Courtney Barnett on “Things Take Time, Take Time” | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Thursday, December 7th, 2023  

Courtney Barnett on “Things Take Time, Take Time”

Bringing Down the Walls

Apr 15, 2022 Photography by Mia Mala McDonald Issue #69 - 20th Anniversary Issue
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Given the benefit of hindsight, Courtney Barnett can now see how guarded she was when she wrote her last solo album, 2018’s Tell Me How You Really Feel. Against a backdrop of cultural strife at home (the vote on same-sex marriage saw a rise in violence and hate speech) and overseas (peak Trump years), plus the ever encroaching tentacles of social media’s uglier side, Barnett seemed to lash out. “Nameless, Faceless” dealt with trolls and online misogyny, and the mere title of “I’m Not Your Mother, I’m Not Your Bitch” created the impression that we really knew what made her bristle. In revealing to us the disconnects she felt within herself, her friendships, her then “marriage” (for a long time, former partner Jen Cloher and Barnett both wore wedding bands but weren’t allowed to officially marry in Australia), and ironically with her fans as well—she was still connecting with us. It felt raw and personal.

“I think sometimes with that time and distance you can read something differently,” says the 34-year-old, on a morning Zoom call from Joshua Tree, in the Californian dessert. “You can interpret it so differently and I can kind of see through it…some struggle and some pain and well-guarded high walls that I had kind of put up around me.” Even her humor, doled out expertly to undercut grave moments and serious emotions, she realizes was another wall, a defense mechanism to detract away from things that matter.

Things Take Time, Take Time, her recent third album, attempts to course correct. The songs are more melancholy, there’s less of an attempt to make us laugh. First single “Rae Street” is not crowded with clever double entendres or tongue-in-cheek truisms, just the plaintive summation of her day spent looking out her new apartment window. She noticed the foliage changing as lockdown dragged on for Melbourne—which had the most extended COVID-19 lockdowns of any Australian city so far—and found comfort in that change. She wasn’t the hapless observer operating outside her own body as in her 2013 breakthrough single “Avant Gardener” or dispensing belated cutting rebukes to an online hater on “Nameless, Faceless,” instead the most standout line from “Rae Street” is about actively making change even if it’s just changing her sheets.

When pressed if she still makes jokes to deflect from being honest, she replies “I probably still do it,” but in recognizing this as a failing of sorts she admits she hopes to “be better, or change it.”

“Here’s The Thing” and “Before You Gotta Go” both have the laid-back guitar twang and reverb drench of her fellow Lotta Sea Lice collaborator and friend, Kurt Vile. More importantly, both see her make an attempt at being lyrically straight-forward. But it is the raw, bare bones simplicity of the pair of songs that bring the album to a close—“Splendour” and “Oh the Night”—that reveal the true emotional heart of this record, and are worthy testaments to her desire to bring down those walls with uncluttered truth telling. Of “Splendour,” which first came to her late at night in a hotel room, she says “it is this tiny slice of a song…the little underdog of the album,” and she loves it.

After a decade of phenomenal success, constant touring, and opportunities to record with her musical heroes, Barnett’s focus had shifted to the small world outside the window of her apartment. Her relationship with Cloher had ended in 2018—though their professional partnership as co-founders of Milk! Records is still intact—and this was the first time that she was living on her own. Sonically, the new album feels more intimate. She wrote the songs with Warpaint drummer Stella Mozgawa, who played on Lotta Sea Lice. At the start of the pandemic, Mozgawa had given her tutorials on how to use a drum machine, and traded music with her. Eventually Barnett asked her to produce the album. The two picked up instruments as the recording process went along without calling on her regular bandmates, Dave Mudie and Andrew “Bones” Sloane. When asked how they felt about being left out, she replies: “They’re two of my best friends…I think they got it.”

Having undergone a fair amount of change in her personal life at the time and beset with the uncertainty of a global pandemic or how to even put out and tour a new album, Barnett felt she had to just embrace the unpredictability. “I wanted to do the album in a different way,” she explains. “It was just, I guess, where my head was at…stepping outside that kind of comfort zone and trying to experiment a little bit,” she pauses, then smiles. “And I think it was good.”

[Note: This article originally appeared in Issue 69 of Under the Radar’s print magazine, our 20th Anniversary Issue, which is out now. This is its debut online.]


Read our 2018 cover story on Courtney Barnett here.

Read our ranking of the 10 best Courtney Barnett songs.

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