From The Archives: Debut Happy Mag cover star Courtney Barnett

Celebrate the tenth birthday of Happy’s print magazine with a look back at one of our starriest covers. 

We’re nearing the ten-year anniversary of Happy’s print magazine, which is nothing short of a nostalgia trip here in the office.

In the spirit of looking back, we’ve been sifting through the print issue archives to bring you our buzziest and best-loved covers and interviews.

Courtney Barnett cover star issue 1

Where else to begin then with Courtney Barnett, the inaugural star who graced the cover of Happy’s debut print issue in January 2016?

At the time, Barnett had just released her debut album ‘Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit’, which would later land her with a Grammy nomination for Best New Artist.

She swung by Happy to chat all things recording, social media and her rise to superstardom. Below, we’re reminiscing on this unforgettable cover story courtesy of Courtney Barnett.     

Courtney Barnett Anonymous Club
Photo credit: Ian Laidlaw

The Rising Star of Courtney Barnett 

By Shayen de Silva

She may be the biggest rock star in Australia right now, but to her it’s just another day in the office. Soft spoken and a little camera shy, Barnett explains her need to always stay busy and ponders her rise to stardom.

HAPPY: Hey Courtney, thanks for chatting with us. You’re setting up for your sneaky Sydney show now, and you had the Melbourne gig yesterday. How’d that go?

COURTNEY: It’s a new record, so I thought we’d just play it through for friends, press and shit; people we’ve met over the year and play it for them.

Last night in Melbourne was the first time we played it in front of other people, so it’s kind of like the dress rehearsal of touring and things to come. It was really nerve wracking

Courtney Barnett Rae Street Mia Mala McDonald
Photo: Mia Mala McDonald

HAPPY: How did it all go? Was it successful?

COURTNEY: Yeah. It felt successful. It just felt good to be able to play the songs and show people what we’ve been working on (laughs).

HAPPY: Well it’s pretty awesome talking to you today for Happy’s debut print issue, especially when we’ve been writing about you for ages!

It was funny when we were trying to set up this interview, after a couple of days there were about seven people attached to the email chain. I had to laugh at how many hands an interview with you had to go through.

COURTNEY: (laughs) It’s confusing. That’s what happens.

Screenshot – Milk Records Melbourne, YouTube

HAPPY: Do you feel that as you’ve gotten steadily busier your team has also grown?

COURTNEY: A little bit. It’s still pretty small compared to other people I know in bands. We kinda have my manager Nick, and we only finally just got a tour manager and a constant sound guy.

Up until now we couldn’t afford it, so we’d use whoever was in the town we were in on the night. It gets pretty hard, sometimes you get really shit sound guys and sometimes you get great ones.

Sometimes they don’t care, so it’s nice to finally be able to do that. I would prefer to do everything myself, but I can’t. I tried to do that once and you just get overworked and overwhelmed by everything.

HAPPY: What’s that like, rolling into town and dealing with a sound guy who doesn’t give a shit?

COURTNEY: It’s just frustrating. It’s been happening to us for the last nine years. Y’know, we’ve always played in bands where you basically spend your own money to go on tour.

Everyone has to take time off work. Then to get somewhere and have no tickets sold and no one shows up, and the sound guy doesn’t give a shit and he throws a mic at you. It’s pretty hard work.

Photo: Press

HAPPY: Wait, someone has thrown a mic at you?

COURTNEY: No, not actually thrown (laughs). Just given some shit and would be like “Just do it yourself”. I don’t think mic throwing has ever happened to me.

HAPPY: You mentioned you’ve tried to do everything yourself, so what’s the benefit for you having a growing team collaborating with you?

COURTNEY: It means there’s more room for me to be a musician, instead of trying to book shows. I used to basically do everything myself. Be like calling back and forth with people, sending emails, trying to book shows and support shows.

Trying to book venues, organise where you’re staying, getting a hire car, finding the cheapest stuff or calling up friends in weird places and seeing if you can stay with them.

Then you try to record your album and try to release it. All that stuff, it’s kinda nice to be able to say “You look after the accommodation and the car hire”, and everyone will do their own little job.

We all kind of try to spread the weight between the band members as well. And then we can just focus on making music, but that never happens because I do Milk! Records stuff at home. I’m kind of always doing stuff anyway (laughs).

HAPPY: Are you always looking for something to do? 

COURTNEY: Yeah, I just think I like to have a project. But then when I’m busy I’m like “Oh, I’m too busy!” and freak out. But when I’m not busy at all I freak out as well because when I have nothing to do I go crazy.

Courtney Barnett

HAPPY: Have you had one of those days recently?

COURTNEY: Yeah. But in that sense there never really is a day off because I’ll find something to do. There never is days off, because you’re so close to your email or your social media or whatever.

Sometimes you can’t help but do some level of work, even if it isn’t ‘work’ work. But I don’t know, I went away just to get away from the city and I’d just read my book.

I didn’t really have phone reception and there was that feeling of “What if someone is trying to get in touch with me?! What if I won a Grammy?!” Y’know what I mean? So it’s kind of nice to be forced into having nothing to do.

HAPPY: I know how you feel. Part of my job is being on Facebook, and that’s technically working so there’s a sense of working all the time.

COURTNEY: Yeah! That’s part of my job, and part of your job is being on top of what’s happening and going to see bands and listening to new albums. It’s constant, but that’s also what’s kinda cool about it as well.

HAPPY: Yeah, I get paid to listen to music!

COURTNEY: And I get paid to make it! (laughs)

HAPPY: How involved are you with your social media stuff? Do you do it yourself or is it something your team has taken over?

COURTNEY: No, that’s something I do. I do it all otherwise I’d rather it not be done. It’s weird.

Courtney Barnett
Photo: Mia McDonald

HAPPY: If you think about it, social media is the gateway to how people perceive you and how you build your brand.

COURTNEY: Yeah, but sometimes it’s so fucked up. Social media is great on so many levels, but it’s perverted and voyeuristic and weird.

It’s not like a real representation of who we are. So it can be a bit weird I reckon. I try not to get too carried away with it.

HAPPY: So how do you try to combat that, make it as true to yourself as possible?

COURTNEY: It’s definitely essential. But I don’t know, just… I don’t know. I don’t know if you follow my stuff but I’ll put up pictures of stuff that happens.

Places we go, tell people what’s happening. Instead of (using bogan voice) “I just fucken ate a whole packer of chips!” (laughs). Y’know? It’s not necessary. I assume people just follow me to see what I’m doing, when I’m doing it and what’s coming up.

HAPPY: In your ideal world, how would you express yourself socially? Besides your music of course.

COURTNEY: Well, just the music. That’s the main thing. Social media is just this side thing. It’s kind of bordering between advertising and expression, but it’s not really artistic expression.

It’s just information. I don’t have a burning desire for everybody to know what I’m doing all the time. I make music because I enjoy it and it’s a good way for me to process my thoughts.

It’s not about the output or connections. I wouldn’t care if I didn’t have to communicate with people, that’d be perfect (laughs).

Courtney Barnett

HAPPY: So on one hand you don’t want people to know what you’re doing, but at the same time people will know what’s going through your head when they listen to your album.

COURTNEY: Yeah, true. It’s like a total contradiction (laughs).

HAPPY: What’s the difference in that respect? Because it’s still you revealing yourself to others in different ways.

COURTNEY: Yeah but there’s a difference between the two. The songs cover so much more ground and emotion and ideas. Social media is more of a communication than a form of expression. Music is a form of expression. And communication I guess as well.

HAPPY: It’s a communication of your expression.


HAPPY: I always think of social media as one of those fun house mirrors. Just a distorted version of someone, and if you don’t have 100 likes then I don’t matter. It’s insane.

COURTNEY: Yeah! It’s strange that we’ve grown up in this time. It’s kind of cool as well, but it’s just strange. So strange.

HAPPY: Well you mentioned you keep yourself busy with Milk! as well. How do you divide your time between music in that regard considering it’s a totally different thing

COURTNEY: We just kind of figure it out. Milk! doesn’t have a huge team, so it’s just us. It’s not a traditional record label, we don’t have A&R teams and stuff like that.

There’s only a handful of us. When it does get busy we have friends come in to help out, it’s a good platform for us to create stuff, and we just start projects for ourselves.

We don’t have any sort of thing to meet every year or numbers to crunch or anything like that. We just go “Let’s do something, make a recording everyone can be on, or make a weird i-shirt”.

So it’s just projects, projects to keep us interested. Otherwise we’d just be bored.

HAPPY: How involved are you? I know Jen is, as you’ve said, the business brain behind Milk!.

COURTNEY: Yeah. Me and Jen basically run everything. When I’m on tour I’ll run everything on the internet. We both have different skills.

Mine’s just a bit more on the technical stuff, like Photoshop, drawing and doing templates and the weby side of it. The computery side! And she’s good at other shit, like talking to the vinyl people and doing orders for shit.

Calling up people and being stern. I’m not good at that. I hate being on the phone, I make any excuse to avoid situations like that. So yeah, we just have different skills.

We have a couple of other people. Our friend Sarah, she’s a bookkeeper so she works from home. Sholakis comes around and when she’s not at work she does the mail outs. So it’s not a very fucken big enterprise. It’s run from my house.

HAPPY: Nice. Do you have any ambitions of where you want to see it grow in the future?

COURTNEY: I’d like it be a little bit more sustainable, and maybe somewhere where we can make more money and not start stressing about getting our own money into it, and we have dreams of getting in a little warehouse and setting up a recording space, a rehearsal space, a painting space, just a little place for everyone to do stuff, but it’ll happen when it happens.

HAPPY: The reason we’re all here, the new album, being your debut, how do you feel that it’ll be out in the world in another week?

COURTNEY: I’m really excited and nervous at the same time, I’m really proud of it, but it’s just that idea of releasing all these personal stories or ideas, it’s fun to be doing these things and playing the songs and finally releasing it, I’ve been working on it for so long.

HAPPY: How long have you been working on it for?

COURTNEY: We recorded it in April in 10 days, so that was kind of done (laughs), but we went on tour so it got pushed aside a bit, doing artwork for it, figuring out when we wanted to release it and all the other shit that goes into planning for stuff.

HAPPY: Yeah, because you need to record it and then flip onto the other side and be all business lady.Is that a weird experience? Some artists just take a break and wait until it’s released, whereas you’re there every step of the way.

COURTNEY: Yeah, I prefer that than someone else deciding what it’s gonna be called and do the artwork for it and suddenly I pick it up and it’s just a totally different thing. I don’t see the point in doing it if that’s how it’s going to be done.

Courtney Barnett

HAPPY: It’s got an incredibly distinct personality. Did you go into the studio thinking “I want to enjoy this type of sound”, or did it just build itself over time?

COURTNEY: Everyone asks that question and I don’t know how to answer it.

I just make music and record it, you hope it sounds good and you figure out along the way how it’s gonna sound, you never know exactly how you want it to sound, cause if you did you wouldn’t bother recording it.

It’s like an experiment I guess, you record it and learn and change stuff on the way and you see how it moulds and adapts.

HAPPY: Did you work with a producer at all?

COURTNEY: Oh yeah, Bourke Reid. He’s a really great engineer as well, and we met up with him and we loved him and yeah it was cool, it was great. He’s so funny and nice. Easy to be around.

It was great, he’s so clever and switched on, and he works really hard. He forgets to eat because he’s too busy doing what he’s doing and he was a perfectionist, with the attention to detail I wouldn’t have.

He’s fun and happy to be around, so when everyone is dull or thinks they are a shit musician it’s good to have.

HAPPY: What was it like for you guys, writing, recording and the whole mixing process?

COURTNEY: It was long days, starting normally at 10 or 12 but working really late, leaving at 3 or 4 in the morning. Long days, and because some stuff sometimes takes ages, it’s always changing.

I mean it was fun recording it live so we were all doing stuff together at the same time, not losing energy so it was fun.

But there were moments of frustration being stuck in the studio, going a bit mental not seeing the skies. We wanted to be close to girlfriends and friends, regular places we go to.

HAPPY: You mentioned earlier how you have a shit musician moment. Is that a thing for you where you’re stressed out and working?

COURTNEY: Well do you ever have days where you think you’re shit at what you do?

HAPPY: Several times this morning already!

girls Rock!

COURTNEY: Well I think most people do that at least once a day, but then you think “Nah I’m alright, I’m doing well”. There’s no structure to that thought process, this is how we work as humans.

If you go to a gig and think “I can never be that good”, or maybe you think “They’re not very good, maybe I’m pretty good?” There’s no actual answer, it’s just you being fucking mental.

HAPPY: I read in another interview you gave where you said that 5 year olds have come up to you and know the words of your songs, is that true?

COURTNEY: Yeah, kids seem to like my music which is fucking cool. We were rehearsing at Dave’s house the other day, and their next door neighbour came over and they were just bopping along.

It was kinda cool. Heaps of randoms tell me that, I thought that was pretty cool, I didn’t read into it too psychologically.

HAPPY: Could there be a children’s album in the works?

COURTNEY: You never know!