This Kurt Vile and Courtney Barnett Collaboration is The Best Thing


Kurt Vile and Courtney Barnett

“This collaboration makes so much sense.” – It must have been the first thought for so many indie/psych-folk/garage-rock music fans out there.

Philadelphia’s Kurt Vile and Melbourne’s Courtney Barnett share a wry, almost punny lyricism, with story-like songs that ramble and meander. But there is enough distance between their styles to make this shared endeavor intriguing.

He has more twang, she leans more towards garage-rock. His songs are entirely feeling-forward, while she has a way of approaching, then quickly sidestepping before things get too emotional. This album fits nicely into the overlapping space of their styles and lets the listener just float along with them.

Indeed, the album art, as well as the video for the album’s first (pre-released) single, “Over Everything,” positions them as not-quite-mirror-reflections of each other. The use of white-on-black, black-on-white contrast frames them in lots of beautiful, yet isolated settings as Barnett is shown mouthing the words to Vile’s lines, and vice versa.

The video for second single “Continental Breakfast” is much more playful, as is the song. With the two goofing around and hanging out with family, you get a look into their normal life and the fun of their “intercontinental friendship”.

What started out as a few songs and hopes for maybe a split 7″ has turned into a full-blown album and a North American tour. According to the two, it was a good songwriting vibe and a mutual admiration that fueled the project, not any sort of contract. Vile claims he loves Barnett’s “pretty but sort of sad” song style and sometimes “dark and disorienting” lyrics. Barnett says Vile’s album Smoke Ring for My Halo helped her through a tough time.

Another spoke in their overlapping musical wheelhouses — they cover each other’s songs for the project and it seems to make sense. Kurt chose Courtney’s “Outta the Woodwork,” which, as one of her most jangly guitar numbers, feels like a good choice for his rootsy style. For her part, Barnett chose Vile’s “Peeping Tomboy” and made it her own as “Peepin’ Tom”.

Studio time was disjointed and spread out over a few years. They sing about their friendship, the creative process, and trade spurs line-for-line on one of the album’s stronger tracks “Let it Go”. A few lines even sprung up out of their long-distance email correspondence — “What time do you usually wake up? Depends on what time I go to sleep.”

The band for the recording includes Mick Turner and Jim White of Dirty Three, Rob Laakso of Vile’s backing band, The Violators and Stella Mozgawa of Warpaint. Plus backing vocals from others, including a few members of Courtney’s own band.

There’s been a lot of buzz leading up to this release, and it’s quite endearing to watch them both get a bit nervous in the limelight. Each one is hesitant to say anything overly positive about themselves but quick to talk up the other.

The duo’s own descriptions of the album embody their “let’s not take this too seriously” attitude. Barnett says it’s a very collaborative album with “harmonies and guitarmonies galore” Meanwhile Vile calls them “an intercontinental country duo for the ages (minus the country, haha).”

Very true – Lotta Sea Lice gives off a waft of country roots and style but never actually goes there.

The Kurt Vile and Courtney Barnett collaboration album Lotta Sea Lice is out now (released October 13) on Matador Records. You can order it at