Don’t Miss Courtney Barnett’s Intimate KCRW Apogee Session Stream/Broadcast May 5th PREVIEW: KCRW'S APOGEE SESSION FEATURING COURTNEY BARNETT
SANTA MONIOCA, CA- Courtney Barnett treated two hundred fans to an 11-song set for KCRW’s Apogee Sessions, mixed by venerable soundman Bob Clearmountain in his own recording space, Apogee Studios in Santa Monica. The session, including an interview with KCRW’s Gary Calamar, will air this Friday on Morning Becomes Eclectic, and you’ll be able to stream the entire segment online.
The Australian musician stopped by the studio in support of her upcoming sophomore album, Tell Me How You Really Feel (out May 18), which follows on the heels of her outstanding debut, 2015’s Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit, and last year’s charming collaboration with Kurt Vile, Lotta Sea Lice.
In those three short years, Barnett has earned nearly unanimous acclaim for her ambling, DIY rock and her witty wordplay. Her unpretentious songwriting brims with some of the sharpest observational storytelling being penned today. So much so, in fact, that when she first hit the scene, critics began hailing her as “The New Bob Dylan.” So, how to respond?
Write a song called “Crippling Self-Doubt and a General Lack of Self-Confidence,” of course. Those Dylan comparisons played into her anxious tendencies, so instead of inflating her ego, naming her the heir to The Voice of a Generation activated a sort of imposter syndrome.
As a result, the quotidian observations of her surroundings so common on Sometimes I Sit evolved into more inward soul-searching on Tell Me How You Really Feel, with Barnett learning how to navigate her newfound popularity and avoid the dreaded sophomore slump as the world waited, expectant — a shift for an artist whose breakout hit opens with the lyric, “I sleep in late / Another day / Oh what a wonder / Oh what a waste.”
“Everyone’s waiting when you get back home / They don’t know where you been, why you gone so long / Friends treat you like a stranger and strangers treat you like their best friend,” she now sings on “City Looks Pretty,” the first track of the night at Apogee. “Oh well,” she adds in the next line because, for all the changes in her life, it’s still a Courtney Barnett song. Sometimes there’s isn’t a resolution because she hasn’t found it yet herself.
Unpacking the themes of the record before the set, Calamar was joined by his enthusiastic 16-year-old daughter, Zoe, who joked that there were few things over which all the Calamars could bond, and Courtney Barnett was one.
They discussed her songwriting process, her beloved cat Bubbles (who is not on tour with her, to the crowd’s dismay), inviting The Breeders’ Kim and Kelley Deal to sing on “Crippling Self-Doubt” and finishing “Sunday Roast,” a lovely song near the end of her Apogee set that she started writing as a teenager.
“It takes me so long to write songs. It’s not like I was working on it for 15 years, but they just keep somewhere in the back of my head and keep coming back every now and then if I sit down to play guitar. It’s always been hard to put words to their own tune, but I finally decided to, you know — finish” – Courtney Barnett
Zoe got down to business, pointing out that Tell Me How You Really Feel is an album full of both anger and sadness, as Barnett herself has previously described it, with more bite than her earlier work. Barnett said it’s a reflection of her changing state of mind, navigating her moods and “seesawing between all those tempers.”
We hear the anger in “I’m Not Your Mother, I’m Not Your Bitch,” which sees Barnett trading her calm, conversational vocal style for something more charged and less chained, channeling her emotion in a way that would make any Riot Grrrl band proud. It was electrifying to watch, especially in light of Barnett’s love of Nirvana.
A swirl of frustration and sadness fills “Nameless, Faceless,” a blunt indictment of male aggression. While Barnett’s songs often find their appeal in the universality of the most mundane things in our personal lives, she taps into the zeitgeist here by addressing sexual assault and borrowing a line from Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale: “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.”
“I hold my keys between my fingers!” she sang a little louder at the end of the chorus, met with nods of recognition from every woman in the audience who’s ever booked it through a shadowy parking garage and made that little claw with her keys. Its absurdity would be comical if it weren’t also sad, and hearing Barnett belt it out feels like validation of how disappointing it is that so many women can relate.
Even with heavier material this time around, Barnett and her band — drummer Dave Mudie, bassist Bones Sloane and multi-instrumentalist Katie Harkin — are ever the amiable bunch, closing the show with an unscheduled encore. They showcased more than half of Tell Me How You Really Feel at Apogee, and it was clear that as Barnett matures as a songwriter, she’s capable of far more than her crippling self-doubt would tell her, and she helps us feel like the rest of us might be, too.