Barns Courtney – In Conversation

Interviews "Being signed means you’re allowed to play the game. Not that you’ve made it."

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Barnes’ ecstatic one-man acoustic guitar assault is making waves on big stages. Already having supported the Libertines and Ed Sheeran on his North American tour earlier in the year, the young troubadour is set to support none other than The Who at Wembley Arena on February 13th as well as playing his own headline show the following week, February 18th at Hoxton Bar & Kitchen. He’ll warm up for all these with a few other UK dates, including one here in Cambridge on February 3rd, tickets and info here.

Indirect paths can be traced through Barnes’ backstory. Born in Ipswich, he spent most of his childhood living in Seattle before returning to his native UK aged 15. This change of scenery comes across as clearly in his eclectic mix of US blues-rock, hip-hop and grunge with British indie melodic sensibilities, as it does in his hybrid US-British twang. Following several musical projects straight out of school, he came across the radar of his hero Carl Barat who would give him a newfound break when the two ended up writing and recording together.

With a debut EP in the works for early next year, his first song offering lighting up charts across the board, early fans clambering for the identity of the unheralded yet fiery opener for Ed Sheeran and The Libertines, the journey of Barns Courtney is one well worth following.

Its fair to say the last few months have been pretty whirlwind for you, how do you remain grounded?
The fact that I’m even making music for a living is blowing my mind! This is my second record deal so I’m just grateful to be doing it all again. I was working in the Currys and PC World directly across from the 5 star hotel I used to stay in with my old manager when I was making my first record. A few years worth of sofa surfing and skipping on and off the dole put your feet on the ground pretty hard. Having said that I feel very lucky to have had that experience. I don’t think I’d approach music in the same way without it.

‘Glitter & Gold’ picked up some great coverage, as well as going #1 on the UK Spotify Viral Chart, #2 on the iTunes Alternative Chart have you been surprised by its response?
Yeah that’s fucking ridiculous! I’m not sure what kind of foreign wizardry made that happen but I’m definitely not complaining!

You’re currently working on an EP – how is that going?
Great! I’ve got a bunch of songs floating around my brainbox so it’s just a case of sifting through them all and figuring out what I want to put out there.

Were the songs written specifically for the EP or have they been knocking around for a while?
I’ve always got a bunch of songs prowling about.

You’ve supported some huge names so far, how do you prepare for your own headline dates compared to being a support act?
I think the gigs as a support act have been the best preparation I could ask for. Especially little pub gigs. When you’re playing to a room full of people who didn’t come to see you or sometimes didn’t even come for the music, you really have to work the crowd. Theres nothing better for honing your skills than playing to a bunch of people who don’t give a shit.

What has been the best moment of your career so far?
Supporting The Libertines at Dublin Castle in Camden was pretty good. I wasn’t even meant to be on the bill but Pete was 4 hours late for the gig. I was drafted in to play few tunes. Before I even opened my mouth I could see this wasn’t gunna be easy. Libertines fans are all booze, smoke and trouble at the best of times. “People were screaming “where’s Pete?! Where the fuck’s Pete?!” It was obvious that they’d had their fill of support bands and couldn’t give two shits about a poncing acoustic minstrel such as myself.

Anyway here I am sweating my little teats off to a barrage of abuse, singing my heart out to a band of shuffling lunatics as I try desperately to avoid literally shitting myself. I finish the first song to a little drizzle of applause and one bald Neo Nazi looking character who’s still shouting “WHERE THE ACTUAL FUCK IS PETE?!!!”. At this point, I figure I’m on a sinking ship anyway so I look out at the crowd and say, “Who else is here to see Pete?” (much screaming and whooping) “Looks like you’re not the only one. But right now I’ve got the microphone mother fucker and my voice is louder than yours.”

The entire place went dead quiet. I could actually feel my balls ascending into my body cavity to live a life of solitude and sanctuary…and then by some divine providence, the whole venue exploded into insane applause. And angels sang and trumpets blared and the sweet rays of love and acceptance shone down upon me like the fiery love of baby jeeebus himself. After that the gig was a breeze. Everybody danced about and sang and I walked off stage to a maelstrom of high fives and grubby greasy well wishing. Totally bizarre but it was a blast.

How have you found writing and performing as a solo artist rather than being in part of a band?
There’s definitely something nice bout having full creative control over your own music. In terms of performing, there’s nothing better than mincing around in front of a large group of people with your best friends. I’m putting a band together as soon as is humanly possible! The record sounds like a band, I wanna perform with a band, I getting a fuckin band! As soon as I have the monies to release my friends from their daily toils, it’s happening. This tour I’m going it alone and it’s gunna be glorious. But just wait motherlickers!

How do you write a song?
Its a form of release for me. I’ll well up about something for a bit whether its frustration about working a shitty job, wanting to succeed or losing someone close to me for example. Then at some point or another I feel inspired and regurgitate this big mess of melody and lyrics from whatever etherial plane of existence they’re flying around in. After that I cobble it all together with my crappy human hands and there’s a song.

What influences your song writing?
Whatever I’m passionate about at there time.

What has been a musical eye opener for you?
Getting dropped after my first deal. Being signed means you’re allowed to play the game. Not that you’ve made it.

What is something about Barns Courtney that no one knows yet?
I’m producing a few tracks with M83 producer and Beck bassist Justin Meddle Johnson.

What next for Barns Courtney?
I’m gunna make a record, gig a shit tonne and start a cult.

Which band/act should we be excited about?
Zibra and Nicky Blitz!!

What plans do you have for 2016?
I’m supporting The Who at Wembly pretty soon. That should be interesting…I’d be happy just to watch The Who to be honest. I don’t know who’s pulling the strings up there, but he’s a good guy.

Hypothetically you’re going to DJ a disco for us, what is your go to dancefloor filler track?
Seven Nation Army by The White Stripes!

Barns Courtney plays The Portland Arms on Wednesday 3rd February

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