Get To Know Courtney Farren [Interview]

Kieran Kohorst

Courtney Farren looks comfortable - the sun pouring over her right shoulder through the curtain-drawn windows of her Los Angeles homebase, an organized coffee station situated on the counter over her other shoulder. A sense of peace radiates from my computer screen, manifested from Farren, who is cool and composed on her end of the virtual call. “I love being in LA and I love my space that I have now,” she tells me. “And I love my things. I'm a big ‘thing’ person, like I love my stuff,” she delivers with a little more fervor, joining her hands together like claws as if wanting to assert her possession over her belongings. She doesn’t have much she’s collecting, but what most catches her eye are “like…machines,” she explains broadly and with a laugh, going on to brag about her new sewing machine and a bread maker, which has “changed my life in two days.” 

This timeline suggests a transformative span of days for Farren, as just three days prior to our conversation (and apparently just hours before her bread-maker altered her way of being), she released her newest single, “I’m Not Alone (I’m Lonely).” Derisively titled, the song was born out of the contempt she felt being in “a setting where I was like, ‘This is just not exactly me, but I have so much to say about it’...It’s like when you’re in a room and you’re really trying to be yourself, but then just feeling like, ‘Man, I just don’t think this is really who I am.’” It’s a very specific type of isolation that isn’t voluntary and is deliberately different from being alone, as Farren denotes in the track’s name. In distinguishing being lonely from being alone, it's noteworthy to clarify that being lonesome is not inherently tragic, either. Nowhere is this point better illustrated than Farren’s music video for the track, which was shot, edited, and digitized from hi8 tapes by Farren. The footage is populated by candid smiles and moments of small laughter from the artist as she strolls around different scenes, headphones securely fastened to her head. She appears to be the only one who exists in this world, but it's not a sad reality - it’s one she’s come to grips with. “I don’t take anything that seriously, just in my day-to-day,” Farren explains. “I like being happy; I like being a nice person,” she says simply, seemingly freed by her own loneliness and empowered to make her own decisions on how to approach life. Her heavier emotions are reserved for her writing, which has become an outlet to allow for a healthy separation between her daily interactions and her need for expression. “Writing is an expression that’s like, ‘Ok, yeah, I get sad sometimes’...Writing has helped me be able to express some of those emotions. That was something in the music video that I was pairing - almost like, it’s not that serious, and the lyrics sort of say that, too. I grew up kind of feeling like I was a little bit of an outsider, outcast, super self-conscious. (This song) was me speaking to my younger self being like, ‘Well, you’re still kind of weird, but it’s fine. You can let it go. It doesn’t really matter.’”

This profound sense of acceptance is found throughout Farren’s work, but is perhaps most prominent in the videos she creates for her songs. From her perspective, there’s only one trademark quality in her videos: from the disassociated nature of “Care” to the flippant tone of “White Rabbit,” it’s all about letting loose. “I honestly feel like I'm just trying to have a good time,” she says slyly, a half-smile growing as she gives away her secret. “I have a really hard time feeling like I can be myself on the internet. In real life I take a lot of pride in who I’ve become, these feelings about identity - but then on the internet, I get so lost about it, and I think being able to create videos and capture aspects of my personality just by collaborating and doing these kind of DIY things with my friends or just by myself, I can try and have that influence of getting more of my personality into an asset.” While her interest in videography and photography is deep-seeded, it has become a necessary skill as well - not only for her art to grow, but because it is the best use of her resources. “It’s really fun, (but) also it’s challenging because I’m doing everything by myself or enlisting my friends or my partner to do it. But it’s rewarding…Especially with this video, ‘I’m Not Alone (I’m Lonely).’ I had all these grand ideas. I think there’s an element of just practicality, that I’m choosing to do all of this myself. This is where I’m at right now, these are my capabilities with recording and whatever technology comes into play, those things just fall into place.” 

While the responsibilities that fall on her shoulders can certainly feel overwhelming at times, would she have it any other way? Farren isn’t so sure - while she sees the value in collaboration, she can’t help but want to feel in charge. When I ask if she likes having a big hand in all things Courtney Farren, she looks at me as if to gauge if I’m being serious or not, before offering a definitive “oh yeah.” She then leans in as if preparing to tell the world’s worst-kept secret: “I love control. That’s a big thing for me…if I shoot all my own photos, I know where they are. I know where they go - they're on my computer and I edit them. If I take 200 photos and I'm like, OK, I like these ten. I know where the other 190 of them are. There's an aspect of that lack of control in some of the artistry that just kind of makes me nervous.” Her anxiety around commanding the direction of her work extends to her writing as well, where she is incredibly “specific” in how she goes about the process.”I get really like obsessive over it being my words, so even collaborating in sessions with producers and stuff…I’m like, ‘I'm writing every word to this song.’ I write pretty quickly and I don't like editing my songs. I'm very stubborn once I've written it - it's hard to change something once it's done for me.” It's safe to assume anything coming from Farren is her own - even her parenthetical title, which she chose as an allusion to the 2000’s. As far as she is concerned, it was her idea first.  “I was listening to Arcade Fire a lot, also Gwen Stefani’s “Cool,” and I kind of wanted it to be this sort of throwback, nostalgic 2000’s thing. In 2000, there were all those parentheses, and now all of a sudden everybody's doing it. I feel like the day that the song came out, I saw five other parentheses songs. I was like, the fuck? But anyways, that was my attempt at a throwback, but I guess we're all thinking that.” 

While in the driver’s seat, Farren has pushed her music into overdrive in the last year. In April of 2023, she released her EP Rabbit King, which featured four eclectic tracks meant to reflect the diverse emotional conflicts that live within everyone. From flirty melodies (“White Rabbit”) to flittering piano keys of devastation (“Happy”), Farren finds a way to encapsulate the human experience in her intensely-personal writing. In October of last year, Farren returned to drop the first of a string of subsequent singles: first was “I Must Like It,” followed by “Together Together” with featured artist BØRNS, and now “I’m Not Alone (I’m Lonely).” Each track flexes a different muscle for Farren, continuing to build on her varied collection of music to her name. Though they all live together in Farren’s discography, each song she records exists very specifically. “I really try to make my music as like a time capsule of whatever's going on in that time,” Farren details. “And I think a lot of people don't see all the stuff that goes behind a release. They're just like, ‘oh, this song's coming out now? That's what she's going through now.’ I feel like that's tough as an artist because of course you've done it like a year or two years before that - if you're lucky and you're on a good schedule.” The tracks that found their way onto Rabbit King were written just as Farren moved to Los Angeles, and they compared differently to the songs she created before that transition. Aside from the clear emotional connection she has to each song she writes, there is another revealing aspect of Farren’s art that key her into different stages in her life: “‘White Rabbit’ was a marker of that (particular) time in my life…I just look at the length of my hair. I'm like, whoa…in the “King” video, I'm like, I look like a witch. I have like 2 foot long hair. That's insane.” Her most recent singles, however, feel more relevant to the time she finds herself in now, with “I’m Not Alone (I’m Lonely)” representative of a specific scene she had to live through not long ago. “I guess it ended up working out because I like this song, but it was a very uncomfortable moment that brought it out,” she admits, somewhat-joking but mostly earnest.

These kinds of growing pains - rolling with the punches, making the most of a less than ideal situation - seem natural to Farren. She’s had plenty of practice: by the time she was 18, the number of times her family had moved equaled her age. Born in San Francisco, Farren pinballed to new locations and struggled to find a core group of friends. When I ask her how she coped with the constant uprooting in her early life and the significance of stability in her life now, her reaction suggests I just hit her with a ton of bricks. She offers a solemn “damn…” before I apologize for the unexpected weight of the topic. Drudging forward with a more contemplative tone, Farren shares that the constant moving when she was younger felt normal to her, and she even continued the trend when she went out on her own. Beginning with stints in Palm Springs, Vegas, and New York, to name a few, Farren eventually found herself in a remote Croatian village, a retreat that gave her the opportunity to fully invest in her music. Growth, both personal and artistic, is a defining characteristic of that time in her life. “That shaped my ability to feel more secure in who I am right now,” she reflects. “I think I was really searching for something at that time, and I was not finding it. So when I got to LA and had this new sense of freedom out here and had my own place, I really felt like I'd done some serious reworking of who I was, fundamentally.” Farren’s time in Croatia was mostly isolating, far from anyone familiar to her; it was this uniquely distant experience that gave her the perspective necessary to write more broadly. “Before that, I was living in New York and I think a lot of my songs were this kind of confused, young, hopeless romantic, whatever. And now I feel like a lot of my songs are like, what's going on in the world? Am I OK?” It took thousands of miles for Farren to recenter and find her true place, but it seems she’s finally found a home within herself.

If nothing else, Farren’s travels have developed within her a sense of empathy. She’s understanding of the position her parents found themselves in while she was growing up: “They were searching too, and I think there's a lot of things in hindsight now that are a lot easier to deal with because I'm like, ‘man, our parents are just people trying to figure stuff out.’” Being in LA, she’s grateful to be close to family - or, at least most of them. “My brother moved to Florida,” she mentions, resentfully, as she provides me a map of her close ones’ whereabouts. “He needs to move back.” 

From what we’ve established so far, there are a few things that seem essential to Courtney Farren’s everyday life: creating things (typically with the assortment of machines she’s gathered), controlling those things she creates, and not taking anything too seriously that may come her way. Fundamental to all of this, she tells me, is hope. “Ohhh man, there's so much to be hopeful for,” Farren says, sincerely and with a glimmer in her voice. ”I'm just really grateful that I have this opportunity to be creating during this time. It's an exceptional privilege and I really don't want to take that for granted. As much as there are difficulties in creating and these barriers, I'm just so grateful to be able to do this and try to put words to things that I need words to. Maybe someone else does too.” The early reception to “I’m Not Alone (I’m Lonely)” has only deepened Farren’s appreciation for the position she’s in. “I'm glad that it's resonating with some people so far. I'm hopeful that that continues. I'm hopeful that I just can continue to be able to create. I'm very happy right now…hope is a very important thing for me and I feel like I have always had that. There's so much to be excited about, and especially in a time where there is a lot of darkness and there's a lot of things that are difficult and people go through. These crazy hardships, but man, people are very resilient and it's definitely admirable. So I have a lot to inspire me.” This is a feat not uncommon to Farren - turning dark into light, struggle into strength, loneliness into freedom. There’s so much more yet to come from the ever-so-hopeful artist - and it most certainly will be done her way.

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