Every important rock band is invariably greater than the sum of its parts. Perhaps no individual member is a virtuoso, but when put all together, they create magic. The Courtneys illustrate the point elegantly. The combination of Sydney Koke’s minimalist bass lines, Courtney Loove’s ringing open string guitar style, and Jen Payne’s hooky vocals and relentless drumming blends hypnotic grooves with instant indie pop likeability.
“It’s rare, so when you see that you have chemistry you do everything you can to keep it together,” says Loove, the only actual Courtney in the band, who insists on using her stage surname for all media-related matters. “Even if we’re living in different places, it doesn’t mean anything.” The band that found their collective voice in the rehearsal rooms and underequipped venues of Vancouver are poised to spread their wings. Loove has moved to Los Angeles, while Koke is spending two years in Strasbourg, France. But their hearts (and gear) remain in Vancouver, even if some of their bodies are temporarily elsewhere.
“Vancouver really supported us,” continues Loove. “But after a while, we grew out of playing the same local shows. It was time to try living in different places. Coming from Vancouver can be isolating, but it’s also what makes us unique. We can’t just take a cool show in the States on the fly. It requires planning and process. At the same time, Vancouver is a unique place. I’m glad we’re not just another California garage rock band.”
“Being isolated can be an artistic advantage,” agrees Koke. “You have to be part of your own scene. You have to rely on the resources of that city.”
They’re reconvening this year to spread their unique sound on tour in North America and Europe, celebrating the release of their second album, The Courtneys II—their first on the famous New Zealand indie label Flying Nun. It’s a remarkable achievement: The Courtneys are the first non-Kiwi signings in the label’s illustrious history. “Years ago I emailed Flying Nun to say, ‘Here’s our band,’” explains Payne. “We weren’t looking to get anything from them. One of their interns had been playing us in the office and they somehow ended up distributing our first record. Years later, when we had an Australian tour, we put the promoter in touch with the Flying Nun guys, and they ended up putting on our shows in New Zealand. That was a pilgrimage for us.”
“You know Searching for Sugar Man?” adds Koke, referring to the hit documentary about an American songwriter who had no idea he was a huge star in a foreign country. “What South Africa was to Rodriguez, New Zealand is to us. Our music resonates so well there. It makes sense, because we’ve been inspired by those New Zealand Flying Nun bands.”
Despite a fresh deal with an iconic label, The Courtneys show little enthusiasm for changing the modus operandi that’s been in place since their first rehearsal together back in 2010. Fame and fortune will have to wait—making great music and enjoying the ride together remain the top priorities. “The possibilities ahead of us are bigger than they’ve ever been, but we try to not think too much about the future,” insists Koke. “We made our first record with no expectations. Whatever happens next, we’re going to integrate that into our lives and continue to do what make us happy. We try to be as real as possible about why we’re doing it. We want to keep it about our music and our band, rather than compromising and thinking what would be better for our career. We’re working as a group of three the entire time.”
“We have to stay genuine and stick to our values,” agrees Loove. “We want to stay true to our art.”
Stay in tune. Read more music stories.