“I’m sitting in a hammock right now, so I can’t complain,” says Courtney Barnett from her hometown of Melbourne, Australia, before playing on a session for girlfriend Jen Cloher’s next album. Barnett is nominated for the Best New Artist category alongside James Bay, Sam Hunt, Tori Kelly and Meghan Trainor. Barnett doesn’t know what to expect from the ceremony – “it’s totally not our world” – but will be at the ceremony with her band on Monday, February 15th. It’s just one accolade Barnett has received for last year’s Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit, including a nomination for the Australian Music Prize. Barnett spoke about her chances of winning, her new music and whether she’ll release a new album this year.
I really like “Three Packs a Day.” How did you decide to release a one-off single?
We recorded it as part of the Milk! Records compilation, which is a record label I started to have six bands record one song over one weekend. It’s just to do something kind of different that wasn’t an album or an EP or something.
The twist is that the song isn’t about cigarettes, but ramen noodles. How’d you come up with that idea?
Well kind of started to write over holiday. And it was just me and my girlfriend, and I was playing guitar, and it was kind of a joke. I started singing it to her because I was talking about how much I love noodles. And then I was like, “Oh, that’s kind of catchy.”
It sounds a little Lemonheads influenced.
Yeah, fuck yeah. I think I was listening to lots of Lemonheads and Smudge at the time. I kind of tried to write a real pop song. I was like, “I’m going to make this as bouncy and catchy as I possibly can.” And that’s what I came up with.
Are you writing more songs in that direction?
I kind of do it for fun, to see if I can. But I don’t know. I actually wrote a list of ongoing songs yesterday, because I tend to just start something and then kind of forget about it and move on. Then all my books are really messy and stuff. So yesterday, I went through it because lately I’ve been like, ‘I’ve got no songs!’ I looked at this list of songs, but they’re all so different. There’s one that’s really dark, kind of like ‘Kim’s Caravan’ on the album, and big Crazy Horse-type songs. So just fuckin’ don’t know. There’s everything.
You saw Neil Young live recently, right?
I saw that recently on tour, but I saw him and Crazy Horse a couple of years back in Melbourne. It was the best show of my life. This crazy thunderstorm came down. It was like, lightning and really windy, with buckets of rain while he was playing “Like a Hurricane.” It was amazing. It was like he was God.
You’ve spent a lot of time on the road over the last couple years, how has it been for you?
It was a lot of fun. I’m sure everyone always tells you that it’s a pretty weird situation, and being in a band is kind of dealing with people’s emotions, extreme emotions, because of the adrenaline. By the time I get off stage, I’m this big, sweaty emotional mess. But we managed to keep sane, and managed to, you know, see my girlfriend and have quality time and write songs and see family. And I kind of somehow found this good balance of life within a crazy year of touring. So I had a pretty good year.
The Grammys are on Monday. How does it feel to be nominated for Best New Artist?
It’s a surreal scene, you know, growing up in Australia and being so distant from that sort of thing. But yeah, it means a kind of recognition for all this hard work we’ve been doing, I guess. I don’t know. I think it’s just nice. It kind of feels nice because of the type of music I play, and where I’ve come from, like putting out my own records, running my record label from my house still in Australia. And to be touring around and to then be, suddenly, on this level of recognition, on the other side of the world, feels really nice.
How do you think it will feel?
It will be pretty strange for me. My band is coming. We think it’ll be fun. It’ll be interesting, you know? It’s totally not our world. Well, I mean, I don’t know that. I can’t really judge something I’ve never been to. But from what I’ve seen of it – dressing up and wearing fancy clothes and stuff – we don’t really do that, so that’s a start. It’ll be an interesting life experience.
What do you think your chances are of taking the category?
Um, about one in five?
You write about your day-to-day life a lot in your songs. I imagine a lot of people say, “I’m just like you.” Have you gotten used to that?
Well, I don’t know any different. That’s just how I operate. I write songs that deal with my world and that’s how I do it. I’m sure there’s plenty of other people that do that. And then there’s plenty of people that like clock in and write some shit song about going to a nightclub and then clock off. I don’t know. I don’t really think about it. It’s just how it is.
What have you been listening to lately?
I’ve been listening to lots of instrumental stuff. Like there’s a band called the Dirty Three from Australia, and then Battles as well, I guess. I’ve been listening to lots of Neil Young and lots of, like, old jazz chicks. Nina Simone. I mean I listened to a lot of that growing up, but I’ve been revisiting that world.
You’re on vacation right now. What do you do on break?
I just work more. [Laughs]. We’re going into the studio when everyone wakes up and I finish this phone call. But it’s pretty chill. It’s Jen Cloher’s band. We’re recording demos for her new album. It’s pretty relaxed, we’re having fun and hanging out. I’m sitting in a hammock right now, so I can’t complain. Normally, I tour a lot, but when I’m home I’m helping around the record label. It’s all stuff I like doing, though. I’m interested in making art and sharing music, so that’s what I do. That’s how I spend all my time.
Are you following the election at all in the United States?
Not really. I don’t really understand it. I keep reading things about how much of an idiot Donald Trump is, but I really have no idea. Like I was watching Stephen Colbert last night on TV, the late-night guy, and he had all these jokes and I’m like, ‘I am so far removed from understanding what these jokes are about,’ but I’m still laughing. Maybe when I come over I’ll get one of my friends to give me a rundown, because I don’t even know.
Are you hoping to put out a record this year? Do you have a timeline?
I’ll probably make a record this year. It takes me a long time to get things done, or just to make decisions about when things are gonna get done. So who knows. Probably not. It’ll probably be fucking forever to think about. I don’t know. Maybe. There’s a one in five chance!