“I love it when things go wrong sometimes, like everything breaks and I just have to do the entire set by myself on an acoustic guitar, but then that makes for a really special experience that only that crowd will get to see. Last night, our show in Saskatoon got cancelled, and I hated the idea that people scheduled their lives to come to see the show, and they wouldn’t be able to, so I played in front of the venue instead! But it was so cold that my guitar wouldn’t stay in tune, so I played an entire set on one string [laughs]. That’s the first time I’ve ever done that!”
I’m chatting with somewhat glammy, somewhat folky, always fabulously alternative English singer/songwriter Barns Courtney, whose younger self actually used to play in the Steamboat Tavern in Suffolk, alongside a young Ed Sheeran, who was also making a name for himself with regular live dates at the barroom (Apparently Courtney repeatedly told his parents that they had to check out the young folk-pop artist one night, but they never did…)
Last week Barns Courtney released his latest single, “Young In America” (He lived in Seattle from the ages of 4-15.), the follow up to “Golden,” which dropped this April, and “Supernatural,” which was released last fall. The song is about Courtney growing up trying to make it as a rock singer. “It’s about my struggle in general in my career. I’ve been doing this for a long time (I’ve been doing this for eight years now.) and I had huge goals and aspirations when I was young, and I still do, and I didn’t quite get to the level that young me imagined… And this song is a bit of a rallying cry, but it’s also about gratitude for all that I have after all this time,” he tells me.
Seemingly on cue, I hear our phone chat interrupted as Courtney steps off his tour bus, addressing a fan who showed up early to his Winnipeg show. “You look so cool, Emily! You look so cool in your outfit!” I hear him say to the early arriver, before going on to invite her to a meet and greet that he’s hoping to move from the venue to the bar next door in about an hour. After a couple minutes, he returns his attention to our chat, offering, “You gotta treat these people with care and love. They are responsible for my entire career, after all!”
Although — for the time being — “Supernatural,” “Golden,” and “Young In America” are all stand-alone singles, in discussing the most recent single, Courtney explains that the songs are part of a larger project… apparently a much larger project: “I was writing a backstory for this album, like a 40-page backstory, about a retro futuristic cult leader… I was a little bored with Barns Courtney and wanting to explore something else but, hilariously, it turned out to be about me, not that I’m a cult leader [laughs]. They always say that whatever you’re writing about, you always wind-up writing about yourself [laughs].”
And apparently Barns Courtney is using his current 37-date North American tour — which began October 1st in Edmonton and will feature an all ages stop at Brooklyn Bowl Philadelphia on Monday, October 16th — to help tell this story: “I really wanted to make this entire backstory for the album, but I’m not telling it to the audience directly. I’m showing it through the performance, and things like the clothes and even the merch design.” Of the look of the show, and his wardrobe in particular, he tells me, “The inspiration is late ‘60s, glam rock, and things like Rocky Horror, and then a touch of ‘80s/’90s anime, like Akira and Cowboy Bebop… It’s kind of like amalgamizing all of the things I love most into this character. It just makes it more fun for me, and hopefully the audience, too!”
While this particular show may have slightly more of a story than previous tours, Barns Courtney tells me that he always puts a lot of thought (even if it has to be in the moment) into every show he plays: “Every single show is completely different. I love the challenge of figuring out what every single audience needs. Like, sometimes people might want to talk, but my job is to be so entertaining that they don’t wanna talk over me.” However, he does offer, “I think the show is a lot sweatier and more Rock N’ Roll than people expect. Hopefully there will be crowd surfing, but you never know how it will turn out!”
Starting at our local October 16th show at Brooklyn Bowl, Barns Courtney will be joined by English alt rockers YONAKA, who embrace a neo-glam aesthetic (in sound and style) not dissimilar to Semi Precious Weapons in the aughts. Courtney featured on “Anthem,” off of YONAKA’s 2021 LP, Seize the Power, which he tells me will likely wind up making its way into his set. He tells me that the band have been dear friends of his for quite some time and that he’s beyond excited to be on the road with them.
“They’re literally some of my favorite people in the entire world. I’ve known them for about 8 years. They’re definitely gonna give me a run for my money. I love having a support band that challenges me and pushes me. And they’re gonna be staying on my bus, so that’ll just be a total party.”
*Get your tickets here.