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Courtney Barnett's Songs Make the Perfect Summer Soundtrack

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Courtney Barnett, photo by Leslie Kirchhoff

I've been listening to Courtney Barnett nonstop all summer. Her hazy alt-rock and clever, conversational lyrics make for the perfect soundtrack on a lazy, hot day. The best thing about Barnett's music is her songwriting, with tracks that take on everything from panic attacks to masturbating. Oh, and did I mention that she shreds?

After seeing Barnett at Pickathon earlier this month, I had the chance to talk with the Melbourne-based artist about her label, her vegetable garden, and the best female musicians in Australia.

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Barnett at Pickathon, photo by Ashley McAllister via Bitch Media's Instagram

When I call Courtney Barnett, she's in the middle of reading a book of Van Gogh's letters to his brother Theo. "It's a really interesting look into the mind of an artist, the ups and downs, that kind of stuff," she says. "It's pretty depressing, and probably not the best thing to read on tour. I just find stuff like that interesting. It's good to keep an open mind and understand how other people think, and how lots of people go through the same things."

As a songwriter, Barnett absolutely gets that lots of people go through the same things, and her songs tap into small details that most wouldn't think to write a song about. She takes everyday acts like house hunting ("Depreston") and worried phone calls from parents ("Are You Looking After Yourself?"), crafting them into catchy, diary-like tracks. Her music is unfiltered and sincere; she doesn't hold back when recounting drunken evenings ("I got drunk and feel asleep atop of the sheets/ But luckily I left the heater on"), the similarities between asthma inhalers and bongs ("I was never good at smoking bongs/ I'm not that good at breathing in"), and masturbating to another musician's songs ("It felt wrong but it didn't take too long/ Much appreciated are your songs/ Doesn't mean I like you man/ It just helps me get to sleep").

In addition to being a brilliant songwriter and guitarist, Barnett illustrates her own album covers (and tea towels!), and even started her own record label, Milk! Records. Barnett started Milk! in 2012 as she was self-releasing her first EP, I've Got A Friend Called Emily Ferris. Her second EP, How To Carve A Carrot Into A Rose, was released in 2013. The two EPs were later combined and released as The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas. Over the past two years, as Barnett has gained international acclaim, Milk! has grown into a supportive, fun project for Barnett and several other Melbourne artists. "It was a really low-key project. It just kind of grew, and we put out some other people's records. Because I didn't really know what I was doing, I did things in a slightly different way. The way that I figured out how to do it, it's kind of more like an art project." 

A video recently released by Milk! Records after a weekend in the studio. Music from Barnett.

It's been a busy year for Barnett. In addition to Pickathon, she played Lollapalooza this summer, and even found herself on The Tonight Show earlier this year. When she gets back to Melbourne from her current tour, gardening is up high on her to-do list. She says her vegetable garden needs to be replanted after all her time away from it. Her favorite vegetables to grow? "I like kale, chard, and big leafy things. They're really easy to grow!" While we're on the subject of gardening, be sure to check out Barnett's brilliantly-titled song "Avant Gardener".

Barnett tells me that there are lots of women making music in Australia that we should know about. "Jen Cloher. She's on the label. She's great. We put out her third album, and we pretty much run the label together now. She came along and had more of a business brain that me. There's a band called Beaches. Teeth & Tounge. Big Scary." When asked if she has advice for women or girls who are wanting to make music, she says, "I would say to just do it." She laughs and then grows sincere, "Yeah, just keep doing it."

Courtney Barnett will be out and about all year long, with shows booked in Australia, the U.S., Canada, and Europe. She recently recorded her first full-length album with her band, which we can anxiously expect early in 2015.

Ashley McAllister is Bitch Media's Development & Outreach Coordinator. She also likes to grow kale. Find her on Instagram @ashleymacrina

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So many talented women in Aus

Thanks for this piece Ashley. There is so much wonderful female-led music in Australia now (as there has been for a long time) - perhaps it's time for a 'Down Under' themed issue of Bitch? :)