GREEN BAY – Strolling through the Packers Hall of Fame Wednesday, Barns Courtney took note of the small details of the space – the history, the legend and overwhelming tradition.
While many visitors gravitate toward the recent Hail Marys and Super Bowls, the 26-year-old English musician rewound to the very beginning of the franchise nearly 100 years ago.
“I watched the old movies and saw what it was all about,” Courtney said. “It was really inspiring and I actually felt like I started to get it and I understand you’re a part of something that’s bigger than you.”
The Packers’ humble roots run parallel to Courtney’s story, a connection that factored heavily into his decision to create a “Green and Gold” version of his hit song, “Glitter and Gold,” which was unveiled earlier this week on packers.com.
Music has been an integral part of Courtney’s life since the very beginning. His parent split up at an early age, resulting in Courtney spending his formative years traveling across the Atlantic between the United States and England.
The experience had a profound impact on Courtney, particularly when it came to music and the arts. His mother and he often would sing and dance for hours in his kitchen, mixing song with improvisational performances and parodies.
He still has photos of his uncle, wearing white skinny jeans with long, flowing curly black hair, playing guitar to him as a baby back at his grandparents’ home in England. Courtney, who looks mesmerized in the photo, hopes to one day include it in an album.
When he was 14, Courtney’s mom started inviting him to play for her and her friends during her yoga sessions and at dinner parties. By the time he was 16, it was clear what he wanted to do with his life.
“I’m very lucky, my mother I can thank entirely for my drive and self-belief and insane ambition,” Courtney said. “She was there all along telling me I could do it. … My mother was instrumental in enabling me to get that tunnel vision and make me think, for some reason, against all odds, I could do it.”
That self-belief would be important when Courtney’s music career hit the skids. After getting signed by a label and spending three months in the studio working on an album, Courtney and his band were dropped on the eve of completion.
Courtney was devastated. He’d invested three years building to this opportunity. Unlike many of his friends who had already finished college, he was without a degree or career.
He signed up for unemployment and started taking odd jobs to make ends meet. He worked at a computer store and sold cigarettes at night clubs. Living off five pounds a day (roughly $6.50), Courtney slept on friends’ couches and ate sardines – cheap and nutritious – by the can.
It was around that time Courtney, on his way to a Halloween party, began writing out the lyrics to what would become “Glitter and Gold.”
“I was pacing back and forth in the kitchen and thinking about the situation, and the whole song kind of came to me all at once, like the entirety of the whole chorus and the first verse,” Courtney said. “I think a lot of musicians feel like their best songs come from somewhere else and you use your inferior human hands and brain to try to piece together the rest of it.”
The project renewed Courtney’s love of music, not that it ever was in question. He began recording the song in the bedroom of close friend and former bandmate, Sam Bartle.
The living conditions weren’t exactly luxurious. The building previously had been used as a retirement home before the government decommissioned the facility and turned it into a subsidized housing development.
While not an ideal arrangement on the surface, it provided Courtney and Bartle several unique instruments to work with they may not have stumbled across otherwise.
“I made the bass drum in ‘Glitter and Gold’ out of a filing cabinet in the hallway,” Courtney said. “The bass is made out of a piano we found in the rec room. It’s interesting because the piano is so out of tune, and when I went back to replace it when I got signed and had a little money to get into a real studio, it just didn’t sound the same.”
When Courtney finally signed with a label, he was given several places to record his EP and album, but instead asked to work with Bartle and continue the organic process they started.
Given the deep and personal connection Courtney has to “Glitter and Gold,” it would have been understandable if he chose not to remaster the song to “Green and Gold.” Truthfully, he had reservations when the project was first presented to him.
After a dive into Packers’ history, however, he saw two separate entities synonymous with each other. Other than the title change, Courtney found few differences between the lyrics confided in his song and what was envisioned for the Packers.
“I don’t want to write about anything that doesn’t come from truth,” Courtney said. “I try to be very honest in my lyric writing. When I actually sat down and looked at the history of the team and read about the Packers and how the team is owned by the fans and all the struggles they went through in the early days and actually studied football itself and what it was all about, I realized the parallels between the Packers and ‘Glitter and Gold,’ the songs were very consistent.”
Things are going well for Courtney today other than breaking his foot in five places at Summerfest in Milwaukee last month. Known for his high-energy performances, Courtney leapt from the stage at the Miller Lite Oasis onto the concrete 10 feet below and quickly crumpled to the ground.
He knew something was wrong immediately, but to his credit, still finished the performance. Unfortunately, Courtney admits he probably made it worse by continuing to perform, including at Lollapalooza in Chicago last weekend.
After giving up his London apartment, Courtney now claims the road as his home address. He’s fully immersed in performing and has a debut album, “The Attractions of Youth,” scheduled to drop next month (though Courtney doesn’t want to jinx anything based on previous close calls).
Although he didn’t play sports growing up, Courtney is proud to now call himself a Packers fan.
“The Packers have taken me in as their artist, so I’m taking them in as my team,” Courtney said. “That’s why gigs are so great because you really do become a part of this enormous collective. Everybody is pulling together for this one objective. I got a sense of that when I watched the videos in the Packers Hall of Fame. It’s very much the same for this team. That’s why I feel very humbled and grateful to be part of all this.”