The English rocker with Seattle roots sits down for a few questions from The End
With a slice of veggie pizza in one hand and a leather jacket draped over his shoulders, Barns Courtney looks like he’s living the life of a rock star, and it probably feels that way too.
Having just gotten back from South By South West where he jammed seven shows in just a few days, he sits in an office couch just outside The End studios, waiting to play his gig at Chop Suey. It’s the only few days of the year that Barns gets to visit his mom and siblings, who all still live in Redmond. He is soaking it all in, and scarfing down a few slices of Pagliacci while he chats with his label, Manley and a few End staffers just down the hall from the broadcast studio.
Life is busy these days for the rocker, but since he is skyrocketing to new heights with his single “Fire,” we here at The End are grateful to have a few seconds to revel in the experience with Seattle’s English son.
Fortunately, we were able to grab some time to sit down and ask a few questions of the English-born, English-living, Seattle transplant with a distinct American accent:
So let me get this straight, you are from here originally then moved to England? What’s the deal?
Well I was born in England and then when I was four, I moved with my family to Seattle. I lived here for 10 years, which was like, the main accent-developing time. I moved back to the UK and have been there ever since.
You consider yourself more English then?
Weirdly, I don’t know. When you’re young, that’s when you really develop your personality so I see myself more as a Seattleite, but don’t let the English people know about that.
A lot of the sound coming out of England and the UK in general seems to be really Folk and Americana style, what do you think drove that and where does that sound come from for you?
That’s an interesting one. I’m not sure what sparked such a massive insurgence of Country and Folk interest, but that’s definitely prevalent over there. I think Mumford And Sons pioneered that whole deal because it wasn’t really cool when they started doing it. They just blew up, though. My friend used to go see them in Leeds back in the day and they had like, 10 people watching even with their great tunes.
Even you have the deep voice, dressed in black, man and a guitar vibe. I think automatically of Johnny Cash. Is that fair to say?
It’s funny because when I was starting this new record, I was listening to a lot of White Stripes and Jack White solo stuff and a lot of Kanye West Blues-inspired stuff like Black Skinhead and Power with the layered vocals and the tribal sample and the big drums. When someone says it sounds a lot like Johnny Cash, I kind of thought, ‘Well shit, yeah it does,’ but that was never an intentional way to go.
Well I heard Johnny Cash was actually influenced by Kanye West so that makes a lot of sense.
I bet Kanye would take credit for that. “I don’t know who this Johnny Splash guy is but I definitely taught him everything he knows!”
You know, I feel like this rise to popularity has been pretty quick from playing music in an abandoned retirement home to where you are now, thinking about a new record. What is that feeling like for you at this point in your career?
I’ve just been trying to keep up with it all, to be honest. It’s kind of surreal and weird and hard to really process it’s all been so quick. When I lost my first record deal, it was one of the hardest things I have had to go through. I put my heart and soul into a record and spent three months recording it and three years touring it and it never came out and I was dropped.
After a couple years I was starting to wonder if I was done. And I think if it wasn’t so engrained in me that I had to go play and sing, I would have probably given up, but everything changed so suddenly and I haven’t had time to adapt so I am still looking over my shoulder and thinking ‘Is this alright now? Do I get to make music for a living?’
I really think part of the trajectory has been thanks to you guys, quite genuinely, and I am not trying to sound cheesy, I’m really grateful. Especially that you were the first to pick up on it, in my home city. It’s amazing.
Speaking of being back home, you mentioned getting to be home with your family and seeing your brothers, is that refreshing for you? How often do you get to get back here?
Hardly ever, especially living in London. It’s literally the other side of the world. It’s really nice to get to come over, supposedly for work, and get to hang out with my family and see all the things I used to when I was growing up. Even the smells remind me of being a kid. Like, weird stuff. The specific bleach they used to clean the bathrooms reminds me of being a kid.
Being from Seattle, we have to ask, what are your favorite Seattle spots?
I usually come in the summer, so I love doing the kayaking at UW…I should say something more Rock & Roll than that… Whenever I come over it’s all family-oriented so I might go to Cap Hill one night with my friends, but mostly I am walking around Woodland Park Zoo with my mom and my little brother. I must have been there 1,000 times.
What’s the next step for you? What are you looking forward to in the next year?
I’m finishing a tour in the States over the next three weeks, then I am back to the UK to get stuck in to recording the record. I’m doing that with my friend Sam who lives in an abandoned old folk’s home, which I am really looking forward to because we know each other so well. There’s no pressure like there would be in the usual studio set-up where you are paying for the producer. IT’s going to be a much more honest record that way. It might be a bit more rough around the edges, but it’s going to sound like I want it to.