Aussie rocker Courtney Barnett continues her rise with ‘ACL’ taping


“Put me on a pedestal and I’ll only disappoint you,” Australian rocker Courtney Barnett declares with a playful sneer in “Pedestrian at Best,” a track from her debut album that heralds the arrival of a new “it-kid” in popular music — even as Barnett instinctively hedges her bets against such next-big-thing expectations.

When Barnett made her first visit to Austin last fall for shows at the Belmont and Fun Fun Fun Fest, she’d released only two EPs but was already getting lots of press, with outlets ranging from The Guardian to Huffington Post to The New York Times touting her as “slacker rock” in headlines. It’s not necessarily an accurate tag for an artist in her mid-20s who’s worked relentlessly to get her music out into the world.

Take, for example, her appearances at South by Southwest a few months ago. In a three-day visit, she was omnipresent, playing NPR’s major official showcase at Stubb’s, day parties for print and online media outlets such as Spin and Pitchfork, an event sponsored by social networking platform Tumblr and more. SXSW attendees responded in kind to her whirlwind of activity, awarding her the event’s prestigious Grulke Prize for Developing Non-U.S. Act.

Those are pretty significant props for a supposed slacker. “It’s been pretty hectic,” Barnett agrees about her schedule lately, speaking by phone as she prepared to return to Austin for a live streamed taping of “Austin City Limits” on Thursday followed by a sold-out show Friday at the Mohawk.

“One of my friends said to me the other day that I’m the busiest lazy person they know, and it’s kind of true,” she said. “I’m kind of lazy in the head, but there’s been a lot happening in the last year and a half, so I’m always working on something. I don’t really lay dormant for too long.”

A week after her SXSW onslaught, Barnett’s first album, the unassumingly titled “Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit,” was released via Mom + Pop Music to widespread acclaim and a strong chart debut, hitting No. 20 on the Billboard 200. It’s an auspicious achievement for an artist who initially self-released two EPs because “I just didn’t have enough money to make an album,” she says. “I wanted to release something at the start, but I only had a small amount of time to do it, because I was working in a bar then.”

After stints with Melbourne indie bands Rapid Transit and Immigrant Union, Barnett put out her first EP, “I’ve Got a Friend in Emily Ferris,” in 2012 on her own Milk! Records imprint and quickly followed it with a second EP, “How to Carve a Carrot into a Rose.” Mom + Pop, a tastemaking New York indie with major distribution, gave the EPs wider release in 2013 via the repackaged twofer set “A Sea of Split Peas.”

Though she’s getting a lot of high-profile festival opportunities now — she played Coachella last year, and this summer’s docket includes stops at Bonnaroo, the Newport Folk Festival and Sweden’s Way Out West — Barnett lately has preferred to keep her performances pared down to a raw trio, with drummer Dave Mudie and bassist/backing vocalist Bones Sloane.

“I love doing the three-piece right now,” she says, “although when I started out, one of the first formations was five people. Different players bring different things to the songs. I don’t think there’s, like, a set way. I like having the flexibility to have anyone on board with me; I can just decide what’s good for an album or tour or whatever.”

That preference for flexibility extends to the songs themselves. Barnett sought out conditions that favored spontaneity when she recorded “Sometimes I Sit and Think,” and she seeks a similar spark of immediacy onstage as well — even if it means her songs evolve from the recorded versions.

“They can always listen to the record,” she says of fans who might expect more strict readings. “When I go listen to music, I respect the artists and the musical journey that they’re on. You don’t want to play songs the same way forever. You grow as a musician and your voice grows, and you add different things in, depending on where you are. That’s the beauty of it … I think music should have that fluidity and be able to change.”



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Music

A quarter sheet pan is plenty big enough to hold all my love
A quarter sheet pan is plenty big enough to hold all my love

Nobody would mistake me for being hip and trendy. I have been wearing clogs - not the same pair, mind you - since the Ford administration. Yet I am YASSing and inserting heart emoji on behalf of the quarter sheet pan, which is surfing a wave of popularity. Deservedly so. There it is on social media, roasting a one-pan meal for two. Toasting a handful...
Harissa-rubbed leg of lamb is fit for any special Sunday meal
Harissa-rubbed leg of lamb is fit for any special Sunday meal

Just when you think there are no new recipes or cooking techniques, America’s Test Kitchen comes in with a surprise, like blooming spices for this harissa-rubbed lamb in the microwave. This dish is from one of the company’s new books, “How to Roast Everything: A Game-Changing Guide to Building Flavor in Meat, Vegetables, and More&rdquo...
‘Black Panther’ director has always sought superheroes who look like him
‘Black Panther’ director has always sought superheroes who look like him

When Ryan Coogler was a kid in Oakland, Calif., an older cousin got him hooked on comic books. “X-Men.” “Spider-Man.” He liked all of them, but he was looking for more. “I went to the comic book shop that was by my school and asked if they had any black characters,” Coogler recalled. That was the moment Coogler discovered...
Food & Wine confirms what Texans already knew about Whataburger: It’s all about the HBCB
Food & Wine confirms what Texans already knew about Whataburger: It’s all about the HBCB

I have been saying this to non-Texans for years: You don’t go to Whataburger and just order a plain, no-frills burger. You go to Whataburger expecting something grand. So you order something grand. And your life is changed forever.  Food & Wine writer David Landsel penned a love letter to the W, shouting out the Chop House Cheddar Burger...
Andrew Zimmern checks out Austin’s Tex-Mex, barbecue and live music hotspots
Andrew Zimmern checks out Austin’s Tex-Mex, barbecue and live music hotspots

Esteemed celebrity chef Andrew Zimmern is back at it with a new food and travel series, and of course the season premiere features one of the country’s most exciting food cities: Austin. The premiere of “The Zimmern List,” which airs Tuesday, March 13 at 8 p.m. on the Travel Channel, features back-to-back episodes with visits to Los...
More Stories