Barns Courtney opens up about the adversity that led him to his deeply personal debut record.
Barns Courtney’s journey towards his debut album, The Attractions of Youth, has not been easy. Repeatedly teetering on success, he’s been chewed up and spat out by a turbulent industry. His life has seen him split time between Ipswich and Seattle, each presenting separate opportunities and occasional disappointments. The Attractions of Youth is the result of both. It’s testament to the power of resilience.
The Attractions of Youth marks a turning point for Barns. After ten years of hard work, bouncing back from continued adversity, the record delves into his newfound realism. Dominated by a positive message, it remains painfully aware how quickly the tides can change.
In equal parts excited and hesitant on the eve of release, Barns Courtney is in LA, having been called back from a UK tour for a high profile TV appearance. Cementing his trans-Atlantic life, it’s only a few days before he returns to London for a headline show at Dingwalls. It’s a sign that a settled, straightforward life remains out of reach for Barns, but that’s clearly OK in his mind.
From LA, Barns fills us in on his unpredictable past, and the power of youth.
How is life at the moment, with your album on the way?
It’s good. For so many years I was struggling to get anyone to listen, or to interact with it at all. It’s a great feeling to know that I’m spending every moment of my life doing something towards my goal.
I’m really happy with the album. It’s the first album I’m releasing, ever. I’ve been doing this for ten years. I’ve been trying to make an album for ten years, since I was 19. I’m 26 now. It’s my second deal. I can’t believe it’s real, to be actually out there.
Are you nervous to release it into the world?
It just feels good to get it out there. I’ve had these songs for a while. There’s been a lot of politics; I almost got dropped. When I got signed, a lot of people left on both sides of the Atlantic. 20 of the 23 bands signed by my A&R got dropped, and the only acts were me and the other two. It feels good to have escaped the chopping board, and to get something out there.
How much of that experience has bled into the record?
It’s all bled into the record. The whole album is about the drive to succeed. It’s the “f**k this, my life isn’t going to degenerate” attitude. About hitting rock bottom, but refusing to give up.
It’s nice that the songs are out there to get messages from people who connect to that in their own way. From their own personal troubles, to something as trivial as getting up to go to the gym. It’s a very gratifying feeling to know people actually listen to the lyrics. Even if they don’t, they feel the passion of the songs and they feel some of that sentiment.
What’s a key thing you’ve learned from that experience?
The main thing is that when you sign a major record deal, that is not your big shot getting checked off the list. It does not mean you’ve made it. Essentially, it’s your opportunity to impress.
They’re not going to take the reigns and do things for you. They are essentially a piggybank. A resource you can use. But you better move. Get your head down and glide. Put everything you can possibly muster into that opportunity, otherwise you get swallowed up by the enormous pool of talent and success they are already churning.
Did that take you by surprise?
Absolutely, I thought I’d made it when I was 19. I was sure that was it. I spent a few years learning that was not the case.
We were stuck in this contract with a producer that had to deliver our record, but never did. When we got dropped, I fell hard. My whole life had been one upward trajectory in music, from school concerts to winning battle of the bands and playing gigs. Being on TV with my music. Signing with a manager and a record label. Then suddently this life I’d been living since the age of 14 was over, and I was an adult.
I had no qualifications, and nobody gave a s**t about anything I’d done in music. It’s not like a degree, where if you lose your job you still have that piece of paper that validates the time you put in. There was nothing.
I got a job in PC World, talking about how I used to do music. I realised that people would see me as the guy playing music in the pub down the road from now on. This f**k up who wasted ten years of his life.
I was very scared.
Do you think all of that got you to where you are now?
The experience was essential to make me the artist I am now. There’s a lot of energy to be found at rock bottom. Failure is an integral part of success. That experience gave me something real to write about that people can relate to, and a drive.
The album is the light at the end of that tunnel.
It’s a kicking, screaming, product of circumstance.
In terms of touring, you’ve had some high profile support slots. Does anything stand out as a highlight?
Supporting The Who was a very overwhelming experience. It was difficult for me to cope with the weight of being on the same stage as that band. They’re so influential. It was a very powerful experience, but it wasn’t until the next day when I grasped what had happened.
I spent most of the show backstage talking to Pete Townsend and hanging out with those guys like a deer in headlights.
Did you learn anything from those experiences?
I really enjoyed the fact that despite his legendary career, Pete Townsend went out of his way to come and talk to me multiple times. He must have had loads of support acts, and at this stage to still be doing that is a great experience. I want to be like that if I’m lucky enough to have a long career.
Barns Courtney released his debut album, The Attractions of Youth, on Friday 29 September 2017. He’ll be headlining a show at London’s Dingwalls on the same day. Tickets are available through Ticketmaster.co.uk.