COURTING are back for a whole new “really weird”, genre-hopping era. They’re kicking it off with their huge new single ‘Flex’, a track surrounded with enough raw pop nonsense to keep us well-fed for weeks. Check out the latest cover story for our New Music Friday playlist edit, The Cut.
Words: Jamie MacMillan.
Guitar music is over, and the pop star era is here. Back with the first taste of new music since their debut album showed there was far more to them than just live chaos and online antics, Courting are getting used to embracing the new – and the importance of being committed to ‘the bit’. Their new bop, ‘Flex’, is all about the art of performance. Or is it about the performance of art? Both, or neither? Can we somehow blame Alex Turner? That seems fair. Courting frontman Sean Murphy-O’Neill is just enjoying the intrigue, though. “We’ve just made it unnecessarily confusing,” he cackles. “It’s really weird.” Oh good.
Written before ‘Guitar Music’ came out, ‘Flex’ is a proper bop. Taking the band’s fascination with referencing pop culture to its natural next level, it even comes with complete with a cheeky little pinch of a very famous Killers line (Sean remains optimistic that they won’t turn up demanding payment.) “I religiously read things about our band – which I shouldn’t do,” he grins. “And there’s someone on Reddit who constantly hates us because of how much we reference things. They’re gonna fucking hate this song. I know it kind of dates songs, but I don’t care. It’s an exercise in world-building, rather than just trying to name-drop pop culture things.”
Let’s get into their world, then. As anyone who follows the band online will know, they’ve been Up To Stuff in the last week or so. The traditional online clean slate has been followed by posts about stage plays and performers. “I really like films where they nest other performances within the film,” explains Sean. “It’s like a play being in a movie. So we wanted to write a song that could also give off the atmosphere of a short play or theatrical performance.”
Sean describes the band’s initial hope would be that ‘Flex’ feels “over-the-top and celebratory”. “It’s kind of a linear narrative in the style of a fake character dealing with success and fame,” he says – leading us to ask whether it’s a depiction of the band entering their pop star era. “This is a full turn,” he begins. “That whole album was about how you can be an experimental artist but still make really poppy and catchy songs. You don’t have to alienate people through being experimental.”
If ‘Guitar Music’ was a series of left turns, glitchy hyper pop nestling in next to indie bangers, then what next? “We’re pulling back from making it so maximalist,” he says. “And taking everything that we were trying out there and making a more nuanced version of it. We had a real intention to try and do something and show that we weren’t doing the same thing as everyone else.”
“You can be an experimental artist but still make really poppy and catchy songs”Sean Murphy-O’Neill
The reactions to their debut were mostly hugely positive, in many parts because of those risks being taken. It refused to follow the standard Indie Band Does Debut template. “I have a real hate for when you just sum up all your singles and put five in a row on it,” nods Sean. “It feels very corporate. And then it’s not a piece of art; it’s a compilation. I wanted to come straight in with a proper album and do what most people would do as a second album, I guess. What we did just got all these really creative urges out of the way, and I think we’re now a lot more narrowed down in what we’re doing. We’ve essentially had a practice run to just make an even better album.”
A subject that Sean has regularly returned to in interviews is guilty pleasures and his passion for them – talk of the new music and how much of it is the kind of thing the band loved when they were 13 sees him go back to it. “Everyone secretly loves a dubstep drop or a horrible pop-punk riff,” he laughs. “It’s like going to a theme park or watching Top Gun; it’s easy relief. It’s funny, and it doesn’t have to do anything super clever.
“We want to do the really obvious things that everyone secretly wants but is afraid to admit”Sean Murphy-O’Neill
“I think everyone enjoys that when they’re 13 because it appeals to something really basic in you that is just fun. And when people grow up, they try and say, ‘Oh no, it’s too obvious’. I don’t like that. We want to do the really obvious things that everyone secretly wants but is afraid to admit.”
Sean allows us to pry into the new record a little bit, describing it as ‘anthemic’ and reveals a few nuggets about it – expect more genre-hopping, with country songs, pop songs, weird songs and a pop-punk track that he describes as “probably the best song we’ve ever written”. “We arguably change genre more than we do on the first album,” he says, clearly excited and impatient to get new music out there again.
Courting have always seemed to walk a fine line between nonsense and actually being dead serious about their work. These new songs follow firmly in that tradition. “It’s a balance,” agrees Sean. “It’s about showing you can be dumb and pretentious at the same; that’s our whole thing. We are silly, but it can still hold a lot of artistic merit.” Sean likens it to 100gecs’ opening ‘10,000 gecs’ with the THX film company sound effect. “It’s near genius, but it’s so dumb,” he laughs. “You know where you are if you hear that. You know they’re gonna do something ridiculous in a second, and that’s what we want to do.”
Courting living through both their pop star era and ‘doing something ridiculous’ era? Now that’s a flex. ■
Courting’s single ‘Flex’ is out now. They play Dork’s Day Out on Saturday 5th August, at London’s Signature Brew Blackhorse Road, and Y Not? Festival, between 28th and 30th July. Get more information at ynotfestival.com. Follow Dork’s The Cut Spotify playlist here.