Barns Courtney has announced his new single ‘Glitter & Gold’, which is available to stream and purchase now, released on Virgin EMI. Alongside, Barns has released a new video for the track, and has also announced a London headline show at XOYO on November 30th.
‘Glitter & Gold’, with its hybrid of gospel-blues, Western music, the marching hip-hop of Kanye’s ‘Jesus Walks’, and Barns’ distinct honey & sand delivery, brings the ascending singer-songwriter full circle in a sense, being the track that launched him from anonymity and years of struggle on the outskirts of the music world to being one of the UK’s most hotly tipped new artists and musical exports within a few weeks. The track shot to #1 on the UK Spotify Viral Chart, #2 on the iTunes Alternative Chart, was added to the BBC Introducing Playlist, clocked hundred of thousands of plays on YouTube, was featured on the ITV Winter drama reel, and has since had three and a half million streams on Spotify.
Steve Holley had the chance to find out a bit more about Barns.
SH: Hi Barns and thanks for the opportunity to ask you a few questions. You have just released the video for your single ‘Glitter & Gold’. It’s a mix of performance video and inserts of old black and white film clips, what’s the story behind the video?
BC: I had a pretty specific idea in mind. Panda-eyed 60s girls on a projector on one side, and a wild skins party on the other, filmed simultaneously as I walked between two sets. I strung together a few videos from the internet and sent them over with notes. Something must’ve got lost in translation because obviously what I got was very different. The director was a really cool guy and did his best to add as many of my ideas as possible. But when I arrived, the entire day had been planned around a performance video, so there wasn’t much time to film anything else.
SH: Anyone who hears you speak would probably assume you are American, whereas in fact you are Ipswich born I think. How do you think the years spent in Seattle have shaped your style of music.
BC: Nirvana’s ‘Nevermind’ was my first love. It was the first album I ever really got into. Theres definitely an element of that thrashy garage side of grunge present on certain tracks on the album. But other than that, I’d say I’m more influenced by Americana.
SH: I saw you play first at the Barn On The Farm festival in July and a really cool feature of your live performance there and later when I saw you play the Borderline was your conversation between songs. Do you enjoy the banter or is it a way to calm nerves?
BC: I’ve been playing solo acoustic for around a year and a half to save money. Everything took off so fast that I’ve been more or less solidly on the road since I signed which is great! But it does mean that I haven’t really had time to figure out how to make my one man show sound like the record. When you’re the only acoustic act on a line up of full bands, it can be difficult to engage the audience. I’ve found if you can have a laugh with crowds, they’re more willing to take a step down from a bigger sound and really listen. Otherwise, it’s easy to get lost in a sea of conversation.
Funnily enough, its the talking that makes me the most nervous before I go on. I know I can play the songs, I do it every night. But I never know what I’m going to say in between. Sometimes it’s great, I’m on form and it’s a lot of fun. Sometimes I’m making paedo jokes to a group of angry Texans on a roof top and my life resembles a Ricky Gervais sketch.
I’m really grateful that it has panned out this way. It’s forced me to connect with fans on stage in a way I never would have otherwise. But I am itching to get a band and play these songs the way they’re meant to be played.
SH: I was pleased to see your acoustic guitar in the new video. It has one taped up corner from your beating the body to the beat of your songs. After 80 solo shows in the States with just you and the guitar, do you think it will survive much longer?
BC: Oh God it’s absolutely fucked! I mean I have smashed that thing a new asshole. In the most loving way possible you understand. It bares all the scars of the road and it is my child….a child which I adore but also beat relentlessly. Im basically a super messed up step dad to that guitar….too far?
SH: You have had an interesting journey to this point in your musical career. You were signed young but things didn’t work out I guess. Does that make the positive reaction to your music now all the more satisfying this time around?
BC: In all honesty, I’m a little jaded. The process of pouring my heart and soul into and album, touring on and off for three years and waiting for an imminent release that never came was exhausting. To be dropped from my label and have my album permanently shelved after all that was a very numbing experience. It’s taken about a year for everything to start to sink in. But my feet are still firmly on the ground.
SH: ‘Hobo Rocket’ has been added to the FIFA 17 soundtrack. That’s a great way to get your music to another audience. Do EA, the makers of the game, approach you or is there a process for you to get your music on the soundtrack.
BC: Yeah I can’t believe it! It’s very surreal. EA will actively search a publisher’s catalogue for music for their games. And by some divine providence, they picked mine!
SH: Speaking of ‘Hobo Rocket’, you tell a great story about what the song is about and a fish shopping experience, would you share that with our readers?
BC: I was struggling. Living on £5 a day. Scraping by on rent, looked down upon by my friends and family as the failed musician who never grew up. Even my girlfriend at the time asked me how long I would keep this up before I got a real job. But in a way, I was winning. I was a beggar prince. I’d perfected the art of living on a shoe string.
You can maintain a pretty healthy diet on nothing but sardines, bread and kale. Toast the bread, shove those fishy suckers in there for a few seconds so they’re nice and warm, then add Kale and that’s it! …every day…forever.
Yeah, its boring and a little bit sad, but I tell you my skin was phenomenal! I looked like a god damn cherub!
SH: I love the song ‘Fire’ and especially love the Morricone style vocalisation used in the studio version of the song. Is this a nod to a love of Spaghetti Westerns, and did you come up with the idea?
BC: The soundscape was inspired by Kanye West’s ‘Power’ and ‘Black Skinhead’. I instantly fell in love with the primordial chants and beats, and how effortlessly they intertwined with classic rock influences and samples. I wanted to do something similar but with an old cowboy feel. I love old movies and of course the works of Morricone so I can see how that crept in there.
SH: Talking of ‘Fire’, the song was featured in a major movie ‘Burnt’. How did that come about ?
BC: I was working in Curry’s and PC World at the time. One of my managers, a young guy of 20 by the name of Seb Foux called me up mid shift and said, “you’ll never believe this but, Bradly Cooper’s heard your song and he wants to put it in his new film!” He’d been obsessively playing the track to everyone who would listen. I think it was an agent he’d sent it to, sent it to one of his friends and before I knew it, it’d spread around the whole industry. I had the film offer and a flurry of major label calls all at once. People trade favours in that industry. A tip on a new song for another. Lady luck was definitely twerking on me that day.
SH: I understand you attended the London premiere with Bradley Cooper and you took your Mum. Are your family a big influence on your career?
BC: And my Grandma! And yeah, they definitely are. My grandfather died just before I was dropped by Island Records. He was always such a huge inspiration to me. It’s hard to put into words just how funny and enlightening he was. I wanted to take my grandmother to London like he used to. And I wanted to do it in the most extravagant way possible. She took a lock of his hair down the red carpet.
My mom has encouraged me since day one. Through some really REALLY awful bands too! So naturally she had to come.
SH: Did you all get to meet Bradley Cooper ? Is he a fan?
BC: Yeah, he was lovely! My mom was straight in there! He and Harvey chose the song for the film so I can only assume he listens to me every day with turgid enthusiasm. Either that or it was convenient that I sing the title of the film three times in the chorus. One of those two.
SH: Interesting percussion is something that runs through your style. Apparently the percussion on ‘Glitter and Gold’ included slamming filing cabinet doors and beating old film cases. As I said previously you provide your own percussion when you perform alone by hitting your guitar. This adds an interesting quality to your music. Is it accidental or something you use to give your music a more unique sound?
BC: In the early days, there was no management, label or money. I started working with my friend Sam from my last band. He lived in a decommissioned retirement home in Tottenham. We didn’t have a drum kit, and I knew I wanted a gritty, real sound, so we started experimenting with anything and everything that was lying around. From the beginning I wanted to use found percussion but I never imagined it would take such a central role. That was definitely a product of circumstance.
SH: I said before that you were signed young and things didn’t work out. Did you think your chance had gone or were you always confident your time would come ?
BC: That was a really difficult time. All my friends had graduated from University and were starting their careers. When you’re dropped with no album, theres no résumé to take you to the next record deal. You may as well have been getting high in the bushes for the last three years. And I’m not even exaggerating! I’d tell people at work that I was in a band, and they’d just give me that pitying look you give a child who wants to grow up to be Superman. No one understood that I literally came close to having a career in music.
I was trying unsuccessfully to get my shit together for another three years after being dropped before anything happened. I couldn’t convince anyone to produce my new tunes, the management I approached wasn’t biting and none of the label contacts I’d made wanted anything to do with me. I genuinely wondered if I’d ever get a second chance. At the same time, the benefits of failure were enormous. The shittier things got, and the longer they dragged on, the more I was determined to change my circumstances. And it was actually that feeling that provided inspiration for most of the tunes on this record.
SH: Barns, thank you for this fantastic opportunity. I’m looking forward to seeing you play the XoYo in London in November and hearing your music, but I’m equally intrigued to see what you talk about between songs! All the very best of luck for the future.
Already having supported the Libertines, Ed Sheeran and The Who, Barns, now backed by a full live band, will be opening for Tom Odell and Fitz and The Tantrums on their US tour dates in November and December, respectively.