COURTNEY BARNETT melted minds and blew faces off at this year's Pickathon. Twice.
An hour after her blistering main-stage set on Sunday evening—the Australian guitarist/singer/songwriter's first Portland-area show—Barnett and her backing band crammed into the farm's packed, sweaty barn and ran through most of those same numbers again. It was just as good the second time around. Actually, better.
"I was actually quite nervous for the big stage at Pickathon," Barnett says. "And then we kind of relaxed, and that little barn show was one of the funnest gigs I reckon I've ever done. I don't know what it was. Just the energy in that room was really amazing."
Both sets showcased Barnett's spectacular 12-song debut album, A Sea of Split Peas, which is actually a compilation of two EPs, 2012's I've Got a Friend Called Emily Ferris and 2013's How to Carve a Carrot into a Rose. Wearing a Kurt Cobain shirt, sporting a left-handed guitar, and trafficking in growling, grungy dynamics, Barnett—along with bassist Bones Sloane and drummer Dave Mudie—didn't shy away from the obvious comparison to Nirvana. But while that particular influence etches its own line through Barnett's sound, there are others: the laidback intellectualism of Stephen Malkmus and Jeffrey Lewis, the Canadian prairie lullabies of Neil Young and Joni Mitchell, the outback-invoking noir of fellow Melburnian band the Drones, and the devilish word-slinging of Dylan and Roald Dahl. But songs like "Avant Gardener" and "History Eraser" don't really sound like anyone other than Barnett—loose, jangling, heavy-lidded, but with a steady, steaming engine of rods and pistons chugging beneath.
A solo song that she performed at Pickathon, a new one titled "Depreston," indicated the power Barnett's capable of wielding with just a six-string and a microphone. (For a rough simulacrum of that performance's effect, check out her devastatingly great cover of the Lemonheads' offhanded "Bein' Around.") But "Depreston" doesn't fully exemplify the direction Barnett is taking on her upcoming album—technically, her first intentioned full-length.
"It's one of the two mellow, more folky-ish songs," she says. "The rest of them span a lot of different genres.... It gets pretty fucking heavy in some bits, and then it's kind of poppy and a bit weird. Not that weird, but you know. It doesn't have one solid feel. If everyone wants an album of 'Avant Gardeners,' it's probably not going to be that."
The album is due out early next year, and Barnett doesn't seem overly worried with when it actually makes it to market. Like the relaxed delivery of her performances—live and on record—she knows it will hit the ears it's meant to hit when those ears are ready for it.
"I've been a bit precious with my decision-making on songs and song titles and artwork," she says. (Barnett, who attended art school, has drawn all the covers of her records thus far, and currently has an interactive zine on her site.) "It takes me a while to get things done, so I kind of kept pushing it back and back. People are still only just finding [A Sea of Split Peas], so.... I don't know. I don't feel like there's any rush anyway. It's not like people are banging down doors waiting for my next album."
She's being modest—and as more people hear Split Peas or see Barnett live, those doors are likely to get banged down.