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Concert preview: How Barns Courtney's personality, perseverance gave him a second shot

Published May 12, 2017 11:14 am

Concert preview • After battling back to resurrect his music career, the British/American rocker is eager to show off his "fanciful songs" in Salt Lake City.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

So, Barns Courtney, you're playing Kilby Court on Friday night. What would you say to people in Salt Lake who are perhaps unfamiliar with you to persuade them to come see your show?

"I would say," he prefaced, before shifting his voice to whatever the midpoint is between movie-trailer narrator and carnival barker, " 'People of Salt Lake City, prepare your earholes for musical honey and sensual delights, as I pour forth my fanciful songs from every orifice! I will cover you in my manly juices and make you feel alright!' How's that?"

Ummmm, about that "manly juices" part. …



"In a good way, you know?!" Courtney clarified helpfully. "If you come, and you're not into manly juices, then I won't cover you in manly juices. Only if you're into that!"

If Courtney's concert proves half as entertaining as his effort to promote it, though, anyone who brings their earholes to Kilby is in for an unforgettable show.

His enthusiasm for his current situation is actually perfectly understandable given his previous situation.

Dropping out of high school so he would have more time to play gigs soon led to a management deal, which soon led to a record deal, which soon led to an unceremonious and unexpected cancellation of said deal, which soon led to "an existential crisis the likes of which I thought I may never recover [from]."

"My life had always been on this wonderful incline toward success. … I thought everybody was wrong and I could just do music and there'd be no troubles or trepidations at all whatsoever along the way," Courtney said. "And then three years of hard work making [a] record that never came out, only to get sporadically dropped, or so it seemed to me, at the most random time, with no preconception that that was about to happen, and then just suddenly, the bubble I lived in was burst, and the rug was pulled out from under me."

That forced Courtney to grow up fast, though that didn't necessarily equate to giving up on his dream.

"I was floundering about in the adult world when I had effectively lived as a child. Uncrocked Peter Pan, prancing about in my red boots and white skinny jeans," he said. "And I had to get a real job. So I was working in computer stores, handing out fliers — I was only working odd jobs so I had time to go into the studio whenever I could find a producer to work on my s—-. … I didn't have enough money to leave the house, really, apart from going to work."

A few years later, while living in England, a friend with connections in the music industry persuaded a producer acquaintance to meet with Courtney and give him a listen.

So, that night, at the Ace Hotel in Shoreditch, London, Courtney got out his "acoustic guitar in the hotel bar in front of whoever was in there" and played the skeleton of a new song he was working on, called "Fire."

"And he agreed to work on it," Courtney said.

They went into the studio, only for the producer to give up because "the verse sounded amazing and the chorus sounded awful." Another producer agreed to take over, after which "the chorus sounds great and the verse sounds crappy."

Desperate to get something workable, Courtney took his laptop into a Starbucks and spent a day cutting and overlaying segments from the two MP3 master files that, much to his chagrin, were recorded two beats per minute apart. Ten hours later, he "eventually got it sounding OK." A few days later, his friend had copies distributed to various movers and shakers around town.

"Fire" started getting played in the U.S. Another song, "Glitter & Gold," became a hit in England. And before he knew what had hit him, Courtney was a transatlantic sensation.

"Suddenly I was getting all these calls — I couldn't believe it!" he said. "I'd been struggling for 3 years, I was just so beaten down and horribly embittered and twisted at everything, so depressed. [Movie exec] Harvey Weinstein was calling and saying he wanted to put the song in his film ["Burnt"]! And Virgin Records was calling! And I had agents calling. And three different managers asked me at once. It was just a total whirlwind."

The whirlwind would continue.

The night Courtney signed his new record deal, his label was throwing him a party at a gig where British indie sensations The Libertines were scheduled to play. Except that frontman Pete Doherty was hours late.

Courtney's management added him to the bill and shoved him out in front of an irate audience.

"It was like baptism by fire. I'd never even played acoustic guitar to support myself before, I usually just sang. I only played guitar in my bedroom," he recalled. "So I'm in front of all these angry Libertines fans and they're all screaming, 'Where's Pete?! Where the f—-'s Pete?!' … I play a couple songs … 'Where's Pete?! Where the f—-'s Pete?!' … And I look down at the audience and I say, 'Alright, listen motherf—-ers' — I mean, I was terrified, but it was a front I put on — 'Who wants to see Pete?' And the place goes, 'Yeeeeeaaahhhh!,' erupts in screams. 'Alright, well, Pete's not here. I'm here. And I've got the microphone, so shut the hell up.' And it was one of those moments where I was thinking I might get murdered. I looked down, there's just dead silence, you can see the sweat dripping from people's faces, and they just erupted in massive applause, and from then on it went amazingly. Everybody was super into it and it was grand. It was one of the best gigs I ever played. That night, me and Carl [Barât] from The Libertines went out to a house party nearby and that was the transition, the sudden transition from having nothing to suddenly being an artist again. It was bizarre."

Courtney's debut EP, "The Dull Drums," was released this January, and he called the process of recording it "cathartic."

"I wrote the majority of it when I had nothing. At the end of the three years, I used to tell myself when I was getting the tube at midnight, or having to get the bus at 3 in the morning to go and sling cigarettes in Camden nightclubs, that this was all just part of this glorious story of my success. I had to say that to myself to make myself feel better," he said. "The songs 'Glitter & Gold,' 'Fire' and 'Little Boy' specifically are all about the same subject matter, they're all about desperately wanting to get back and make music and to feel like I'm fulfilling the fire that was burning in my gut. They're desperate reminders to myself to keep going, to keep at it, not to quit."

He's also finished recording the songs for his full-length debut, which he promises will be "quite varied." He described the track "Never Let You Down" as having a Prince/MGMT vibe. "The Attractions of Youth," which is full of brass and strings, is a "drunken, life-affirming kind of song." "Goodbye John Smith" is a stripped-back piano ballad. And there are "a few songs in the same vein as 'Hands,' that are big, raucous rock tunes."

He's projecting a September release date. He's confident this album will see the light of day, at least.

And that's no small thing, considering he only recently adopted the mindset that his new opportunity is not about to be ripped away like his first one was.

"It took me about a year I would say, maybe two years, before I really settled in and thought, 'OK, this might actually be happening, I might actually have a real shot here to do this for a living. And it's not going to be taken away from me suddenly. It's OK. I can relax, I can start to enjoy it,' " Courtney said. "I was usually depressed on the first couple of tour dates. The first couple of tour runs, I couldn't enjoy it at all. I was just constantly plagued by this idea that it was just gonna disappear. So it was a very taxing transition. But I'm loving it now. I'm having a great time."

ewalden@sltrib.com

Twitter: @esotericwalden —

Barns Courtney

With Foxtrax

When • Friday, 7 p.m.

Where • Kilby Court, 741 S. Kilby Court, Salt Lake City

Tickets • $12 advance, $14 day of; Ticketfly

 

 

 

 

 

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