Barns Courtney

It’s 1pm and Barns Courtney has just ordered a double whiskey from a pub in New Cross. Having flown in from the US the night before, he’s pretty sure that it’s just the thing to cure his jet lag. I’m not as convinced.

Set to play at a sold-out Camden Assembly a few days after we meet, the Aylesbury born singer is excited to be returning to his home city. Moving to Seattle when he was four, Courtney returned to the UK, moving to Ipswich at the age of 14 and began hanging around with a group of guys who would later form his first band. “We sucked really hard for a long time,” he laughs as he recounts those first few recording sessions. Eventually finding their footing, the band ended up signing with Island Records, only for it all to come crashing down around them. “It was really rough,” Courtney tells me, “I poured my heart and soul into that first record. We spent three years touring it and writing music and waiting for this producer to deliver the mixes to the label and he never did. Losing that deal was one of the hardest things that I ever had to go through.” 

Finding himself suddenly out of the music industry, Courtney struggled for a long time before beginning to write about the hardships he was experiencing. Moving from his previous rock backing to a more acoustic sound, his voice croaks on the tracks in an effortless way that’s clearly been informed by the emotion he’s gone through to create them. “I think people massively underestimate the benefits of failure,” he tells me when I ask how the songs were created. “There’s a lot of energy to be found at rock bottom.”

It’s from rock bottom that he found inspiration for his debut album, The Attractions Of Youth. Set for an end of September release, it’s a stunning record from the guy who never thought he would make it. Drawn from his experiences of trying to make music and escape the existence of surviving on £5 a day – “eating sardines for three meals” – it’s a strikingly raw glance into the difficulties Courtney experienced. “I suppose I finally had that turbulence in which to draw real truthful and meaningful music from.” He smiles, finishing his last gulp of whisky. “The record comes from that place of defiance, a desperate plea to do what I love for a living.” 

I ask if he’s nervous performing such personal tracks in front of an audience and he shakes his head. “There’s this incredible connection that you have with an audience,” he explains. “That’s all anybody really wants anyway.”

Photography - Lottie Bea Spencer

Fashion - Jessica Gardener

Grooming - Camilla Hewitt

Fashion Assistant - Hanifah Mohammad

Rollacoaster Magazine Autumn/Winter 2017 Issue