Barns Courtney

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You lived in Seattle which through out the 90s  became a music Mecca to rival Nashville, New Orleans and Detroit. Seattle had its very own sound, philosophy and aesthetic. How has the city influenced you musically, spiritually and emotionally?
Of all the places I’ve lived, Seattle feels like home. It’s where I grew up from the age of 4-14. The entirety of my childhood memories are there. I can’t help but breathe a sigh of relief when I look down from the plane and see the familiar lakes and mountains. It really is an incredible city. You can stand right in the centre and on a good day, look up and see Mt Rainier floating in the distance, pink topped and suspended in clouds. I used to listen to Nirvana’s Nevermind every day on my way to school. When I transferred to England from Seattle, it was a solitary link to everything I’d left behind. The simplistic rawness of the hooks; the idea that you could fill an entire chorus with one word and some balls was electrifying. There’s a throw away, confessional, honesty to the lyrics that resonated deeply with my awkward teenage angst. I think that’s something I’ve always aspired to capture in my own music, successfully or otherwise.

Despite growing up in Seattle there isn’t much grunge sound in your music but more a Johnny Cash and Jack White sound. Where does that come from?
When I was younger I used to try and channel the voice of Julian Casablancas from the Strokes. It was quite surprising years to be compared to Johnny Cash. The White Stripes were a huge influence on me growing up. What kid in a band didn’t wish he wrote Seven Nation Army? I always wanted to be in a rock band. When I went solo, a lot of the music condensed into the bare bones of rock music which I suppose is blues.

The lyrics of the songs on your first EPs paint an images close to the pentecostal side of American mythology – falling and rising, devils and ghosts constantly at your heels. How does a funny happy chap like you come up with such lyrics?
When I was a kid, my parents sent me to a very christian school. There was a chapel on site in which I’d begrudgingly attend services every morning. I used to get told off for singing to loudly…or not at all in protest. So this kind of biblical rhetoric was engrained into my mind from an early age. However the real catalyst for the subject matter of my music was loosing my first record deal. Since I was 16 I’d been playing school concerts, battle of the bands, T.V shows, signing contracts…everything I’d known since I started playing had been ramping up to an enormous climax.  Suddenly I was 22, jobless, homeless with no qualifications and nowhere to go but back to my mom in Seattle. My parents in Ipswich (lovely though they are) had long been renting out my room and were happy to be rid of me! 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 and debilitating. Two years went by with more or less no progress. I wondered if Id ever make music for a living again. As I watched everyone around me finish university, begin careers and start families, I could see my own life slipping through my fingers. The naive and seemingly indomitable passion for music that burned in my gut since I could remember was fading fast. Something I thought was so integral to my being was all but gone. Only to be replaced by a heavy, sinking dejection that tugged intently at my resolve on a daily basis. I think that hit me harder than any record company ever could.  “Lord, give me that Fire” a pretty throw away line on the face of things, was a prayer to reconnect with the unbridled ambition of my youth. “lonely shadows”, “ghosts and devils”, the bitter resentment of my circumstances that I couldn’t shake off. And still, out of despondency and endless days spent dodging the mundane questions of job centre officials, I would occasionally find it. Although more defiance than anything. A kicking, screaming, raging denial of circumstance, the last of a dying itch. “This isn’t my life” I insisted. “…it cant be…surely I haven’t seen the end yet. Theres more fight in me than that isn’t there? There must be. Fuck this. Fuck them. Fuck them all, Im gunna do this till I die.” Haha, sorry thats probably way more than you’re looking for!

You are working with Martin ‘Youth’ Glover (of seminal band Killing Joke) on your upcoming album. He has an almost shamanic approach to making music. How did this collaboration go and how different were your approach to making music?
Haha you can say that again! When I first entered his house, the place was thick with green smoke. Countless Indian trinkets, artworks, and literature adorned the walls which even themselves were imported hunks of buildings shipped over from the east. “You smoke dope?” enquired Youth, handing me an enormous spliff. “I guess I do now” I said.  I took a drag. What transpired over the next two hours was like something straight out of a novel. I sat down, opened my lyrics book, and Youth, totally ignoring me, proceeded to engage in raucous conversation with a very stoned, and reportedly very famous DJ friend of his. I was alone. Sat on the floor with nothing but a broken harmonium and the all encompassing buzz of Wandsworth’s finest hash to keep me company. The notes jingled as you played them. It was charming, if not a little sad. But I tell you, the room was electric. There was something about the old place and the people within that nibbled you right down to your wishbone. So life affirming that you could sit there for hours and never know the clock turned. Thats when I wrote “The Attractions Of Youth”. Can you see where I got the name? On the floor of his living room, I jangled this thing out and when it was done, it was upstairs to the attic to record. Youth runs his house like an old school studio. There’s a different project happening in each of the many rooms, music everywhere, all singing, all dancing, foot stomping hallelujah. We arrived on the top floor with an array of flute players, poets and artists. I made the beats out of finger drums on the back of my guitar. You can even hear Youth’s phone go off at the end of the recording. “Oh fucking hell…I think that’s enough don’t you?”

Do you think there’s any British punk influences in your sound?
I wouldn’t say so of the tracks on the Hands Ep. However the album does venture outside the grizzly blues of tracks Fire and Glitter&Gold. You can hear the influence of The Clash very clearly in the Dull Drums Ep version of Hands. Carl Barrat from the Libertines played guitar on that record. It was great to get in with him and actually produce up the demo.

Moving from your EPs to this first album, what kind of evolution can we expect?
Expect a much wider variety of genres and influence. From the Beatle’s esq romps of “Attractions Of Youth” to the disco inspired indie pop of “Never Let You Down”.

Do you have a vinyl collection? If yes, which are your most prized pieces?
I spend all my time on the road so everything that I own is in a suitcase. Before I signed my deal I had one of those personal vinyl players. Night At The Opera. Stellar record. The first time I ever heard it, my ex girlfriend’s dad sat me down in the living room, of their Kesgrave home, turned off all the lights and we listened to the whole thing from start to finish in the dark. That was a very special moment. 

What are your five most influential tracks ever?
Black Skinhead-Kanye West
Icky Thump-White Stripes
Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes-Paul Simon
Lithium-Nirvana
A Day In The Life-The Beatles

From Nuitmagazine.com

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