Find details of Courtney Barnett’s upcoming live shows at the bottom of the page.
Courtney Barnett’s videos always have a playfully contemplative mood to them, but two for her new album Things Take Time, Take Time play with an especially cool, meditative idea: the way the natural world interacts with sound. In the gorgeously jaunty Write A List Of Things To Look Forward To, Barnett receives an LP in the post called Mother Earth’s Plant Music, and plays it to a potted plant after carefully wrapping some headphones around its leaves. In the surreal Before You Gotta Go, she gallivants around the countryside offering a mic to various bits of the landscape: a cave, a flower, a bed of Barnett-head cabbages.
It makes you think about the idea we’re all just plants, really, which want to both listen and be listened to.
“That’s a nice way to look at it,” Barnett smiles. “I really like it. Just being part of the world that you live in, being in tune with what‘s around you, that kind of thing.”
It‘s a useful window through which to experience Things Take Time, Take Time, which meditates on the minutiae of life – relationships, friendships, and
all the little things in between – with an underlying benevolence and hope. First single Rae Street – also the record‘s opener – ruminates on everyday life amongst the rat race, coming back to the line, “Time is money, and money is no man’s friend.” Barnett’s delivery of the word “no” in that line is flung upwards in
a quirk reminiscent of one of her musical besties, Kurt Vile. “That song is really high for me to sing, so sometimes I just do weird things to hide the wrong notes or hide my voice breaking,” she smiles. “I think it‘s kind of become second nature. Sometimes things happen almost as a joke, or… I assume that I‘ll fix it, but then I never fix it, because I fall in love with it.”
It‘s all part of the gut reaction which guides her guitar playing, too: see the extra fourth note she adds into her main guitar chord in Before You Gotta Go, which somehow communicates the vulnerability and reconciliation this song is all about: “If something were to happen, my dear/ I wouldn’t want the last words you hear/ To be unkind… Don‘t you know I‘m not your enemy?/ Maybe let‘s cut out caffeine.”
“I think my music playing is very intuitive,” Barnett says. “I just hear something and I‘m like, ‘Ooh, I really like that.’ Sometimes I listen to a song and think, ‘Wow, it’s such a mystery! Like, how did they make this song?‘” But knowing the technical side doesn’t smash the illusion, she believes: “It doesn’t take away the mystery. You’re even more mystified how someone came up with a particular idea at a particular time. I think it‘s fun. I like diving into how people write songs, and how or why they figured something out.”
The album’s songs were workshopped between Barnett and long-term bud Stella Mozgawa (Warpaint), with whom Barnett worked on her Kurt Vile collab album Lotta Sea Lice (2017) as well as a US fundraiser show in early 2020. “We got in touch again and [were] sending lots of music back and forth,” says Barnett. “I was sending her demos of the songs I was working on just to get her opinions, and I was mucking around with a lot of my drum machines and asking her technical advice. I really enjoy working with her.”
Mozgawa is clearly another like-minded plant in Barnett’s garden of hearts and ears – add her to the likes of Pixies’ Kim Deal (who has contributed touring guitar and backing vocals), The Breeders’ Kelley Deal (touring backing vocals), and local legends Mick Harvey (The Birthday Party), Mick Turner and Jim White (The Dirty Three), who have all variously lent their talents into and around Barnett’s previous two albums: the multi-award winning Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit (2015) and the similarly lauded Tell Me How You Really Feel (2017).
On the subject of friends, the whole of Things Take Time, Take Time is sprinkled with the kind of supportive maxims you’ve probably found yourself offering to loved ones over the last two years. Barnett says checking in with her circle is a balanced endeavour. “So many conversations with friends… one day you’re struggling, but then the next day someone else is struggling,” she explains. “Everybody kind of takes turns in being the one that looks after the other one. I feel like when you’re trying to encourage a friend, and give them that reassurance, you end up saying the things you also wish you were hearing, as well. It’s this weird, meta thing – you’re talking to yourself as much as you’re talking to them.” It seems it’s a cyclical thing where patience and forgiveness are key.
You can see the unhurried nature of that notion in one of Barnett’s best (and least-self-aware, it turns out) habits: her unwillingness to squash a lyric into a temporal mold. Time and again in her music, a bar is extended because the phrase she wants to use doesn’t fit. “I can’t change [the line], because I really want to say this thing in this particular way!” she says. “So then it’s just breaking the rules a little bit. I think when you come up against a moment like that, you recognise how unimportant that rule is, that we might always adhere to. And it’s not hurting anyone or ending the world by changing this tiny rule. Then you’re like, ‘Oh, wow! It’s so simple.’” Simple on the outside, maybe – but as usual with Courtney Barnett, it’s a deceptively rich spring which never stops providing abundant food for thought.
Things Take Time, Take Time by Courtney Barnett is out Nov 11, including on JB-exclusive blue vinyl (pictured above), via Milk! Records.
Tickets to Courtney Barnett’s March 2022 shows in Perth, Brisbane and Melbourne go on sale Friday 12 November via frontiertouring.com/
Keep up with the latest Australian release dates for music.