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SOLD OUT: Barns Courtney

THE 404 TOUR

SOLD OUT: Barns Courtney

Mon, September 30

Doors: 8:00 pm / Show: 9:00 pm

Doug Fir Lounge

Portland, OR

$18.00 - $125.00

Sold Out

This event is 21 and over

Barns Courtney
Barns Courtney
Barns Courtney is ready to take on the world, make you laugh and make you sweat. Barns Courtney has an almost religious devotion to enjoying life and having a good time, and he thinks you should enjoy yourself too. Barns Courtney would rather turn up at awards ceremonies on a giraffe than in a stretch limo. Barns Courtney says he's amazing at bullshitting, but can't stop himself telling the truth. Barns Courtney has a folder on his phone containing photos of his lyrics tattooed on fans. Barns Courtney describes his new album as a psychotropic 90s rabbit hole. Barns Courtney would like to tell you about the book he's reading. Barns Courtney is the sort of rockstar they don't make any more, and the sort of popstar the world needs right now. Barns Courtney knows he looks better with shorter hair, but he'd be lost without something to shake around on stage. Barns Courtney has had enough of vacuous archetypes.

There was a time not so long ago -- well, a lifetime ago to Barns Courtney, but not so long ago to the rest of us -- when a 16-year-old kid who'd spent his teens ricocheting between Seattle and Ipswich thought he was about to be the biggest star in the world. He and some mates were in a band, who got a deal with the biggest of all the big labels, then spent three years working with one of the planet's hottest producers. What could go wrong? Well, plenty. The band met the producer three times in three years; most of their sessions were done with some random guy who'd met the producer's assistant at church. It was a shambles. Barns reckons the band got dropped because the producer wouldn't send finished mixes to the label. They would have been dropped anyway. Wrong time, wrong place, wrong band. Wrong wrong wrong.

The funny thing, and it's not really that funny, but it's not not funny, is that when that band went tits up Barns got a job in PC World. Nothing wrong with PC World, it's a fine establishment. But this branch was just up the road from the label who'd dropped him. Also bang opposite the hotel where his old manager lived. So Barns would stand outside eating his meal deal lunch wondering exactly how and why it had all come to this, and every day he'd see the people from his former label, or his old manager pulling up in a Rolls Royce.

"That building was a monolith to my past failings," he says now. The whole thing was either self-flagellatory or an example of pop Stockholm syndrome, or both. Maybe neither. Either way, pretty bleak. "My entire life since I was 14 had been an upward trajectory," is how Barns remembers it. "Then suddenly at the age of 22 I'm dropped, I'm totally, woefully unprepared for the real world. No qualifications. I didn't bother learning to drive, because I thought I'd be driven everywhere. Thank God I didn't have any success -- I would have been a complete cunt."

The good news is that if you think you might be a cunt you're probably not a cunt, but anyway, that's the boo-hoo story behind Barns' 2017 debut album The Attractions Of Youth, a blistering shot of blues-driven rock that got this singular pop performer's foot back in the door. Songs like Glitter & Gold (which charted on four different Billboard charts) and Fire became viral smashes, prompting a swell of support on both sides of the Atlantic that saw Barns performing on Conan O'Brien and opening for everyone from The Who, to Blur, to Ed Sheeran. "The first record was entirely a product of three years of absolutely no success after being dropped," he says today. "It was all about my struggle to get back into making music and finding that spark of genuine love and creativity that I'd once taken for granted as a permanent fixture of who I was."

Which brings us to 2019 and a body of work that finds this reflexive, meticulous pop storyteller delivering a supercharged sound on a minutely crafted album with big tunes, flashes of humour and no shortage of ambition. Kickstarted by 2018's sparky, Atari-referencing single 99, it's an album that delves back beyond the arrested development of Barns' early-20s and into the teens he spent in Seattle and then Ipswich. In the former city: his mother, who'd moved there for work, and her arsehole husband, who sent Barns to a posh school full of entitled brats where teachers explained to pupils that poor people simply don't work as hard as rich people. In the latter: Barns' dad, and one of the worst schools in what's been billed as one of the most culturally deprived areas of England, slap bang in the middle of a council estate, where Barns could bunk off math class and play guitar in the hallway because the teachers were more concerned about the kids trying to burn down the gym.

"The record's -- accidentally, because I didn't do this on purpose -- partly about the bizarre modern formalisation of fun, and the strange ritual that we all go through from childhood into adulthood," is how Barns describes one aspect of the music. Woven through it is what he admits is "an unhealthy obsession with my own past, likely due to some unresolved childhood trauma. There's a lot of stuff I can't access because it's repressed and I carry it around, locked away. A lot of it's manifested itself in a nostalgia for a childhood that I didn't feel was fully fulfilled." And layered on top of that all, because there really is quite a lot going on in this album, is Barns' experience of being out of town -- and taking time out of real life -- during his pursuit of a dream that's burned within him since his early teens. "You go off and live this fantastical existence, play these shows and have fun, and you come back and you expect everyone to be the same as they were when you left," he notes. "But they've all grown up. It's like Peter Pan coming back from Neverland."

The result, Barns says, is "a weird alternative Narnia or Neverland, where all the tropes of your childhood have melted. From Pokémon to Nintendo 64 the core of my being is there: an unorthodox maelstrom of memories condensed down into this bizarre undulating world."

It's a world he intends to bring to life in his shows -- he's thinking tree branches, hanging fabrics, static on TV screens combined with the ridiculous cabaret of Bowie and Freddie Mercury. And it's in those live shows, just as it has been in all the gigs Courtney's played over the last few years, that his music will make the most sense. "I suppose what I really want is to maintain a childlike sense of awe and wonder, and that's only possible when people are actually connected to each other. We put up walls, as we age, and it's symptomatic of the expectations we put on ourselves as humans, and it doesn't bother a lot of people, but it gets to me. There's an understanding I have with my fans, especially from playing gigs, that human connection is a wonderful thing."

Despite the new album forcing Barns to confront difficult points of his life, it strikes an overwhelmingly optimistic note. "This record's actually a lot happier than the last one," he smiles. "With the first album I was suffocating, I could hardly talk to anybody, I felt terrified and bitter and downtrodden -- I'm still aware that I carry a lot, but a lot of great music comes from pain, and when you're in pain you can't help but be your most authentic self in your music."

Which is handy because, as Barns adds, "the moment I stop being truthful is the moment my career fucks up." Which also means, one supposes, that with a record this truthful, Barns Courtney's career must be on the verge of reaching new heights. That 16-year-old who thought he was going to be the biggest star in the world might have actually been on to something.