Interview: Courtney Barnett on her great new album, writing political songs, and only ever eating carrots

Interviews, Sasquatch
Jacob Webb
photo by Matthew B. Thompson

In the three hours before she sat down with KEXP for an interview at the Sasquatch! Music Festival, Courtney Barnett nailed a mainstage performance, signed a massive stack of records for fans, and posed for some portraits backstage. Despite having an incredibly busy afternoon, however, the Melbourne, Australia songwriter didn't seem tired in the least. In fact, she seemed relaxed and jovial. Then again, Courtney Barnett has a lot to be happy about these days. In March, she released her highly-anticipated debut, Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit, to rave reviews (like ours) and has been on the road ever since, slaying clubs, festivals, and an ecstatic Jimmy Fallon with equal aplomb. The longtime KEXP-favorite's dry humor was front and center as she discussed the political undertones of her songs, covering The Breeders, and her on-tour diet.

I saw you at Coachella last year, and you were playing a few of the songs off Sometimes I Sit, but now that the record is out, you get to play all of them live. It must feel good to finally bring those songs onstage, right?

Courtney Barnett: Yeah. It’s good to [laughs] finally be able to play all of them.

Because even though the record didn’t come out until two months ago, you've had them written and recorded for quite some time.

Yeah, it’s cool though. It’s good to be able to play them now.

Is there any one song in particular that you’ve been excited to finally get out there?

[without hesitation] “Small Poppies”! We played that today, actually. It sounded really good.You’ve also been bringing your cover of The Breeders’ “Cannonball”, which you first did for the AV Club, back into the mix.

Well, it’s an amazing song. [laughs] And when we did that cover we only learned it that morning. It’s a lot of fun to play so we’ve been bringing it back out.

I totally agree. The album has been out for a few months now, and on one of the songs, “Dead Fox”, you note that you make an effort to eat healthy.

Yeah, definitely.

You’ve been touring a ton the past year, and as someone who’s done quite a bit of road traveling the past year, how do you guys find alternatives to eating fast food?

It can be hard, you know? But we try and go to Whole Foods or whatever and get stuff. I usually just get a bunch of [pauses] carrots.

So the trick is to load up on carrots?

[smirking] Yeah, I only eat carrots when I’m on tour.

That reminds me of a story I once read online that PJ Harvey only ate potatoes while she was making Rid of Me.

Really? What kind of potatoes?

Russet, I’m guessing.

Yeah, good choice.

Am I allowed to write a similar story? That you only eat carrots?

[laughs] Yes. Absolutely. I only ever eat carrots.

That must be why the first vinyl pressing of Sometimes I Sit is orange.

[laughs] Yes! Exactly. I love carrots.

To put aside vegetables for a second, I was wondering if the aforementioned “Dead Fox” is a reference to [the Australian food trucking company] Linfox?

It is! On the back big transport trucks in Australia, it says “if you can’t see my mirrors, then I can’t see you”, so it’s a reference to how these big businesses have big looming trucks coming. So yeah, in a way that’s what the song is about. It has some personal details, but it’s also totally political.

And you draw that line from the personal to the political when you’re talking about what kind of vegetables to buy. A lot of your songs have a pretty explicitly-detailed first person perspective, but do you consider your songs to be political?

Oh definitely. I think a lot of my songs are political, but in a really subtle way. “Avant Gardner” is one I think is pretty political.

“I’d rather die than owe the hospital till I grow old?”

Yes! Exactly.

I’m sure you’re aware that healthcare is a huge issue in America right now.

It’s super fucked up. We’ve got it pretty good in Australia comparatively, and while it’s still not that great, it’s definitely better than having no healthcare at all. That’s scary.

Even though you’ve been pretty busy with the album lately, Milk Records still has some stuff in the works, right?

Oh definitely. We just signed a new artist called Ouch My Face who are this punk band. They’re really good and we’re putting out their album soon. And we’ve got some other projects in the works. Fraser A. Gorman’s record is coming out soon too.

You’ve toured with a huge number of bands across the past two years, but right now, you’re in the middle of a run with some of Seattle’s favorite ladies, Chastity Belt.

Yes! They are the coolest people I have ever met. I can’t wait for the rest of the shows. Having Darren Hanlon on the road has been great too. It’s a great tour to be involved with.

And you have the show in July with Torres and Speedy Ortiz too.

Oh yeah! That’s going to be a great show. I try to keep it focused on one show at a time, but that’s going to be a really good one.

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