Since the release of his single, "Fire," Barns Courtney has been everywhere...touring cross-country, opening for the likes of Fitz and the Tantrums and Tom Odell, playing radio shows and festivals...and he's not stopping any time soon. Released earlier this year, Barns Courtney's The Dull Drums EP combines his distinct vocals with infectious melodies and singalong choruses. His debut full length has been a long time coming, and when we caught up with the singer-songwriter at Hangout Fest last weekend, we talked about the recording process for the debut album, life on the road, what's next for him this year, and more. Get to know more about Barns in this candid interview, featuring a scandalous festival tale from his early days.
ANCHR Magazine: What do you consider your first musical memory, when you first got into playing your own music, or really falling in love with music in general.
Barns Courtney: I think just singing with my mom. My mom’s crazy. We'd always put on voices together, put on accents, sing little bits and bobs together, make up parodies.
AM: Any bands that she was into? My mom loved Michael Bolton.
BC: I love that, I love that you’re willing to admit that. She used to play Paul Simon’s Graceland. She did that everyday for a year. There’s a line in that song “my traveling companion is nine years old, he is the child of my first marriage”... which was true, for a year. I was a nine year old child of her first marriage.
AM: So you were born in England, then moved to Seattle...then went back to England. Where do you consider home now?
BC: Seattle for sure. That’s where I spent my formative years. That guy over there, Mikey, is my best friend from when I was in elementary school. All the people that I really love from childhood are in Seattle. And my mom loves there, and my brothers.
AM: Do you consider the traveling around to be a big influence on your songwriting?
BC: I think so. Because the way that I write music is very sporadic and I write in a lot of different genres. I was actually wondering if the album was too all over the place, stylistically. It’s different from the EP. I think it’ll be alright. I think the subject matter and the fact that it’s the same person singing on all the tracks will unify it. But I certainly think that the British Indie scene was a huge influence on me. The American pop punk scene when I was growing up in Seattle was a huge influence. I don’t think in the way that would expect. For instance when it comes to Nirvana, they were a big part of my young life. I just loved their throwaway confessional honesty of Kurt Cobain’s songwriting and lyricism. I love that he can fill an entire chorus with some balls and one word, like “Lithium” where he just sings “yeah” again and again and it sounds so good. That’s just inspired me to write music that’s an honest as possible. It’s more about the passion for me and the feel when I write a record than it is about the musicality. Which could be both a good and a bad thing.
AM: I think it’s always better to have passion than be perfectly technical.
BC: But I do love technical bands. I love bands like The Strokes where the guitar weaves so effortlessly with the bass and they have these little lovely intricate parts. I want to explore that on my next record. This one is very basic....basic chords, basic drum beats.
AM: Is the album done then?
BC: It’s done. It’s been done for a while.
AM: Is their a targeted release date?
BC: I think they want to go for around September, I’m not sure though. I just gotta keep my head down and keep writing songs because eventually something’s gotta give.
AM: What else can you tell me about the album, like where’d you record it?
BC: It’s been a mad rush. I wasn’t expecting my first single “Fire” to be a single. I wrote this song. I was working in a computer store. Before I knew it I was getting calls from my buddy who had showed it to an agent who was a friend of his, and it just like spread around the industry like wildfire. I was signed before I knew it. And then it was in a movie. Then KNND [107.7 The End] in Seattle were playing it. They were playing it before my label even knew who I was. They were getting calls like this Barns Courtney guy, is he yours? And they’re like I don't know who this guy is. I’ve been on the road solidly since that tune picked up. A lot of the album was recorded on the road. My friend Sam from my last band, who’s like a mad genius. He does this project called Look Mum, No Computer where he makes like synthesizers out of bicycles. I took him on the road, we recorded backstage at festivals, in the car, in hotel rooms. Occasionally, like for the next single, we stopped off in a studio on the road in between promo and gigs. There’s definitely like a sense of urgency with the album.
AM: So your set yesterday was great--
BC: It was an interesting set. I was not expecting to get naked.
AM: Wow, I missed that! I saw the first half of the set, but then went to MGMT.
BC: It got progressively more and more intense.
AM: Well, I was going to say you seem to give 110% at every performance, so how do you refuel yourself on tour when you give so much during each performance?
BC: I just love being onstage. I love that unspoken connection between the audience and myself. I think all anybody wants to do...in life, ultimately... is connect. When you’re up there, you’re all singing and dancing, hearts beating in unison. Glory Hallelujah. There’s just this tremendous sense of togetherness, and it’s not even about being a spectacle or having the attention or the adoration. It is about the fantastic ability to be a part of something together with other people around you. You come offstage and people want to continue that, they want to talk to you and continue that feeling. The sad thing is, as soon as you leave the stage and the audience, you become two strangers again. There isn’t that magical feeling of togetherness anymore. And that’s what really fuels all my performances. I love that. It’s cathartic and it’s meditative. I’m plugged into something bigger than myself. Really the only times where I don’t do that are when I’m too caught up in my own head or too self conscious. It is the most giving and energizing thing that I personally can experience. It provides me with my force, as opposed to the other way around.
AM: So since we're at a festival, do you have any crazy festival stories?
BC: Whenever people ask me these questions, I know in my mind somewhere there’s something, but I have to think of exactly what it is. I’ve done some messed up stuff at festivals. I remember once, I grew up in the same rough area as Ed Sheeran. So he would come to gigs in this place called the Steam Boat Tavern because they do little clubs shows in there. We played to like 10 people...[Ed] was always a phenomenal performer. I took my first band to see him at this little place, and I introduced him...it was a big deal. I said ‘"Hey this is Ed,’" you know, he’s phenomenal, he’s gonna do great things one day. Bass player walks straight up to him, bites him as hard as he can on the shoulder. Draws blood. Ed starts freaking out, walks off. I don’t see him again for like two years. At this point we’re both playing this festival called Wakestock. Ed’s started to gain traction. He’s playing to a tent of like 5,000 people. I see him backstage, he’s like "Hey what’s up Barns." I’m like "Dude, it’s so nice to see you, I'm so sorry about that thing last time--" Mid sentence, bass player appears out of nowhere, bites him on the shoulder again. Bleeding! He’s like oh my god....goes off. He has to do his set. Then later that night, we went to a roller skating rink. This is where Ed leaves the story. We’ve all got roller skates on, and I was so drunk, me and the band, we just left this roller rink with the skates on. We’re trying drunkenly to get back to the van on roller skates through a muddy field. I meet this girl. She starts chewing my face off and she’s obviously on ecstasy, and I realize halfway through, the water that she gave me, is just full of drugs. New Found Glory is playing, we’re like going at- I mean like, Tyrannosaurus Rex going at each other’s faces. Like, it’s not pretty. All the music stops, and we look up and New Found Glory is looking at us, and they say, "I didn’t realize that our music was romantic, but fuck, you guys are really macking on each other!" No word of a lie, everyone is looking at us. We end up backstage in the shower room. Next thing I know this girl and I are getting intimate, I’ve still got my roller skates on. I’m soaking wet. It’s freezing cold, I’m wet through, making sweet love to this girl in a pair of roller skates. I’m shivering my ass off, and the two of us climb into this van. I look behind me, the bass player that just bit Ed Sheeran is making out with this girl that I literally just got with.
AM: That is crazy, I don’t even think you can make that up. So, still on the subject of festivals, you’ve got Lolla coming up, is there anything else you’re really looking forward to? Hopefully nothing as crazy as that festival story!
BC: I hate having relations with women wearing roller skates. I hope that never happens again. It’s awkward. It doesn’t work.
AM: Would that be your festival "don’t?"?
BC: Do not have sex wearing roller skates. Especially when it’s freezing outside.
AM: Do you have a "do" in relation to that?
BC: A sexual do? Ecstasy is a glorious drug to make love on. You just wanna love everyone. You just wanna touch everyone. I remember being with this girl, and I just sat on my bed and I just looked at her for four hours. It was phenomenal. Just gazing deep within each other’s souls. Then when we finally got around to it, it was just this incredible, visceral experience. Must try that. I insist upon it. It’s got the Barnsy seal of approval.
AM: Anything else you’re looking forward to this tour?
BC: I just love playing festivals. I love playing gigs. Hangout Festival was so much fun. The crowd were just so present. When they told me to take my clothes off, I took my shirt off. They just kept asking. I basically made a deal with them. I was like look, if you guys go fucking crazy, I’ll take the rest of my clothes off. It was the end of the set, I brought two girls up on stage to be my hype ladies. I made a big ceremony, I got a drum beat going. I got the crowd chanting "take it off!"
AM: Wow, I included you in my highlights, but I think I need to revise it to include you getting naked.
BC: I think Hangout put it on their snapchat. They said “He Did: That" and “Barns Courtney: No Shirt No Problem."
AM: So moving on from being naked, are there any bands you’re really into at the moment?
BC: Yeah, Bishop Briggs. Phenomenal. I’ve seen her at a couple of festivals. Really into Band Of Skulls. Fidlar. Temples' new album is sick. Harry Styles’ new single is amazing! It's like Ziggy Stardust era Bowie. I don’t care about One Direction. Objectively, those are great pop songs. They’re not for me. They’re for teenage girls, but all music has its place. I would never discredit that. His new record is very credible, and very well done. The production is great. Nobody’s lyrics are ever gonna touch Bowie, but the lyrics are solid. They’re not teeny bopper One Direction lyrics. This is like when Justin Timberlake went to do a solo thing, but even more dramatic of a change.
AM: Any last shout outs or advice?
BC: Shout out to my mom. Shout out to my buddies The Struts. I saw them in LA recently, they’re gentlemen. Shout out to my friend, my lover, my coproducer, Look Mum No Computer...his shit’s amazing.