We spoke to the the English singer-songwriter about touring, returning to D.C. and all things rock n’ roll.
Indie rock artist Barns Courtney is holed up in a New Jersey pizza joint roughly a couple hours before he is set to take the stage at The Stone Pony in Asbury Park, New Jersey on a Friday night. As Courtney digs into a personal prosciutto pie and repeatedly pauses to thank and make jokes with the waitstaff, he reminisces about the couple days off between his New York and New Jersey tour stops. Courtney notes he is still recovering from the “escapades” of the night before but planned to caffeinate heavily before his meet and greets before the show.
Ahead of his D.C. tour stop at The Howard Theatre tonight, Monday, October 23 at 8 p.m., District Fray had a chance to chat with the English musician about his discography evolution, the meaning behind the song and the name of his tour, “Supernatural,” and his upcoming album.
District Fray: Your first album in 2017, “The Attractions of Youth,” leaned heavily into folk and blues rock. Your latest singles like “Supernatural” are more alternative modern rock. What brought the change?
Barns Courtney: I try and write music as it occurs to me, however it comes out. I was in a specific place with the first album. I was very, very depressed and I think folk and blues come naturally to the downtrodden. It was never a genre I intended to enter. It just was whatever was in me. I think when I wrote “Supernatural,” I was much happier. I wrote it like four years ago, in 2019, pre-Covid-19. I felt really good. I had been on the road with my best friends. I had come back to London from three months of solid touring and I met up with my ex, who I adore and I will always adore. [Meeting her then] reminded me of our whole dynamic. I wrote “Supernatural” about her, finished the song over the pandemic, and then it kind of parlayed into this cult leader narrative.
“Supernatural” has actually been one of my go-to workout songs this past year. There is so much joy in the track and it’s nice to know it’s because of who you were writing the song about.
That’s really sweet. Thank you for listening. My ex-girlfriend is an enormous personality and is a very fiery woman, and she’s very intelligent. She can use these powers for evil when she wants to. She’s happily with another guy now, has some kids and we still talk as friends all the time. It’s a song about being helplessly intoxicated by this woman and how I’m completely under her spell. The feeling of being ensnared by her is phenomenal and it makes me feel phenomenal, like a supernatural being.
You were born in the UK, spent most of your childhood in the US, and then returned to spend your teen and adult years back in the UK. What differences do you notice that separate rock in those two cultures, and which one are you more influenced by?
There are massive differences between UK and US rock and it’s hard to quantify them specifically. I [personally] flip a lot. I mean, the first album was undeniably quite Americana, but I do think that there’s little hints of English indie rock peppered in there. I’ve yet to create an album that I feel has a strong and obvious identity. I have ADHD and I’m always enticed by a million different genres and different things. I think being a solo artist you’re allowed if you want to make an album with five different directions if you like.
Which leads to my next question, what can people expect from your next upcoming album?
It’s an ADHD love letter to careless frivolity. If you listen to the singles I’ve released, they’re so different from each other. “Supernatural” is like a Maroon 5 song with a glam rock chorus. “Golden” is like a [Ennio] Morricone song with a dance chorus. “Young in America” is like a Killers indie song. It is a clusterf–k of randomness. It was insanely difficult to make. I was in the middle of a merger between my record label [that was] sold to Warner. I slaved over it for two years across multiple engineers, producers and musicians. Whatever you hear before you know that it contains my lifeblood, for better or for worse.
When was the last time you played in D.C.?
In 2019. Last time I played at 9:30 Club, which I always remember because they make all the bands cupcakes because they’re awesome. I remember climbing into all the different bunks [in the green room] very drunk — like random guys and girls climbing all over the bunks. People making out with each other and falling over. It was a lot of fun.
What are you looking forward to about performing tonight?
My brother just moved to D.C. so it’s very close to my heart now. He’s going to Georgetown. He’s my youngest brother. I was a teenager when he was born. I can’t believe he is all grown-up now studying politics and bringing all his friends to the show. I’ll know when I’ve made it when I make music that all [four of] my brothers love, because they’re tough critics.
What’s your normal warm-up routine before a show?
I warm up my voice for an hour before every gig because it’s a muscle. I also love to meditate for 20 minutes before I go on and clear my mind. You should be fully present with the audience. You shouldn’t be thinking about being cool or if they like this song. It’s a shamanic thing to connect not only to the energy of the audience but to the energy where inspiration is. I actually don’t like to do substances before I go out. I made a promise to myself when I was a teenager that I would never take anything before stage. I didn’t want to need anything. Sometimes I do like to take a little magic mushrooms before I go out there. They make you very present and take down your ego a little bit and put you in the zone, but I don’t like to do that too often.
Is there anything you want to prepare people for before attending the show?
Buy a parka because it is sweaty in there. I have like my own splash zone. I am like f–kin’ Shamu.
Barn Courtney performs at The Howard Theatre on October 23. Doors open at 7 p.m. and show starts at 8 p.m. Tickets range from $25-$50 and can be purchased here. Listen to Courtney’s music on all major streaming services. To stay up to date with Courtney’s tour, visit barnscourtney.com and follow him on Instagram at @barnscourtney.
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