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Courtney Barnett makes the most of ‘small, boring moments’

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Courtney Barnett appears on Day 2 of the 11th Treasure Island Music Festival, which has moved to Oakland. (Courtesy Pooneh Ghana)

Australian singer-songwriter Courtney Barnett’s lyrics are as wry, laconic and stream of consciousness as James Thurber classics. Her new single “Small Talk” wends its way through a casual discussion of her brother, his girlfriend and her hope that they have kids so she can assume the role of doting aunt. Then, the ironic punch line: “All this small talk is killing me.” Set to bare-knuckled guitar chords and sung in a heavily-accented Melbourne lilt, the song exemplifies Barnett’s misanthropic charm and why her 2012 debut “Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit” won four Australian Recording Industry Association Music Awards and a Grammy nomination for best new artist. Her similarly-sardonic sophomore disc “Tell Me How You Really Feel,” released in May, followed 2017’s “Lotta Sea Lice,” a one-off collaboration with Kurt Vile.

You’re a keen observer of humanity who used to bartend. So where do you study people now?

Being a keen observer? I don’t think that really matters. I just kind of take stuff from wherever I am, and that’s what makes a song. I don’t feel like I’ve ever written about anything too bombastic — it’s normally just small, boring moments that make an interesting thought.

Do you go anywhere specific to write?

Yeah. I try to keep moving around, just to keep refreshing the scene. And I think it helps to change up the location. For this new album, I was moving around a lot, and at one point, I booked a rehearsal room, thinking, “What would it be like if I just sat at a desk and wrote all day?” And I also went out to the country and took a book, and just sat in nature and saw what happened there. And other times I was on tour writing, and bother times I was at my warehouse, just playing a whole bunch of instruments. So it was kind of a big mix.

Was it tough following “Somewhere”? You’d set the bar so high.

And I made two EPs before that. So it felt like just another set of songs to think about, songs that I wrote in the same amount of time it took me to write the first album. They all just kind of blend into each other in this lifelong process of writing songs.

You seem uncomfortable with your own celebrity.

I don’t know. I don’t really spend much time thinking about it. I just think the idea of celebrity is kind of absurd. But, say, meeting fans who really love my songs? That’s not celebrity — that’s connection to art, an empathy that’s just priceless.

IF YOU GO
Courtney Barnett
The Town stage, Treasure Island Music Festival
Where: Middle Harbor Shoreline Park, 2777 Middle Harbor Road, Oakland
When: 5:05 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 14
Tickets: $105 to $345
Contact: www.treasureislandfestival.com
Note: Access only via shuttle; from West Oakland BART or ride share drop off; no vehicle or bicycle parking on site.

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