Though he’s only 27 years old, singer-songwriter Barns Courtney is now experiencing his second chance at life on the road—and he’s relishing it. Courtney certainly didn’t feel like he’d be back on stage again just two years ago, when he was selling cigarettes in clubs and surviving most days on kale and canned sardines. Any dreams of releasing a debut album and headlining a tour seemed impossible, made all the more elusive because of how close Courtney had come to achieving them just a few years before.
Courtney’s first shot at stardom came when he was just 19 and fresh out of high school; he and his band, Dive Bella Dive, were signed to Island Records. “I didn’t even bother to learn how to drive,” recalls Courtney. “I was like, ‘I’m going to be a fucking rockstar.’”
He certainly started to live like one. Courtney explains that he and his six housemates, who were living in West London, had a nonstop party happening. “I felt like I had cheated the system,” says Courtney. But within a couple of years, things started “to get really dark,” he says now—and it wasn’t just because of the partying. In the midst of all that noise, Dive Bella Dive spent three months in Los Angeles recording an album, only for it to sit idle for three years, neglected by contract producers. Ultimately, the band was dropped from its label.
“Suddenly, I woke up from this bizarre dream as a 23-year-old man with no qualifications, woefully unprepared for the real world,” says Courtney. “It’s not like when you go to university and you have a degree at the end of it all that says those years were worth something.”
So Courtney took odd jobs, thinking his time had come and gone, without amounting to much. But then, while working some shifts at Curry’s PC World, Courtney got a call that Bradley Cooper wanted to use his track, “Fire,” in Cooper’s upcoming film, Burnt. And just like that, everything changed; according to Courtney, what followed were calls from every major label in the U.K. He soon signed to Virgin Records and was on tour in the States within a week.
But this time Courtney had his guard up. He remembers sitting at Virgin Records with a pen in one hand and a bottle of Champagne in the other, waiting for someone to tell him that this was still a dream, that this wasn’t actually happening.
But it was all real, and his early years of trials and tribulations have manifested into an album’s worth of songs, Courtney’s roaring debut The Attractions of Youth. It’s a 14-track-long “kicking and screaming denial of circumstance,” as Courtney describes it.
With each song, Courtney’s refusal to give up grows more intense. Almost every song is a fight song. “I’ll play ‘till my fingers bleed,” he promises on “Kicks.” On “Glitter and Gold,” a song which this season became Green Bay Packers’ anthem, he affirms that he will “rise up,” which, indeed, he has.
Though he’s definitely been through quite a bit, Courtney is finally back in touch with the “naive passions of youth,” and has channeled the motivations of “hitting rock bottom” into his musical rebirth, even as he knows the journey is far from over.
“Everyday that I get to make music for a living, I’m living properly… I’m very grateful to be here at this point,” says Courtney. “But I’ve certainly got a long way to go.”