Courtney Barnett swaps bar for bus and hits the road 

click to enlarge Courtney Barnett
  • courtesy photo
  • Courtney Barnett left her bartending job in Melbourne to tour the States.
Australian indie artist Courtney Barnett admits that her bartending job at Melbourne venue The Northcote Social Club had some drawbacks.

“I just think it’s a really weird concept, where you say ‘Drink up!’ until it’s like ‘Oh, you’ve got to go now because I think you’re too drunk, and you’ll get into trouble,’” says the vocalist, who just quit the gig to tour America — including a stop at Rickshaw on Monday night — performing her delightful new “The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas.”

“You see someone come in at 7 p.m. and they’re lovely, and then you just slowly watch them turn into whatever they turn into, because everyone turns into something different,” she sighs. “It can be pretty scary.”

But the advantages of pouring pints won out. Barnett is unusually shy and awkward by nature.

“And I’m a pretty anxious person, too,” she says.

Her Wreckless Eric-like, slide-guitar breakthrough hit “Avant Gardener” details a panic attack she experienced while whacking backyard weeds. But bartending brought her out of her shell, introducing her to a huge support group of local performers and pushing her to finally record the songs she’d been quietly composing. It also gave her the courage to launch her own label, Milk! Records, to release that very same material to other people.

“Working in a live-music bar, basically everyone you meet is a musician,” says Barnett, who always kept a notebook on hand to jot down song ideas. “And when you talk to them after their gigs, they’ll ask you to play their show next week or something. Everyone just makes friends, until all of a sudden, all of the bands are friends, and playing shows together.”

Naturally, she shared Milk! with her chums, as well, signing Aussie upstarts like Jen Cloher, Royston Vasie and Fraser A. Gorman (who’s also in the “Avant Gardener” video).

Being a wallflower had its pluses, too. Barnett is rarely recognized around town, allowing her to study strangers and eavesdrop on their conversations and even sketch little imaginary vignettes of what their lives might be like. That’s how she conjured up whimsical “Peas” strummers like “Canned Tomatoes (Whole)” and “History Eraser,” with its everyday observation “I got drunk and fell asleep atop the sheets/ But luckily I left the heater on.”

“A lot of my songs are really boring — literally just walking around the street, seeing stuff happen and putting that to music,” says Barnett. “And when I first recorded this stuff, I thought ‘Well, no one’s going to give a s--- about what I say.’ But now it feels really good to hear from other people that have actually connected with my stories!”

IF YOU GO

Courtney Barnett presented by Noise Pop

Where: The Rickshaw Stop, 155 Fell St., San Francisco

When: 8 p.m. Monday

Tickets: $12

Contact: (415) 861-2011, www.ticketfly.com

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Tom Lanham

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