This time last year, singer-songwriter and guitarist Courtney Barnett was paying the bills as a bartender at a pub in Melbourne.
She quit her job last spring after bloggers – and radio programmers stateside – took notice of her charmingly mundane lyrics and deadpan-meets-sing-song delivery on the single “Avant Gardener.”
This week, Barnett returns to the U.S., where she’s touring with Brooklyn’s San Fermin. Both bands stop at Visulite Theatre on Friday.
American audiences took notice after her double EP “A Sea of Split Peas” picked up traction on SiriusXM, and via appearances at CMJ Music Marathon, at the Coachella Festival and on “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.”
Barnett finished her full-length debut months ago, but the international rollout of “A Sea of Split Peas” (released in May 2013) has delayed the new album.
“Avant Gardener” follows a 20-something slacker who struggles to get out of bed and do something, only to have an asthma attack while gardening.
“I feel pro-active/I pull out weeds/All of a sudden I’m having trouble breathing in,” Barnett sings matter-of-factly, followed by: “My throat feels like a funnel filled with Weetabix and kerosene and/Oh no, next thing I know they call up triple O/I’d rather die than owe the hospital till I get old.”
The brisk stream-of-consciousness style is like having an exasperating one-sided conversation at the supermarket with someone who won’t slow down. But that is part of her brilliance. Barnett’s wordy indie pop is so endearing, you can’t turn the dial.
“I don’t know what other story I would share,” she says of her true-to-life lyrics. “I have a pathetic imagination. Any fictional tale I try to write ends up being autobiographical in some way.”
As a listener, she’s attracted to that sort of frankness. “Honesty means vulnerability, and we connect through sharing those vulnerabilities.”
Barnett has drawn comparisons to writers like Bob Dylan while sharing a lo-fi indie rock aesthetic of ’90s bands like Lemonheads and Dinosaur Jr. Yet her seemingly mundane lyrics are much like an intimately detailed book.
“I’m sure plenty of people write like that,” she says. “It just doesn’t get heard.”