In the latest episode of Spotify’s Under Cover, Courtney Barnett discusses her rendition of Elyse Weinberg’s “Houses” for the recurring Spotify Singles series. Sleater-Kinney drummer Janet Weiss turned her onto the song, she said – and it’s steeped in urban legend.
“From what I heard it’s like a big recent rediscovery and it’s a bit of a mystery, which I also like that aspect,” Barnett said of Weinberg and the song. “There’s this story that Neil Young is playing that great Neil Young sounding guitar line. But I looked on the vinyl and there’s no credits to him… So I like to imagine that they were next door in the studio when they bumped into each other for a cup of tea in the kitchen and then next minute: guitar line.”
In Barnett’s version of “Houses,” she and her band take a few liberties by performing it a bit faster and they also play around with the key (“Elyse Weinberg has a beautiful high voice which I do not have, so I had to drop it down a bit”) as well as some other aspects. Their rendition keeps with the spontaneous, “in the moment” spirit of the song, while putting their own interpretation into it. “I think I kind of embellished the guitar solo a bit. Just for my own ego,” Barnett said.
Barnett added that while she’s covered several songs through the years, over time she has realized how powerful reinterpreting someone else’s work can be. “I think in the past I just kinda did it sometimes just for fun or ’cause I liked a song but maybe didn’t completely understand lyrical content or I think now it’s a real honor to sing someone else’s song so you gotta do it justice.
“I think if you kinda feel a strong connection lyrically I think is one of the most important ones,” Barnett said. “Musically you can kind of interpret the musical side of it slightly differently and that’s the beauty of it, but I think that kind of lyrical connection needs to have some sort of emotional weight behind it.”