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When talking about the ebbs and flows of Americana music over the last twelve months, you can’t have a conversation without mentioning Courtney Marie Andrews. One of the great breakout stories of the year, the ten-year songwriting veteran and long-time session musician Andrews burst into the scene’s proverbial headlamps with sixth album ‘Honest Life’, all written and produced by Andrews herself.
A raw, uncompromising, and (funnily enough) honest album, ‘Honest Life’ turned a fair few heads. Enough to net a slew of album of the year nods, a swag-bag full of critical acclaim, a spot on Later with Jools Holland and sell-out shows on the tour. Suffice to say, Andrews melding of country-tinged Americana longing with cryptic, heart-tugging lyrics and her glorious Joni Mitchell-style vocals sure struck a chord.
GIGsoup’s Matt George Lovett caught up with Andrews ahead of her much-anticipated UK tour, to discuss the origins of ‘Honest Life’ and the subsequent ripples, the road that led Andrews here, and the grit that it takes to make your way as a solo songwriter.
‘Honest Life’ is your sixth album, but it seems to be the one that’s really taken off. Why do you think that is? Would you consider it your best album so far, or was it more of a right-place-right-time thing?
I’d definitely say it’s a mix of both. It’s my most mature album, in the sense that it’s the first one I made where I began to truly understand the ins and outs of songwriting. But, I feel that a lot of the outside success was largely due to having a great team, and being in the right place at the right time. However, I won’t ever forget that I put ten years of hard work on my own into making sure I ended up in the right place, with the right team.
The album dwells on homesickness and a desire for stability. Where did the album begin for you?
It began when I was on tour, and broken up with. Touring is the absolute greatest thing in the world until life at home gets rocky. I was living in Belgium, working as a backup singer when I was going through this breakup. I was far from anyone close to me in a personal way, and the only way I was able to process everything was to write. So, that’s where Honest Life started.
Were all the songs written quickly together as a group, or have some been germinating for a long time?
They came in little groups of two or three over the period of 8 months.
People have already discussed uplifting single ‘Irene’ a great deal, but what about the other tracks of the album? Opener ‘Rookie Dreaming’ in particular is a standout. Where did that come from?
‘Rookie’ was the first song that was written for Honest Life. The story of that song is one that I haven’t often told in interviews regarding this album. When I first went to record this album, I ended up at a studio in LA, where this man wanted to record me. It seemed promising and flashy, so I flew down there. He initially gloated about my songs, so that’s what I thought I’d be cutting. But as soon as I arrived he had all these co-writers in place, including himself. I was horrified. That wasn’t what I asked for. I convinced him to let me prove him wrong and write a few songs. So one of the studio days I wrote “Rookie Dreaming” Put The Fire Out” and “Honest Life” in one day. He dismissed all of them, because that meant he wouldn’t get a co-writer credit. So I flew home, and ignored him, and wrote and recorded my own record. I’d say I proved him wrong.
Only In My Mind’ too is quite different. With sweeping orchestral strings instead of the guitars and drums from the rest of the album, it almost sounds like something from a classic musical. Since you produced the album yourself, what led you to record the song like that?
Initially that song was gonna be just me and piano, but while recording, the engineer and I kept hearing strings. So last minute, I called an amazing local composer in Seattle, Andrew Joslyn, and he came in the next day with a fully formed arrangement. The song is the last one because of the sonic difference, but the lyrical content sums up the entire record in my opinion.
Can you tell me about new tracks ‘Near You’ and ‘Sea Town’?
I wrote ‘Near You’ when I was 20 years old. It’s a song that never ended up on a record, but I kept coming back to it, so I knew it needed to be properly recorded. ‘Sea Town’ is a true B-side to Honest Life in the sense that it was one of the only songs I wrote during that period that I regret not putting on the album. Its content fits perfect within the context of the songs.
A lot of the album’s more lively songs have quite lavish instrumentation, with a full band, pianos, slide guitars and so on. How much are you hoping to replicate that for your upcoming European tour?
Most of my live band are the same guys who played on Honest Life. So, it’s easy to convey the same sound, because it’s the same band that played those songs live in the studio.
A second London date was added to the tour due to popular demand. That’s quite an achievement, especially as an artist playing Americana, country-tinged material which has traditionally struggled to find an audience in the UK. How does that feel?
I am extremely grateful for any success that comes my way. It’s an extremely tough industry, and I’m gonna try and not take any of this for granted.
What’s next, after the European tour? Is there another album on the horizon or is that looking too far ahead?
Yes! The guys and I are headed back into the studio about three days after this tour ends!