Barns Courtney Gets Real About Inner Demons, Touring, and "Supernatural"
Alternative rock singer-songwriter Barns Courtney released single "Supernatural" on September 9, 2022, ahead of his highly anticipated (unreleased) album.
Courtney heads into the new year with more than one billion global streams across platforms, numerous hits ("'99'", "Glitter & Gold", and "Fire", to name a few), and fierce praise from the likes of Billboard, Rolling Stone, and Rock Sound. In a continued exploration of eclectic influences and inspirations, which range from The Rocky Horror Picture Show to ancient mythologies, the artist conjures up a narrative centered around a post-apocalyptic cult leader for his forthcoming album. The majority of the LP remains shrouded in mystery at this time, with details and storytelling context to be revealed through each new song.
Single "Supernatural" gives listeners a glimpse into the twisted, surrealistic world of Courtney's upcoming project. Mere seconds into the song, the singer-songwriter delivers a dynamic sonic strike. Beginning exclusively with piano, followed closely by vocals and synthesizer, the track's energy builds organically with the entrance of the full instrumentation of the first verse. The explosive chorus section, fueled by a gritty lead guitar line, can only be described as positively entrancing. Courtney's all-consuming storytelling and hypnotic vocal performance ensnares fans in a mystical musical reverie.
One of the components that makes "Supernatural" so compelling is the broken down bridge before the final chorus section. Distorted guitars and an edgy drum beat steer the song in a rock direction, however, the incorporation of a choral backing vocal arrangement adds to the general fullness and intricacy of the single. Moments like these showcase the experimentation across genres that makes the Barns Courtney sound so distinctive.
Courtney pairs his addictive track with a striking new look, evoking imagery of the ghost of rock music's future. As a whole, "Supernatural" is haunting in the best way. The spellbinding single leaves an impression long after it has ended and fuels intrigue surrounding Courtney's next body of work.
We spoke with Barns Courtney about his inspirations, challenges, and new music. Stream "Supernatural", stay tuned for more information about his next album, and check out the full interview below.
Tell us about your given and stage names.
My mom named me Barnaby after a singing bear she used to watch in the 70s before swimming lessons. “Barnaby the bear’s my name, never call me Jack or Jane, I will sing my way to fame.” I guess it made an impression on her.
At what age did you begin playing and writing music?
Once on a mushroom trip, the psychedelic goddess told me that music was mine and my mother’s love language. I saw us together when I was young–singing and dancing in the kitchen, harmonizing with the radio, playing games together where we’d have to improvise the next rhyme. Every dog we’ve ever had has had its own song that must be performed weekly. Music has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember, but my aunt gave me my first guitar at 14 so that’s when I really made a go of it.
"Once on a mushroom trip, the psychedelic goddess told me that music was mine and my mother’s love language."
Who or what first inspired you?
Apart from the obvious maternal influence, I’d say my grandfather. He was always making people laugh, singing old songs from his youth and generally making mischief much to our amusement. And my grandmother… We always sang together when I was young. We still do it through the telephone. Then it was of course your Jaggers, Freddies, and Steven Tyler types. Anyone who made you wish you were at their live show. That lit a fire in my gut pretty quick.
Who are your main musical influences?
I listen to anything that’s good. I love everything from Fats Waller to Fidlar. In terms of my music, I’m never sure who my influences are. The internet is usually pretty good at telling me who I ripped off… I’ve always aspired to be like someone or other, and I almost always miss the mark entirely! My first single was supposed to sound like Kanye West; it does not.
At what point did you know you wanted to pursue a career in music?
It was always performance for me. It had to be something in the arts. For a brief moment I was interested in paleontology, but that fantasy ended pretty quick when I realized that it was less dinosaurs and more old dudes with brushes. That’s unfair… I’m sure there are lots of sexy young paleontologists. I couldn’t hack focusing on anything for that long, though.
How much of your persona comes from your personal life and experiences versus external influences?
I love Rocky Horror, so I wear a Pearl necklace. I love Rimbaud and mythology, so I’ll write about Ophelia. I love fantasy novels, so I’ll write a story. But it is very much me. I’ve always just put together things I like in my art, whether it’s musically or otherwise.
Many of your songs deal with concepts of overcoming one’s demons and challenges. Are there any specific instances in your life that have inspired these themes?
My life had been an upward trajectory since my first band at 14. School concerts, Battle of the bands, TV appearances, record labels–it all led up to this moment when I was supposed to release my debut album. However, after three years of pouring every ounce of my being into this record, it was delayed for another three. The producer never delivered it to the label (or any other act on his joint venture with Island)!
To this day I still don’t know why, but it left me in the worst depression of my life. Everything crumbled around me and seven years of grinding through my adolescence amounted to nothing. I was a fuck up. All my friends got their degrees, got good jobs, got married, got on with their lives, and I found myself handing out free samples of Lipton’s iced tea in a muscle suit and Crocs. It broke me. The indomitable passion for music that I thought was an intrinsic part of my character was fading fast and that terrified me. I could see my entire life stretching out in front of me. I got a job in a Currys and PC world directly across from the five-star hotel I used to stay in when I was signed to my old management. Me and the struts, both on “Prestige”, would spend weeks in there, penning songs and getting drunk in a filmic romp of teenage fervor.
After three years wandering the wilderness, my music changed profoundly. Gone were the adolescent musings of big dreams and femme fatales. These were fight songs: kicking, screaming denials of circumstance, cathartic death chants that burned a hole in my gut. What’s more, I no longer had the luxury of major label studios. I recorded these in the squalid remnants of a decommissioned old folks home in North Tottenham. With only a guitar and a laptop, we had to improvise. The bass was an out-of-tune piano pilfered from the rec room. The drums emerged from fists on an old filing cabinet, sticks on a tile floor, scissor snips, labored breaths, and whatever else we could find.
"Gone were the adolescent musings of big dreams and femme fatales. These were fight songs: kicking, screaming denials of circumstance, cathartic death chants that burned a hole in my gut."
What message do you hope fans take away from your work?
I love that when I release music it ceases to be mine. It belongs to the fans, and the message will be in their hands. Sometimes that means my experiences and ideas, sometimes it doesn’t.
Talk about your recent experiences on tour.
This particular tour was incredibly unusual. Whereas most of my excursions are a dazzling jaunt of love and light, this one was anything but. A bus shortage in America left us a rusting relic of nuts and bolts. The good ship Prevost, we called it. Within a week it was panting on the side of the road like an old dog. Transmission issues made sure that my crew and I were always late and tensions were running high.
As the sun rose one steamy Floridian morning, we found ourselves stranded about an hour outside of Tallahassee. The driver, in a vain attempt to repair the engine, had spilled hot oil all over his hands and subsequently boiled his flesh down to the bone. Literally. Despite our best efforts, no taxi, no limo, and no ambulance would come to our aid. I went out looking for a ride, which is not an easy task when you’re dressed like a metrosexual wizard. Eventually I managed to flag down an aging war vet and his accomplice. We made it to the show despite all odds–just me and my guitar.
"I went out looking for a ride, which is not an easy task when you’re dressed like a metrosexual wizard."
What have been some of the highlights of your direct support for My Chemical Romance and on your current travels?
I grew up listening to that band! They raised me through my adolescence. On the first night of the tour I set the Guinness World Record for most Emo move ever when I headbutted a rose stem with my cornea whilst head banging to “Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge”. I flew out to several adjacent countries on my travels and made sure to see the Stones at least three times after the tragic passing of Charlie Watts. I was so angry at myself for not seeing them prior.
My guitarist, a flailing glam rock velociraptor of a man, was deep in a mushroom trance for the majority of the shows. His skulking, sleeking presence was like being stalked by an apex predator. We drank in each city with gusto, making it our business to explore every avenue available. In Bologna, he’d ensnared a beautiful Italian waitress with blinding blue eyes and a penchant for trouble. I followed her down the primrose path of dalliance to a backstreet bar behind some dumpsters.
Thick with cigar smoke and laden in silks, I found myself doused in a menagerie of vintage whiskies and cornered by a large Italian mafioso. “THIS IS REAL ROCK AND ROLL”, he exclaimed as we screamed the lyrics of “Paradise City” to some terrified members of Starcrawler. They, too, it seemed, had been cajoled into the web. As the night wore on I became increasingly of the opinion that the whole night was a setup–a theory that proved true when I saw our outrageously inflated bill. Through sheer happenstance, who should come to my rescue but the dripping mafioso. As it turned out, he was the ringleader of the operation. He’d lure unsuspecting members of the public to his seedy establishment with the help of enchanting creatures of the night, overcharge them horrendously, and bully them into settling with gut and muscle. I, fortunately, had taken his fancy. “No charge for the rockstars”, he said, almost knocking loose my kidneys with a hearty thump on the back.
"Thick with cigar smoke and laden in silks, I found myself doused in a menagerie of vintage whiskies and cornered by a large Italian mafioso."
What is your dream venue to play?
I hear if you sell out Madison Square Garden they give you a golden ticket with your name on it. Very Roald Dahl of them.
What do you think has been the defining moment in your career so far?
I still don’t feel like anything has defined my career with certainty at this point. I’m dreaming big.
Who or what was the inspiration behind your latest single, “Supernatural”?
It’s mainly about being unable to keep away from my ex-girlfriend whilst she was raising a film star’s baby. Her presence was electrifying, I was possessed by her charm. Despite my better judgment, I couldn’t help but fall victim to her antics and found myself raising the child for a year. It’s also about this narrative I’ve been writing alongside the album, but it’s funny how even fiction can circle back around to the writer’s life.
"...it’s funny how even fiction can circle back around to the writer’s life."
When writing the song, which parts came first (lyrics, melody, chords, etc.)?
The lyrics and melody came simultaneously, I improvised them over some chords about four years ago after a tour. More or less, the first half of the song flowed out all at once.
What can you tell me about your upcoming album?
It’s an ADHD love letter to careless frivolity. If there ever was an album for the playlist generation, this is surely it.
What is the concept?
The concept is quite involved, I would like to encourage people to find their own interpretation and meaning within it. There is a world and a backstory, though.
What has been the most rewarding part of the project so far?
I think it was the moment I realized I could produce my own songs with an engineer… that my meticulous nature could be put to good use.
Do you have a favorite track off of the album?
It’s a track called “Mother Theresa”, which is about a cult leader robbing a bank with several of his cronies–all dressed as the original saint of the gutter. It’s so unashamedly weird and sonically indulgent. Incessantly ridiculous to the end.
What’s next for Barns Courtney?
I feel quite inspired at the moment , I’d like to get into the studio as soon as possible and create a further extension of worlds that my audience can get lost in.
Is there anything else you’d like people to know about you?
I’d love people to know my story… about the years of struggle, record deals, disappointments, and let-downs that have led me to where I am today.