Have you ever seen a mousey Australian hipster girl cover Kanye West’s “Black Skinhead”? Melbourne’s Courtney Barnett pulled it off in a radio station once and it was just too adorable to be offensive. As she said, “I’m sorry, but I had to change some words that were…rude.” Covers are pretty out of character for Courtney, as her songwriting is famously vivid and brainy — a talent she picked up in her younger Dahl days. Shortly before her global tour, she tells us about a few influences that have made her into the artist she’s become. She made no mention of Kanye. —Beau Flemister
SURFING: All of your songs have such great stories. Were you a big reader as a kid?
Courtney Barnett: Yeah, I definitely read a lot as a kid. I grew up with heaps of Roald Dahl books. I always loved how he wrote such imaginative, crazy stuff. I think my songs draw from that, although I’ve been a bit lazy with my reading recently. [laughs] I have been reading lots of band biographies, though.
What’s your favorite Roald Dahl book?
Probably George’s Marvellous Medicine. I actually just read it again. But the thing about Dahl’s children’s books is that they’re so dark. They’re twisted and weird, and maybe I kind of do that a bit in my songs. They’re sarcastic and dark, but in a funny, lighthearted way.
Who are your musical influences?
Nirvana was a big one when I was a kid, so was Lou Reed and Television. And now I’m really into The Rough Sea and I just started listening to Kurt Vile. My tastes are pretty broad. Oh, also Neil Young; he’s a huge influence.
For an Australian, some of your songs seem to have that American-Western twang to them.
Yes, that’s true. That’d be the Neil Young, I suppose. We really like some of that Western style over here, so I guess it shows in our music, like the guitars in “Avant Gardener.”
Do you play anything else beside guitar?
Yeah, I can play drums, bass, keyboard…that’s about it. And all very averagely. [laughs] I can make them sound like they’re supposed to, nothing more.
Have you ever gone surfing before?
No, but I really want to. [laughs] I grew up in Sydney, which is where all the really nice beaches are. It’s funny because I used to buy surfing magazines when I was young and put the posters on my wall. I really liked it, but I don’t know why because I didn’t surf — I guess I thought it was cool or something.