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Aimsel Ponti

Aimsel Ponti is a Content Producer at MaineToday.com and a music writer for MaineToday.com and the Portland Press Herald. She has been obsessed with - and inspired by - music since she listened to Monkees records borrowed from the town library when she was six years old. She bought her first Rolling Stones record at a flea market when she was in 7th grade and discovered David Bowie a year later. She's a HUGE fan of the local music scene and covers it along with national musical happenings in her "Face the Music" column and with artist interviews that appear in print in the Portland Press Herald and online at Mainetoday.com. You'll also find her out and about absorbing live music like a sponge and roaming around local record shops and flea markets. Aimsel is also the host of Music from 207 on 98.9 WCLZ and appears monthly on the WCHS TV show “207” to talk about...music of course.

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Posted: July 19, 2018

Courtney Barnett on her scorching new album, anxiety and Jimi Hendrix

Written by: Aimsel Ponti

Photo by Pooneh Ghana

Australian singer-songwriter and guitarist Courtney Barnett will be playing in Maine for the first time, at the State Theatre on Thursday night. Barnett was nominated for a best new artist Grammy for her 2015 album “Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit.” Last year, she released “Lotta Sea Lice,” a collaboration with Kurt Vile. Both were critically acclaimed.

Photo by Pooneh Ghana

In May, Barnett released “Tell Me How You Really Feel,” and the record is a thing of angsty, vulnerable beauty. It starts with “Hopefulessness” with the opening lines: “You know what they say, no one is born to hate/We learn it somewhere along the way.” The song simmers slowly then reaches a boiling point with a flurry of electric guitar and the lines, “I’m getting louder now.”

Image courtesy of Mom + Pop Records

Next up is one of the catchiest songs I’ve heard in a while. “City Looks Pretty” is a foot-stomping, jingly jangly tune that shifts into a slower lane at the mid point, becoming two songs in one. “I’m Not Your Mother, I’m Not Your (expletive)” is a grungy, angry rant that clocks in at just under two minutes. All of this is to say, “Tell Me How You Really Feel” has cemented its place on my favorite albums of the year list, and I can’t wait to hear songs from it played live by Barnett and her band.

The first single from “Tell Me How You Really Feel” is “Nameless, Faceless” with the lines: “Men are scared that women will laugh at them/Women are scared that men will kill them.” The lines were based on passages from Margaret Atwood’s “Second Words: Selected Critical Prose, 1960-1982,” and similar lines were spoken during an episode of the Hulu series “The Handmaid’s Tale,” based on the book also written by Atwood. During a telephone interview from Canada, where Barnett was due to play a festival, we chatted about this song, among others, and what it’s like to get such a positive reception to the new record.

Q. The album’s only been out a short time and people seem to be really loving it. How does this feel?

A. It’s great. All this energy and emotion goes into making the music and writing the songs. It’s so nice when people connect with the stories and have the same thoughts and feelings. It’s quite satisfying.

Q. There’s a lot going on with this record at once. It’s vulnerable, angry and hopeful, among other things. What does it feel like for an artist like yourself, when you’re putting something out there and have no control how people will react to it? How did you feel the day before the album was released?

A: I get really nervous, and actually, one week before the release day, I got really sick. (It was) this weird kind of 24-hour virus or something, throwing up and really unwell.

Q: When did that start to lift?

A: It was probably a good couple of days later. It was my mind making my body sick. I’m a nervous, anxious person. It’s pretty crazy what the mind can do.

Q: Another musician told me that the only time they experience true relief from their anxiety is when they’re performing. Is this true for you?

A: I get more nervous before I perform, and then when I perform, I’m still nervous, but it’s a different kind. I’ve gotten better at it and trying to kind of be in that moment of everything, kind of making sense and letting the songs kind of do the talking and not having to worry about it.

Q: Let’s talk about “Nameless, Faceless.” It’s pretty potent. How’s it going over live?

A: It’s an interesting song to perform. It’s just really grown into something else. A whole lot more kind of anger comes out when I perform it. When you’re on tour and you read the news and it’s a story that is exactly that song, it’s really hard to perform it because it’s a constant reminder. We know that it’s every day women are murdered, every day there’s domestic violence all around the world, and to be focusing on exactly that for five minutes of a song is really intense. It’s a real mixed kind of emotion watching people when I sing it, there’s a lot going on.”

Q: What can you tell me about writing “Crippling Self-Doubt And A General Lack of Confidence?”

A: It’s a bit tongue-in-cheek that comes from a pretty dark place, but it’s me kind of masking it with sarcasm and all those kind of stupid writing tools.

Q: I read that you played guitar for quite some time in a cover bands, and I’m dying to know, what were some of the songs you used to play back then?

A: We did Michael Jackson songs, Toto’s “Hold the Line” and “All That She Wants” by Ace of Base. A mixed bag.

Q: When I told people I was going to talk to you, a few people wanted to know who your dream collaboration would be with.

A: I always try not to answer that question because I don’t want to jinx it.

Q: Fair enough. How about a dream collaboration with someone who is no longer here?

A: Jimi Hendrix would be my first choice.

Courtney Barnett with Julien Baker

8 p.m. Thursday, July 26. State Theatre, 609 Congress St., Portland,$30 in advance, $35 day of show. statetheatreportland.com

P.S.  Here’s “Need A Little Time” just because I love it.

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