The Quirky Aussie Who Wheezed Life Into 2013



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Courtney Barnett performs at the Mercury Lounge in New York City during the CMJ Music Festival in October. (CMJ)
Courtney Barnett performs at the Mercury Lounge in New York City during the CMJ Music Festival in October. (CMJ)

Courtney Barnett, a singer, songwriter and guitarist from Melbourne, Australia, released one of the quirkiest collections of songs this year with The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas.

During a recent conversation on Morning Edition, Barnett says she didn't even notice when people started paying attention to her music — including her breakthrough song, "Avant Gardener," which serves as an unexpectedly amusing first-person account of anaphylactic shock. Click the audio link to hear more of the discussion.

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OK. As this year winds down, we're going to listen to some music from 2013; great stuff that we didn't quite get to earlier in the year. It's an annual series that we call Music We Missed, and we'll kick it off with a new artist from Down Under.


COURTNEY BARNETT: (Singing) I got drunk and fell asleep atop the sheets but luckily, I left the heater on...

GREENE: The Australian musician Courtney Barnett sings energetic songs that are packed with word play and charm.


BARNETT: (Singing) We drifted to a party, cool. The people went to arty school. They made their paints by mixing acid wash and lemonade...

GREENE: Barnett grew up near the beach, outside Sydney. She liked the band Nirvana and learned to play it on guitar, to impress her older brother. Today, she's impressing a lot of people, but she also hasn't given up her day job. Barnett, who's 26 years old, serves beer at a rock club in Melbourne. That's when she's not playing on stage there. Maybe she's in that classic spot between waiting tables and hitting it big.


BARNETT: (Singing) If you see me when I'm feeling down, I don't know if I want you around...

GREENE: Barnett's songs are true stories. Most 20-somethings will relate to them. She sings of parties and romance, and long chats with concerned parents. This one is called "Are You Looking Out For Yourself?"

BARNETT: I remember writing it. It was basically a direct transcription of a phone call. You know, parents always worry.


BARNETT: (Singing) Are you working hard, my darling? We're so worried, always thinking of you and...

GREENE: Barnett's quirkiest song has to be "Avant Gardener." It's a five-minute tale about the time she had an asthma attack and had to go to the hospital. Barnett says she was living in a dumpy house with lots of roommates, at the time.

BARNETT: We were on street of families and kids and, you know, everyone would walk past our house and just glare at us; and it was embarrassing.

GREENE: So one day, Barnett decided to get up and do something about it. She headed out to fix up the garden.


BARNETT: (Singing) I felt proactive. I pull out weeds. Although the sun - I'm having trouble breathing in. I'm having trouble breathing in...

I really was having a lot of trouble breathing. And I just remember having this moment of going wow, I'm 25 and now, I'm about to die. What a waste of time.


BARNETT: (Singing) Oh...

GREENE: It's something that could happen to anyone. What's interesting is that Barnett opted to make it a song.

BARNETT: I don't know how this song came out of it, going from such a kind of stressful and scary thing to kind of seeing the humor afterwards, you know. I thought that was kind of funny.

GREENE: Which goes to show you that you really never know where inspiration might strike. Courtney Barnett's album is called "The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas." Tomorrow, we'll continue Music We Missed with folk rock from the Wisconsin band Blessed Feathers.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AVANT GARDENER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.