When Barns Courtney put his pen to paper and a signed a record deal a few years ago, he might have been the only person in the room who wasn’t ecstatic about it.
“I was terrified. Even to the point when I sat in Virgin Records [a division of Capitol], a pen in my hand and a bottle of champagne [in the other], signing my name on the dotted line — I was more quiet than I’ve ever been,” Courtney says this week by phone. “I was completely holed up for the entire day — I didn’t even speak to anyone. I was so terrified that at any moment, everyone was going to jump out of the cupboard saying ‘Surprise! Of course you didn’t sign a major record deal again!’”
Call it post traumatic label shell shock. It was only 2012 when Courtney was doing the same thing, but that time with his indie-punk band Dive Bella Dive, who would go on to record an album that would never be released before Island Records dropped them. But better plans at Capitol awaited.
“It made me hugely apprehensive,” he admits. “It took me about a year and a half to two years before I relaxed and realized that it might not be the same situation all over again, that maybe this time was for real.”
Not only was it all for real, but Courtney’s career has since been going swimmingly; 2017 has treated Courtney remarkably well, his debut solo LP The Attractions of Youth finessing the complexity of his musical influences, from his time in grunge capital Seattle, to the golden oldies his stepfather used to enjoy. He even earned a highly-coveted spot in Charli XCX’s “Boys” video by happenstance when he was rehearsing down the street from where the video was being filmed.
On Monday (November 6), Courtney stops at Great Scott in Allston to tell us the whole story in person as a part of his current North American tour, chronicling his newest musical journey and all the hardships that came in between.
“I couldn’t even leave the house,” Courtney says of his time after being dropped by Island Records. “I didn’t have enough money to get on a bus or the tube. I had just enough money to pay for my food. I felt so bitter about the whole thing.”
You could even call the cigarette between his pouty lips a metaphor for all the time he spent hawking them and working at Currys PC World, the jobs that he relied on before things picked up for him again.
“I just felt so beaten down after that whole experience,” Courtney adds. It wasn’t until he has a blissed-out, quasi-spiritual moment in a tent at a music festival that things started to return to the up-and-up.
“One year I went to this festival called FolkEast in Suffolk, where my Dad lives, and saw all this immense talent and incredible singers and songwriters,” he says. “It slowly dawned on me that a lot of these people would never sign a major record deal despite how good they were. Suddenly, in that moment, lying on my back, smoking a joint in my tent, it struck me how incredibly lucky I’ve been to have a shot at all in the first place.”
In poured subsequent phone calls for his song “Fire,” then leading to his 2016 EP The Dull Drums and his 2017 debut full-length album. Courtney calls the whole ordeal luck, but what’s more truthful to say is that he never had a choice in any of this when it came to pursuing his career post-label drop.
“I’m sure a lot of artists would say when you’ve got music inside of you, it’s got to come out one way or another,” Courtney says. “I think when something is rooted inside you, you don’t really have a choice.”
BARNS COURTNEY + CRAIG STICKLAND :: Monday, November 6 at Great Scott, 1222 Commonwealth Ave. in Allston, MA :: 9 p.m., 18-plus, $18 :: Bowery Boston event page :: Advance tickets :: Featured photo by Paige Sara Wilson, courtesy of Universal Records