Courtney Barnett's clever songwriting sets Grammy nominee apart

NEW YORK -- Even with rock 'n' roll on the outskirts of popular music today, you can still pass by thousands of garages pulsing with the sharp, guitar-based sound favoured by Courtney Barnett and her band.

See Full Article

What sets Barnett apart, and earned the 28-year-old Australian a Grammy nomination for best new artist, is her distinctive songwriting. Her compositions are packed with details, with inventive twists that turn stories like a respiratory attack or search for a suburban home into compelling listening.

The song "Avant Gardener" introduced her to an American audience two years ago, the tale of an ambulance visit unfolding with poignant and amusing asides. "The paramedic thinks I'm clever 'cause I play guitar," she sings. "I think she's clever 'cause she stops people dying."

With her debut album, "Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit," that was among the most highly-regarded of 2015, Barnett proved she wasn't a fluke.

The singer, who lives in the Melbourne area, said she was influenced by the storytelling ability of fellow Australian Paul Kelly and the quirky sensibility of American Jonathan Richman.

"I've messed around with a lot of different styles of songwriting," she said by phone. "I just found when I pulled it apart and slowed it down and just focused on the small details, it was a lot more therapeutic for me and made more sense."

Kelly, one of Australia's most respected singer-songwriters, said Barnett has mapped out her own territory.

"Like all great songwriters she creates a world," Kelly said in an email interview. "It's a familiar world but also completely idiosyncratic. She demonstrates the voraciousness of genius. Anything and everything can be devoured and spat out in a song. I wish I'd written 'Nobody Really Cares If You Don't Go to the Party."'

Barnett is capable of Elvis Costello-like wordplay, like this couplet from "Pedestrian at Best": "I must confess, I've made a mess of what should be a small success. But I digress, at least I've tried my very best, I guess." She's rarely that showy, however. Her observations often seem offhand, disguising the amount of work that went into them.

Details bring the story in "Elevator Operator" alive, about a friend who went to a building's roof to take in the view when a businesswoman mistook him for a potential jumper. "A tortoise shell necklace between her breasts, she looks him up and down with a Botox frown," Barnett sings. "Depreston" conveys complex emotions, when the narrator imagines the life of a potential home's previous occupant.

Barnett said she didn't grow up around much music, but was influenced by tapes of guitar-based acts like Nirvana, Metallica and Jimi Hendrix that were given to her and her brother.

She learned of her best new artist nomination at the end of a long flight home, when her drummer checked his phone and exclaimed, "Oh, my God. You're nominated for a Grammy."

"It's a hugeness of recognition," she said. "It's great. Ten-year-old me didn't think I'd be growing up to be nominated for a Grammy."

She's taking some down time back home to write songs. She runs a small record label and also plays in a duo with her girlfriend Jen Cloher. Barnett earned a nomination for international female solo artist at the Feb. 24 BRIT Awards against Bjork, Lana Del Rey, Ariana Grande and Meghan Trainor. On the Grammys, which will take place in Los Angeles on Feb. 15, she'll compete for best new artist with James Bay, Sam Hunt, Tori Kelly and Trainor.

"I think we're going to come over and drink some champagne, or whatever it is you do at the Grammys," Barnett said.



Advertisements

Latest Entertainment News

  • Fyre Festival fiasco lives, dies on social media

    Entertainment Toronto Sun
    In this day and age, the young and beautiful live and die on social media. And it’s been a sudden and ugly death for the ill-fated Fyre Festival, a multiday music, art and culture party that promised “an invitation to let loose and unplug with the likeminded” on the Bahamian island of Exuma. Source
  • Shannen Doherty's breast cancer in remission

    Entertainment Toronto Sun
    Shannen Doherty is in remission following a two-year battle with breast cancer. The 46-year-old former Charmed actress took to Instagram on Friday to reveal the news in an emotional post, thanking her followers for taking part in her cancer journey. Source
  • TV biopic on Whitney Houston's daughter Bobbi Kristina Brown in the works

    Entertainment Toronto Sun
    A biopic about Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown’s tragic daughter Bobbi Kristina Brown is in the works. Stuck in the Middle star Joy Rovaris will play Bobbi Kristina, while singer Demetria McKinney will portray Houston. The Wire’s Hassan Johnson has been cast as Bobby Brown in the film Bobbi Kristina. Source
  • 'Orange Is the New Black' season 5 uploaded to torrent site, hacker claims

    Entertainment Toronto Sun
    SAN FRANCISCO — A hacker who claimed to have stolen the upcoming season of Netflix’s hit series Orange Is The New Black, and demanded a a ransom from the streaming service, has posted it online, according to MassLive.com. Source
  • DMX checks into rehab

    Entertainment Toronto Sun
    DMX has checked himself into a rehabilitation facility after cancelling a series of gigs. The rapper voluntarily entered a treatment centre in southern California on Thursday, according to TMZ.com. DMX’s manager Pat Gallo confirmed the Party Up (In Here) hitmaker was taking time off to focus on his health. Source
  • Bahamas-based Fyre Festival fizzles, promising refunds and better luck next year

    Entertainment CBC News
    In this day and age, the young and beautiful live and die on social media. In the case of the ill-fated Fyre Festival — a multiday music, art and culture party that promised "an invitation to let loose and unplug with the like-minded" on the Bahamian island of Exuma — it's been a sudden and ugly death, chronicled in real-time on YouTube and filtered through Facebook. Source
  • Fizzled Fyre Festival promises refunds but partygoers 'skeptical'

    Entertainment CBC News
    In this day and age, the young and beautiful live and die on social media. In the case of the ill-fated Fyre Festival — a multiday music, art and culture party that promised "an invitation to let loose and unplug with the like-minded" on the Bahamian island of Exuma — it's been a sudden and ugly death, chronicled in real-time on YouTube and filtered through Facebook. Source
  • DJ Khaled has 'Spider-Man: Homecoming' cameo

    Entertainment Toronto Sun
    Hip-hop star DJ Khaled’s movie resume has been given a big boost after reportedly landing a cameo in the forthcoming Spider-Man: Homecoming film. The All I Do Is Win hitmaker and prolific Snapchat user took to the social media site earlier this week to share footage of himself and his entourage on a “top secret” set at a store in New York City. Source
  • 13 Reasons Why: Is it 'exposing the truth' or a 'primer' on teen suicide?

    Entertainment CBC News
    It's a death scene unlike most others on television. A 17-year-old girl kills herself in a bathtub and the audience, which includes a significant young adult following, sees every moment. The Netflix series 13 Reasons Why, based on the best-selling YA novel by Jay Asher, has scored fans around the world for its raw portrayal of high school life and teen suicide. Source
  • TV biopic on Whitney Houston's daughter Bobbi Kristina in the works

    Entertainment Toronto Sun
    A biopic about Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown’s tragic daughter Bobbi Kristina Brown is in the works. Stuck in the Middle star Joy Rovaris will play Bobbi Kristina, while singer Demetria McKinney will portray Houston. The Wire’s Hassan Johnson has been cast as Bobby Brown in the film Bobbi Kristina. Source