Before last year, Courtney Barnett was a relatively obscure Australian singer-songwriter known for spinning mesmerizing rock songs out of prosaic life experiences (allergic attacks, real-estate open houses). But then she got nominated for the Best New Artist Grammy, and beat out Tame Impala and eight other acts for the prestigious Australian Music Prize. “They’re some of my favorite bands, so it’s kind of overwhelming,” she says from the road.
In April, Barnett will embark on her biggest tour yet, which will include gigs at Coachella and New York’s Governors Ball. She’ll be playing one of her catchiest songs ever, her new single “Three Packs a Day,” an ode to ramen noodles that recalls one of her 1990s alt-rock favorites, the Lemonheads. She’s also thinking about her next album: “I might make a record this year, or it might take me fucking forever. I take a really long time to make decisions.”
How were your first Grammys?
I’d never been to anything like that – it was like being part of a reality-TV show. I went with my girlfriend, Jen, and afterward, we organized a little party at a bowling alley with one of our friends DJ’ing. It was fucking awesome.
So you didn’t go out to any of the big afterparties?
I don’t know any of those people – how would I get into their parties? I’m not a party person, anyway. I just wanted to catch up and talk shit.
I love “Three Packs a Day.” How did you decide to write a song about ramen?
I was on holiday, playing guitar and talking about how much I love noodles, and I started singing it as a joke. Then I was like, “Oh, that’s kind of catchy.” So then I tried to write, like, a real pop song, something really bouncy and catchy, just to see if I could.
Tina Fey recently said she’s never met anyone from Australia who’s uncool. Is that true?
I’m one of the most uncool people I know. I’m a dork. I live with my girlfriend, and we have board-game nights. We play Scrabble, a game called Nouns, which has a bit of acting, like charades. All you need is pens and paper, and to be willing to be stupid. It sounds funny for a front person to say they don’t like being the center of attention, but I really don’t. I don’t know how to talk to people – I get weird around them.
A lot of my energy comes from anxiety and nerves. No matter how tired or sick I am, when I get onstage, I completely change. By the time I get off stage, I’m this big, sweaty, emotional mess. That’s why I need to clear my head as much as possible, reading and writing – and exercising – to get that serotonin swishing around.
You spent some time with Jack White at Third Man Records, and he produced a single for you. What was that like?
It was great. We talked a bunch, and I went through Third Man’s warehouse. It’s this little world of music lovers, all of them creating stuff in one place. I run a record label in Australia, and I’m a huge merch nerd, so it was inspiring. I’ve always been influenced by visual stuff. My dad worked at a printing factory, and I love logos. When I was younger, my parents wouldn’t let us go to McDonald’s, but I remember I painted a piece of paper yellow and drew an orange M on it and wrapped it up like it was a cheeseburger.
Speaking of visuals, I noticed you also like to post pictures of your colorful socks on Twitter.
I’ll usually have a theme. If I’m going to the zoo, then I’ll put on my koala socks. I have a pair with fish and chips on them, which I wear when I go to the beach. I have a pair of rainbow socks on right now. I pull them out if there’s some sort of gay occasion. It’s like this little secret that no one can see.
You were a big Guns N’ Roses fan growing up, and now you are both playing at Coachella. Will you be watching them?
I’m definitely going to be there. I hope they do “November Rain,” I think it’s awesome. I’m not sure if it’ll actually be awesome – they broke up for a reason. To wish for bands to reunite is like wishing your divorced parents get back together: You’ll be happy, but they’ll be having a really bad time.
The subject of sexism in the music industry is getting a lot of attention in the wake of the Kesha-Dr. Luke lawsuit. Have you experienced it?
It’s an everyday thing. It happens to me in the smallest ways. Like when you walk into the venue, the people who work there assume that you’re a girlfriend or something and just ignore you and direct questions at your bandmates. It sucks that it still happens. But the tour we’re on right now is 70 percent women, which is awesome. I’ve never been in that situation before. It feels like it’s getting better. I’m lucky that if it happens to me it will get called out.
Who’s your biggest hero you’ve been able to meet so far?
I thought I saw Larry David in the Philadelphia airport. It wasn’t him.