Local Current Blog

Courtney Barnett talks about her ‘reflective’ new album ‘Tell Me How You Really Feel’

Courtney Barnett at The Current in 2016. (Nate Ryan/MPR)

When you hear Courtney Barnett’s name in the Twin Cities, it doesn’t just echo — it resonates. The Australian musician has a strong fan base here in Minnesota, and it reaches new heights with every song she releases.

Back in October, she visited The Current’s studio with Kurt Vile to promote their collaborative release Lotta Sea Lice. The album is something that Barnett holds close to her heart, even if the idea of creating something so different than what she was used to scared her.

“I have this fear all the time of something going wrong or being laughed at or whatever it is,” Barnett said when we recently spoke by phone. But everything turned out for the best, because according to her, touring with Vile was “one of the greatest things” she’s ever done.

Fast-forward a few months, and Barnett now has a new solo record on its way. Tell Me How You Really Feel will be available on May 18. It explores everyday occurrences and habits by putting them into lyrics that will surely get stuck in your head. Its approach is relatable, yet imaginative, and its inspiration comes from some of the people closest to Barnett.

“I started writing it about friends and people close to me kind of struggling,” Barnett said of writing the album. “It turned quite reflective. It touches on communication, vulnerability, and a whole lot of general human behavioral traits.”

These themes care already apparent in the two singles Barnett has released. “Need a Little Time” dissects a relationship, while “Nameless, Faceless” touches on internet bullying and assault. Still, overall, Barnett promises that the album “bears on the optimistic side.”

Barnett’s style has always been unique in the sense that it is easy to pick out her voice if you are hearing it on the radio. She has an approach to music that is all its own and is effortlessly cool. Barnett plans on bringing that same attitude to this new album. “My goal has always been not to fall into the traditional trap of the music industry and not to do things the way they’ve always been done because that’s the way they’ve always been done.”

She’s done a good job of maintaining that mindset by doing big things such as starting her own label, Milk! Records, in 2012. It’s based in her home town of Melbourne and has given Barnett the opportunity to see the other side of music production, while also working one-on-one with musicians. “I feel like there’s always something new to learn and there’s so much human interaction,” she said of the experience. “It’s a funny old business to be in.”

She’s also an avid guitarist in an era when much of the music industry is transitioning from Fenders to Abletons. Some rockers are uneasy about the decline of electric guitar sales, but not Barnett. “Everything has a season and continues to go around in circles,” she said. “I think it’s great when people make art. Whatever kind it is, as long as it’s honest and vulnerable and interesting, then it’s good.”

Barnett will be touring North America this summer, as well as parts of Europe. She’ll be back in Minnesota on July 21, playing at Surly Brewing Festival Field with openers Julien Baker and Big Thief. Having played local venues from the Palace Theatre to Rock the Garden, does Barnett prefer indoor or outdoor crowds?

“The thing that matters the most,” she says, “is the energy and connection between the band and the crowd. Then, it doesn’t matter where you are. It doesn’t matter if it is storming outside, it still could be an incredible show because that energy is there.”