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Time To Shine

Breakout Australian star Courtney Barnett finds positivity and partnership on the road
Mia Mala Mcdonald

By Danielle Allaire

Courtney Barnett, hero

Courtney Barnett, hero

Mia Mala Mcdonald

Courtney Barnett is not one to shy away from a difficult conversation. The Aussie’s debut hit, “Avant Gardener,” was written about an anxiety attack. She touts song titles like “Crippling Self-Doubt And A General Lack of Self-Confidence,” but don’t mistake her vulnerability for emotionally induced loafing. Barnett is an artist of reflection and action. Her approach to troubadouring indie rock is singular in its honesty. She documents the acute, and sometimes painful, minutiae of life, zooming out for a macro vantage point, full of possibility.

Her first two records brought lackadaisical melodies and crunchy guitars along with her signature wit and TMI lyrics. Despite the apparent openness, there was something concealed; a little like lying to your therapist. “I would talk about how it was vulnerable,” she says. “But, in hindsight, I feel like it was very guarded. This one actually feels vulnerable.”

“This one” is her latest album, Things Take Time, Take Time. On it, she proves that transparency and, yes, time heals all wounds.

Courtney Barnett, album

Things Take Time, Take Time album cover

After an exhaustive tour for her second album, Tell Me How You Really Feel, in early 2020, Barnett needed a break. Maybe it was pandemic prescience, but self-care was already at the top of her to-do list. Back in her hometown of Melbourne, the slowdown and solitude of lockdown let her relax, reclaim life as a person—not as a touring musician— and reconnect with herself.

It was during this respite that Things Take Time, Take Time took shape. Going back to her bedroom-musician roots, she notes, “I did find myself working in a different way, kind of with different restraints,” with new instruments, a softer sound, and home recording techniques among them.

Barnett found kinship with Warpaint’s Stella Mozgawa, who also spent lockdown in Australia, and the two found a way to transcend the historic confines by fostering a creative support group. Mozgawa acted as Barnett’s studio sherpa, offering fresh alternatives when Barnett had “hit a wall,” as she puts it.

This foundation of trust found its way onto the record as a recurring theme. Whether it was working with Mozgawa or Zooming a group of friends every Tuesday, Barnett found “a new level of gratitude for friendships that had been there for so long that I had maybe taken for granted,” she says. Ironically, the isolation of the pandemic forced her to create connections—and that was the key to breaking down her defenses.

Galvanized by her fleet of new, more optimistic tracks, Barnett sought to find that connection on the road as well. Inspired by the Sonic City festival she curated in 2019, Barnett has crafted a new kind of tour, called “Here And There.” Instead of touring with the same opening bands, it’s a hybrid of intertwining tours with over 20 different bands supporting her on a string of 15 U.S. dates. “The fun part of the idea was that people could jump on or off for a couple of shows, or just one show,” she explains. Think of it as a traveling mixtape, with Barnett pushing the buttons.

Courtney Barnett, sweatshirt

Courtney Barnett, sweatshirt

Mia Mala McDonald

The festival line-up is punctuated by friends and icons, Sleater-Kinney, as well as indie darling Japanese Breakfast. At her San Diego stop at Humphrey’s (Aug. 28), like-minded chanteuses Ethel Cain and Indigo de Souza will jump on. As for how she managed to land all the star-studded support, she says: “Basically, I wrote a dream list of artists I loved.”

Honesty (and flattery) is the best policy.

When asked how the experience of writing Things Take Time changed her, she says, “I probably did a bit of deeper digging. I feel like a totally different person in some ways— philosophically and psychologically.”

Transformation takes time, takes time.

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