Self-described as somewhere between The White Stripes’ “Icky Thump” and Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep,” British blues rock musician Barns Courtney joined the neo-soul band Fitz & the Tantrums on the east coast part of their North American tour this fall.
On Nov. 15, Barns Courtney and Fitz played at the House of Blues. It’s not the first time Courtney has performed in Boston, but it is his first time playing a Boston venue of this scale. He has come a long way since his last Boston performance.
Courtney: “I played to about three men and a dog at some tiny pub on a street corner once. It was kind of sad.”
Sound of Boston: “Was it O’Brien’s?”
Courtney: “[Laughs] Maybe, or are you just throwing out generic Irish pub names?”
Don’t mistake his little jab at O’Brien’s for arrogance. Courtney’s career as a musician has become something of a Cinderella story in the past few years. He was dropped from his first label, Island Records, without rights to any of the music he produced during his three years with them. Without a contract or access to his music, it was hard to persuade people to play with him, and even harder to score studio time.
A few uncertain and hard working years later, his single, “Fire,” is now featured in Bradley Cooper’s film Burnt.
“I flew out to L.A. to watch the movie, and that’s when it was real for me. They asked me where I thought the song should go, which was really nice because I don’t know anything about movies. They ended up putting it in the motorcycle scene like I suggested,” he said.
Although Courtney recorded an album’s worth of music with Island Records, it was never released and he is currently recording what will be his first released album. For the past months, he’s been recording in his friend’s bedroom at a decommissioned elderly home in North London. Unfortunately, most of the vocals and drums will have to be re-recorded.
“I’ve just realized that everything sounds a lot shittier than I thought it would. I thought it was going to have a nice gritty sheen to it, but actually, we can’t even mix it because it’s so poorly recorded,” he explained. Although, he added, he plans to keep “about 70% of the grittiness.”
He is humbled by and ultimately grateful for the time and effort he put in fighting the uphill battle of a starving artist. In fact, he’d been struggling for so long that he was uncertain if he’d ever record again.
“I can see how, to other people, it might seem like this is a sparkling success story, but I was sucking hard at the underbelly of mother music for many years,” he said.
Courtney’s story has a romantic rags-to-riches quality that only enhances the genuine undertones in music. With the zest of a young artist who just had his first taste of success, Courtney is energetic and authentic, which is exactly why this time around he played the House of Blues instead of an indistinguishable pub.