watch the full interview below:
Barns Courtney plays Beanfield Theatre on October 11th.
Main Photo by Monika WilczynskaShare this :