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

  • ‘The Emoji Movie’ review: It’s not evil, but it's 'meh'

    Entertainment Toronto Sun
    There are five stages of grief in preparing to watch “The Emoji Movie.” The first is denial that this actually exists. The second is anger that now even storytelling has been reduced to those reductive blobs. The third is bargaining that, hey, they made “The Lego Movie” work against all odds so maybe some smart folks actually pulled this off. Source
  • N.S. Art Gallery says exhibit of Leibovitz portraits now up to photographer

    Entertainment CTV News
    HALIFAX -- It's all up to Annie Leibovitz now. Unless the famed American photographer personally signs off on an exhibit to display her iconic portraits, they will remain in storage at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. Source
  • June Foray, voice of Rocky the Flying Squirrel, dead at 99

    Entertainment CTV News
    LOS ANGELES -- June Foray, who provided voices for Rocky the Flying Squirrel and characters in hundreds of classic cartoons, has died at age 99. Foray died Wednesday at West Hills Hospital in Los Angeles. Source
  • Showtime sets a Donald Trump cartoon from Stephen Colbert

    Entertainment CTV News
    NEW YORK -- Showtime has elected to air a cartoon series about the Donald Trump White House. The 10 half-hours of what Showtime calls a workplace comedy will be executive produced by Stephen Colbert for premiere this fall. Source
  • Young Swedish gamer Leffen shakes up world of ‘Super Smash Bros. Melee’

    Entertainment Toronto Sun
    Leffen is jet-lagged and running a little hot on a humid Toronto afternoon, a wave of hair tumbling across his face. The air conditioning in Red Bull Canada’s funky downtown office is not handling the heat that well. Source
  • Tracy Morgan relishes post-crash chance to be 'better man'

    Entertainment CTV News
    BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. -- Tracy Morgan has a ready answer when asked about getting a second chance after his near-fatal crash three years ago. At a TV critics' meeting Thursday, Morgan replied simply: "Thank God. Source
  • MTV taps Katy Perry to host VMAs

    Entertainment CTV News
    Katy Perry will host this year's MTV Video Music Awards, the network announced Thursday, as it turned to one of pop music's most visible stars for its big gala. Perry was also the first performer announced for the awards, which will be aired globally from Los Angeles on Aug. Source
  • Push is on for improved safety measures for women at music festivals

    Entertainment Toronto Sun
    Natasha Penner was in the midst of celebrating her 30th birthday at a West Coast music festival when she accepted a drink from a newfound friend. She felt after spending most of the day with him they had established some trust. Source
  • Teenage Dream? Katy Perry to host MTV VMAs

    Entertainment CBC News
    Get ready to roar with Katy Perry at the MTV Video Music Awards: The pop star is hosting the show next month and will also perform. MTV announced Thursday that Perry will host the Aug. 27 event at the Forum in Inglewood, Calif. Source
  • 'Dancing With the Stars' hoping to tango with Sean Spicer: Reports [Video]

    Entertainment Toronto Sun
    WASHINGTON - So... does Sean Spicer know how to samba? Now that the outgoing press secretary's days of tap dancing around tough questions in the White House press room have come to an end, word is that his next gig might be quite a change of pace: Spicer is apparently being courted as a celebrity contestant on ABC's "Dancing With the Stars," the New York Post first reported. Source