Courtney Barnett: “Some people are going to hate me”
Aussie singer-songwriter Courtney Barnett isn't your typical indie artist. For a start, she's known worldwide for her sardonic, observatory lyrics and wry tone. And then there's the fact that the 28 year old helms her own record label (Milk! Records), oh yeah, and then there's that Grammy she won this year for Best New Artist. We grabbed a moment to chat to her about song writing, feminism and starting her record label:
How did you come up with the idea to start your own record label?
I founded it a couple years ago; I was recording a lot of music in my room by myself and trying to do the music thing. I was playing gigs all the time and I finally got around to recording something properly that I wanted to release, and I started doing this small business course and I just came up with the idea to make a record label to release my own music. It just seemed to make sense and I could do things on my own terms. I like to do everything - I guess controlling is one word for it - and doing all the parts and doing things the way I like them.
A small operation seemed the way to do it. Set up a website and store and just sell my records - it was that simple. I lived in a share-house with friends, and everyone played in a different band and then I kind of started saying 'Do you want to sell your record on my online store?' and then it kind of just kept growing from there, into a real record label.
Did you feel daunted at the prospect of doing it or think that it was a big thing to do?
I mean it just felt like a project, still does. It's not like it's a multi-million dollar empire and it never will be. I see it as part of the process - you make something, you write something, you draw something and then you kind of get it out into the world. You might as well do it in the way that feels interesting. So I see it as a completion of the whole process.
I feel like there's been a bit of noise, especially from female musicians in the last couple of years, saying the industry can be really misogynistic or the way that female musicians are promoted and perceived can be quite sexist. Do you have any experience with that?
Not so much, luckily, as other people but I mean that's just the world. People don't even know that they're doing it sometimes. Growing up I was just used to it and you kind of just work around it and its fine, but now, I just turned 28, I feel like I'm just noticing a lot of things and I feel like a bit of a late bloomer in that area. But it's weird that as a young girl you grow up just trying to work around it or fit in, knowing that sexism is there. You find yourself accommodating it which I think is so crazy. I'm pretty lucky in that people that I work with and my friends and band members, everyone is pretty cool, but you always run into people on the road or in studios or at shows who... yeah.
How do you find navigating the digital world we're living in? It opens you up to online commentary and if you wanted to you could read what people are saying about you. Is that something that you're aware of?
Yeah, I'm aware of it, but I think you have to have an attitude - well I'm a realist anyway, I know some people are going to like me, some people are going to hate me, some people won't know you - I know that's the world and I'm not in denial or anything like that. I also understand the psychology behind bullying and trolling and people putting other people down to make themselves feel better. I think if you understand it, it can't hurt you as much. You know what I mean? I'm not like 'Oh my god why would they say something like that?' I know why, it's because they're insecure and whatever but it doesn't make any of that stuff hurt any less.
It's just unnecessary as a writer or artist, it shouldn't matter, you should just keep on doing whatever you're doing. But I certainly have got over it, maybe in the last year; I just can't be bothered with it anymore. I'm reading books and stuff more and I think the distraction is so addictive.
From a writing perspective, do you find it interesting when people try and read meaning into your lyrics? Do you find it interesting when people come up with certain ideas about what you're saying?
I think it's natural, I think it's good. Everyone should feel free to interpret art however they want. It's always funny, I do like reading people's interpretations of songs or parts of songs. Whether they get it totally right or totally wrong, it's all right because it's up to the listener. Once I've recorded the song and released it, it can mean anything, however people want it to.
I definitely have had a laugh at a couple, ones that go in a totally wrong direction. Every now and then a live review pops up and it's like, 'Were you even at the show?' You know, they might say like 'Courtney strums her acoustic guitar blah blah blah' and I'm like I haven't even played an acoustic guitar on stage for like 10 years so that's extra funny.
Do you find much opportunity to write while you're out on the road - is it conducive to song writing or is just too much work?
I think it comes and goes. I normally just write in my journal, bits and bobs and little bits of poetry and little snippets of stuff. It's hard to actually sit down and try to put together a song from the start. When I get home or have time I go through it and something comes from that. It's all part of song writing I guess. It's fun just seeing what comes from all those things and all those experiences and different moods - but yeah, its good.
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