Interview: Barns Courtney talks this past year and his future record!
The best part of starting a fresh with this new blog has been making my focus on all the new acts coming out. The ones who play a random Monday night at Great Scott to five people to the bands at Warped Tour no one else may be talking to. The majority of the acts I interviewed early this year have all exploded and it’s been great to catch up with them again months later in their journey. One such act is one that I first interviewed when he was in the former position, Barns Courtney. He played to a solid five people and joked the whole time about how he told his loved manager Leon he wouldn’t play unless there were five people there. Just months later, Barns has toured the US several times opening for such known acts as Tom Odell and most recently Fitz& The Tantrums and had sold out many shows of his own. This all before he has even dropped an album! He’s actually only released three songs online in fact. In this interview, Barns really opened up about everything he’s been keeping under wraps for the new record. Easily my favorite thing to interview someone about and what everyone should be interviewing about is the music. Read our chat below and look for this talented man all over next year!
We first talked to you in April and it was obviously very small shows but since then you’ve sold out your own shows here, you’ve been steadily touring the states. It’s been a crazy few months. How do you think that’s really been helping you in your career?
I think just being on the bill alone for these bands has been hugely helpful because fans of the bands we’ve been opening up for have been looking me up and sending me messages. So I’m really grateful to be touring with these guys and also the experience of playing to different crowds has been really good fun and really helpful in the learning experience.
And the acts are so different, Fitz & The Tantrums is a different world from Tom Odell.
Yeah! I haven’t actually played with Fitz yet. I lost my voice so I was on vocal rest until today. People get super weirded out when you can’t talk. You don’t really think about it until it happens but people find it so odd. I guess it’s one of those basic human things that we talk to each other because people, they just can’t handle it. I had some people from the label over on one of these days and one of the girls was like oh my god that was one of the weirdest meetings I’ve ever had. I couldn’t help it.
There’s nothing you can do!
Then the release of new music for you, it’s been just three singles so far with no record. Was that kind of always your plan for doing this, to kind of tease it out like that or did it just happen naturally?
I’m not sure that was the plan from the beginning. I wrote a song called “Fire” and it just took off by itself. There was a big film called Burnt that used it in the movie then Sirius Radio started playing it and Seattle KEXP started playing it and all of the sudden, the US label was like we have to go right now and release this. I hadn’t even come close to getting work on the album done. I was just about out of my job and the ink hadn’t even dried on the contract in the UK. Then all of a sudden, we were going with this single. We definitely didn’t try to play catch up in how we proceed with what’s next. How do we divvy my time up between the UK and the US?
Then divvying time, I know you have a really big show when you go back to London. It’s been announced for a while. With all the touring that you’ve been doing, is it something where you still think that’s a while away to have an EP or an album come out? Or is it something you’re working on?
Well the album is pretty much done and at this point, I’m just mixing and I’m putting final touches on there. Maybe messing around with a vocal here and there. But yeah, I just need to get some time to actually finish it up and get it out. Things have been so hectic I’ve been on the road so much. In fact, I had to record some of the album on the road for lack of time but in a way I think that’s good. I think it only helps the creativity. It’s kind of the theme of the record anyway. Being on the road. The album’s got a lot of samples from regular people that I’ve met on my travels that I’ve worked into the music. It still has an ad hoc feel to it.
Was it something where you just started recording conversations with people? How did that kind of come about?
I’m not sure where the idea came from to be honest. A lot of the record was done in my friend’s bedroom in this decommissioned old folks home in North London. A lot of the sounds that we put on there were just things from around the room and I guess I sort of wanted people to be able to experience the journey that I experienced making the record with me. And feel the different places that I had been and all of the different influences that I had pulled. So I think the first one that I recorded was when I was on my way to my friend’s house and was working on this track called “Hobo Rocket”. This guy came up to me and he said that ‘Hey man you know you got any change’. He had this amazing voice, it was incredible. I was like I’ll give you twenty pounds if I can record you and he saw that I had this guitar on my back and he started giving me advice about how to record my music. He was like you got to echo out the background and bring it more focused and that’s it man, you got it. You can be just as good as anybody. It was amazing and he starting singing to me so naturally I had to put it on the record. It just fit so well and then there was this great lady from Nashville. She was this 75 year old taxi driver who just had this incredible soul and was a really amazing person with this personality. I got some Hare Krishnas from Leicester Square so I want to start working on that. I just really want people to listen to the record and feel like they’re there with me. I want to create something that’s very honest and puts everything out on my sleeve.
Then you say the record is almost finished, you’re not fully there yet, but are there songs on that album that are from several years ago? Were they all songs that were written pretty fresh for you maybe in the last year or so?
There’s a lot of stuff that’s from years ago. I mean the first single that I released, “Fire”. I wrote the verse maybe three and a half years ago, probably even four in a hotel bed waiting for my family to get ready so that we could go out. My grandma was visiting or something and I didn’t have a guitar I was just writing out of my mind on this little hotel bed. I tend to write that way. I write in little bits and pieces and I’ll have them all floating around in my head and suddenly one will pop up when I’m writing a completely different song and they’ll fit together. And there’s some new stuff on there as well. I’ve just tried to collect the best of all the stuff I’ve been writing.
Is it something where you think that album will still be a half year, maybe the later part of next year? Do you have a timeline yet for that or is it still up in the air for you?
I’m not sure what those guys at the label are thinking. I’m just trying to keep my head down and focus on my music and continue to write songs and let them deal with the release dates and all that jazz but as soon as they give me a minute to get back in and finish everything up, then it will be done. It’s all written and recorded it just needs a few tweaks.
So it’s pretty much finished, you just want to put your last tweaks on it.
Yeah it needs to be mixed and mastered. I think there’s a couple of interludes that I want to get in there. The old lady from Nashville, I don’t like where she sits on the record. It’s this really beautiful soothing voice. It’s really so genuine and lovely. It’s like ‘You keep clubbing and chugging out there. You gonna blow up’. It’s just incredible and then it goes into a really sad song and I don’t think that’s the feel that I want to get at that line. I want to go with something that’s a little bit more uplifting. But then it’s tricky because if I move the sad song up, that’s in a weird place that doesn’t fit. Trying to figure out where to juggle everything.
Kind of even talking about what she said, like chugging along, you’ve obviously gone from playing to these really small crowds to selling out your own headlining shows just in a few months. “Hands” being used in a Miller Lite ad campaign. Maybe the biggest moment for you in these last few months that you’ve really drilled down and focused in America?
It’s funny because I’m really grateful for all that stuff and it’s incredible to see the song that I recorded with my friend Sam in this bedroom in North London in a decommissioned old folks home be used on television in a professional advert. It’s very strange but I think the thing that really hit home for me as a big moment is when I first started to see people singing the lyrics of the songs at the shows. There aren’t many, there would be a trickle of people at these supports, but just the fact that people have taken the time to listen to the tunes enough that they know the words, it means a lot. That was a very powerful moment for me I think. Especially because I try to put so much of myself into the lyrics and I try to be as honest as possible. It’s nice to know that they just don’t get lost amongst the flurry of everything else that’s going on.
Perfect then to maybe end it off, you have announced the show in London when you go back but kind of what’s the plan for you over these next few months? You’ve been touring relentlessly. Obviously you still have a while to go on this Fitz tour. You haven’t even played your first show on the Fitz tour.
So there’s a Fitz tour that takes me to the end of November and then there’s my show in London. Then following that, I think I have a couple of weeks to work on the record. Then I’m back in the states after two weeks in London for some radio shows that takes me up to Christmas. Then back to Seattle! I mean it’s very intense. I work seven days a week but I love it. I wouldn’t know what to do with myself if I had time off. It kind of freaks me out a little bit. Where are the people for me to play to? Where is the microphone I’m supposed to be singing into? I have a little existential crisis.