Courtney Barnett, Australian slacker rocker, eyes heavier sound and growing fan base

Australian singer and guitarist Courtney Barnett performs in concert at the Chelsea club in Vienna on Nov 23, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
Australian singer and guitarist Courtney Barnett performs in concert at the Chelsea club in Vienna on Nov 23, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK (AFP) - Courtney Barnett quit her job as a bartender in Melbourne in February. With a schedule that includes performances at some of the world's leading music festivals, it became increasingly difficult to put in hours at the pub.

In a matter of months, the singer and guitarist has won a growing audience for her songs - droll observations on daily life delivered with rapid-fire but unaffected wit - before she has had time to release a full album.

"It's amazing how things work - you get in a few magazines and then people like you," Barnett deadpanned before a show at New York's 1,500-capacity Webster Hall ballroom. "But on a positive note, it's nice that so many people feel something they connect with."

Barnett, who had been playing small shows in Australia, emerged as a favourite on US college radio stations and at last year's CMJ Music Marathon, the annual New York event where hundreds of emerging artists vie for recognition.

The lyrics are at once self-deprecating and plainspoken. The song Lance Jr. begins with Barnett's declaration, "I masturbated to the songs you wrote / Resuscitated all of my hopes."

On Avant Gardener, Barnett plays a dreamy slide guitar as she contemplates whether to take to gardening after waking up late on a hot summer Monday.

"Should have stayed in bed today / I much prefer the mundane," she sings with her voice's slight rasp reinforcing the idea she just woke up.

"I take a hit from an asthma puffer / I do it wrong / I was never good at smoking bongs," she concludes in a song in which she manages to put to verse the word "pseudoephedrine".

Barnett has often been described as a "slacker rocker", taking inspiration from Nirvana and other artists from the '90s Seattle grunge scene - even if her attitude is more ironic than gloomy.

But Barnett said that the material on her upcoming album will take a somewhat darker direction. Barnett finished recording the album, which will come out in 2015, before returning to the road in October.

"Some of it is more, kind of, heavy as we've grown as a band a bit more," said Barnett, who speaks much in the same way as she sings, conversationally but with a certain monotone.

"There were songs I wrote in a room and then taught people who to play them. These ones, I kind of wrote and took to the band," she said.

As for the lyrics, "It's pretty similar, that kind of talking about stuff that happens," she said with a laugh. "Some of it may be a tiny bit darker in some parts."

She hinted that the work may also be more political. In March, she toured Australia with leftist English singer and guitarist Billy Bragg.

As crowd sizes shot up at her performances and she played major festivals including Coachella and Primavera, Barnett put her two EPs together and sold them under the title, A Sea of Split Peas. Her upcoming release will technically be her debut album.

She releases her albums independently on the Milk! Records label which she runs with her partner - and occasional song topic - Jen Cloher.

"I guess that old record label blueprint doesn't really exist in the same way," Barnett said.

Barnett, who had never left Australia until last year, is on her first extensive tour of Europe after dates across North America.

"I've worked a lot and I've been unemployed a lot in my life. I hate working for other people; I like working for myself," she said. "I don't know how long it will last for, but it's cool being able to be a full-time artist."

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