Concert preview: How Barns Courtney’s personality, perseverance gave him a second shot

So, Barns Courtney, you’re playing Kilby Court on Friday night. What would you say to people in Salt Lake who are perhaps unfamiliar with you to persuade them to come see your show?

“I would say,” he prefaced, before shifting his voice to whatever the midpoint is between movie-trailer narrator and carnival barker, “ ’People of Salt Lake City, prepare your earholes for musical honey and sensual delights, as I pour forth my fanciful songs from every orifice! I will cover you in my manly juices and make you feel alright!’ How’s that?”

“In a good way, you know?!” Courtney clarified helpfully. “If you come, and you’re not into manly juices, then I won’t cover you in manly juices. Only if you’re into that!”

If Courtney’s concert proves half as entertaining as his effort to promote it, though, anyone who brings their earholes to Kilby is in for an unforgettable show.

His enthusiasm for his current situation is actually perfectly understandable given his previous situation.

Dropping out of high school so he would have more time to play gigs soon led to a management deal, which soon led to a record deal, which soon led to an unceremonious and unexpected cancellation of said deal, which soon led to “an existential crisis the likes of which I thought I may never recover [from].”

“My life had always been on this wonderful incline toward success. … I thought everybody was wrong and I could just do music and there’d be no troubles or trepidations at all whatsoever along the way,” Courtney said. “And then three years of hard work making [a] record that never came out, only to get sporadically dropped, or so it seemed to me, at the most random time, with no preconception that that was about to happen, and then just suddenly, the bubble I lived in was burst, and the rug was pulled out from under me.”

That forced Courtney to grow up fast, though that didn’t necessarily equate to giving up on his dream.

“I was floundering about in the adult world when I had effectively lived as a child. Uncrocked Peter Pan, prancing about in my red boots and white skinny jeans,” he said. “And I had to get a real job. So I was working in computer stores, handing out fliers — I was only working odd jobs so I had time to go into the studio whenever I could find a producer to work on my s—. … I didn’t have enough money to leave the house, really, apart from going to work.”

A few years later, while living in England, a friend with connections in the music industry persuaded a producer acquaintance to meet with Courtney and give him a listen.

So, that night, at the Ace Hotel in Shoreditch, London, Courtney got out his “acoustic guitar in the hotel bar in front of whoever was in there” and played the skeleton of a new song he was working on, called “Fire.”

“And he agreed to work on it,” Courtney said.

They went into the studio, only for the producer to give up because “the verse sounded amazing and the chorus sounded awful.” Another producer agreed to take over, after which “the chorus sounds great and the verse sounds crappy.”

Desperate to get something workable, Courtney took his laptop into a Starbucks and spent a day cutting and overlaying segments from the two MP3 master files that, much to his chagrin, were recorded two beats per minute apart. Ten hours later, he “eventually got it sounding OK.” A few days later, his friend had copies distributed to various movers and shakers around town.

“Fire” started getting played in the U.S. Another song, “Glitter & Gold,” became a hit in England. And before he knew what had hit him, Courtney was a transatlantic sensation.

“Suddenly I was getting all these calls — I couldn’t believe it!” he said. “I’d been struggling for 3 years, I was just so beaten down and horribly embittered and twisted at everything, so depressed. [Movie exec] Harvey Weinstein was calling and saying he wanted to put the song in his film [“Burnt”]! And Virgin Records was calling! And I had agents calling. And three different managers asked me at once. It was just a total whirlwind.”

The whirlwind would continue.




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