Over the past few years Courtney Marie Andrews has basically charmed the socks off us all. From the first listen to her breakthrough album ‘Honest Life’ and a string of sensational, sassy and ultimately charming live shows, it was clear that here was a major talent in the making. ‘Old Flowers‘ set for release on Loose Music on July 24th once again underlines that opinion and provides yet another stone in the foundation to what will be a long and inspired musical career. At it’s heart ‘Old Flowers‘ is a personal, at times heart-wrenching narrative of her break-up with a longtime partner, yet dig a little deeper and you are mining those universal themes of solitude, reflection, hope – a regaining of strength, acceptance and moving forward. At times you are never sure you should be listening, it all feels so intimate, emotional, cathartic even yet, as is always the case, music is a great healer both to the artist and the listener. We can all bathe in it’s melancholic pool. Americana-UK spoke to Andrews, holed-up in her home during a US lockdown about how heartbreak shaped the album and how personal albums often connect to us all the most easily.
I guess the obvious question, given the current lockdown situation, how are you coping?
I am trying to take it day by day, but I am definitely riding the waves. The more I create, the better I feel. There has been a lot of writing to cope, and gardening for sunshine. Some days are better than others.
Given these songs and this album document a hugely emotional time in your life how hard were these songs to write? Did they come easy, or was it hard to find the right words and music to reflect the situation. I mean, did they take on their own life as the emotive input came out?
These songs came very quickly to me– some under fifteen minutes. I was acting as my own therapist in some of these narratives, so writing this record came as a relief. It felt like I could finally reckon with these truths, enabling me to finally let go.
It feels such a personal record, do you think you were writing it solely for yourself or is there always an eye, as a songwriter, to somehow be aware as to connect universal themes? Or is our input as a listener in this case just that, we listen?
Personal records generally end up being the most universal in a lot of ways because if you have felt something deeply, with matters of the heart, most likely the listener has as well. I think heartbreak is one of the most universal themes of all. It’s age-old, that thing… love.
Why did you decide on such a small set-up band wise? It really puts the whole spotlight firmly on you, your voice and your songwriting ability. Was that a scary proposition or something you revelled in? Do you feel that less instrumentation allowed you to really get to the core of these songs and lay your heart bare, in a way?
I wanted this record to be an intimate conversation, and my producer and I felt that minimal instrumentation would reflect that. Andrew Sarlo really championed me to shine in these recordings. This record was all about the vulnerability of a performance. If you can feel it in the room while singing, the listener will be able to hear it on the recording. The minimal instrumentation allows the listener to feel closer to the story and the core feeling of these songs. That was our intention.
Did you have an idea of how you wanted this record to sound? I think the beauty lies is the spaces and breaths between the songs, it sounds incredible and deeply moving. You must be very proud of the way it’s come out?
There was some trepidation with adding extra things to songs, unless we absolutely felt it needed it. The intention was to capture feelings, moods, and emotional takes with visceral responses on playback. Everything else was secondary to the performance.
Given the nature of the album, how did Mathew and James find the experience?
They seem to be so understated yet always there when those little flourishes and dynamics are called upon.
We brought Matthew and James on board because they are both such intuitive and empathetic players. They are both able to truly feel what a song does and does not need. I can’t speak for how they feel about the experience, but I for one, could not have chosen better players for this record. It was a magical trio, and I felt very inspired by them.
Do you enjoy it in the studio? Are you a ‘hands on’ performer or happy to leave all the production and studio side of things to the producer?
I love performing, and I love exploring sounds. I am definitely hands on/all ears during the recording process, but I also laid a lot in Sarlo’s hands for this record, because I think he is a very special producer. I had so much faith in him and I believe we made a great team. There were and always will be conversations regarding the art I make. It’s too important to me.
Out of the studio, are you one of those songwriters who are always writing? Or do you hit waves where the songs just come?
I am always thinking of lines and ideas for songs, but I have noticed a pattern. I tend to write bursts of two to three songs, then lay low, then more bursts. It’s almost as if I build up all I have to say, then explode with ideas.
Your star has been in ascendancy for a long while now, with both your last two albums generating amazing reviews (and rightly so!), how has that affected your career in the US and elsewhere? How has your relationship with Loose been, they seem to have done an amazing job for you here in the UK.
I have been very grateful to have had some incredible opportunities in both the US and UK. I plan on doing this for the rest of my life, so I try not to think of everything as too linear, career-wise. Loose have been an incredible label to me. They are like family, and I adore working with them.
How much new music do you listen to Courtney, and where do you draw your musical influences from? Is there anyone you would like to work with in the future?
I am a serial monogamous listener! Haha. But seriously, I get obsessed with one artist, and listen to nothing but said artist for months. I’m currently on an Arthur Russell obsession train. I would love to collaborate with someone outside of my songwriter realm, to push beyond and outside these boxes we accidentally find ourselves in.
Touring this album, when the current situation allows, will it be a trio set-up? Or maybe even solo? Or maybe a total re-evaluation of the record with strings and all! That would be something! We actually have a four-piece lined up! All four of us will sing, and it’ll be very intimate. I can’t wait to get back on the road and sing with friends.
What next Courtney? Do you have ideas already forming about new records and projects or are you just in the moment with this one and see where this one goes for a while? I know the industry schedule will be in place but you songwriters always seem to have an eye on the next thing.
I am always working on something. It’s in my nature. I’ll let you know what comes of it, since it has yet to be revealed even to myself.
Recommend one great record we may have not have heard?
Arthur Russell – ‘Love Is Overtaking Me’
‘Old Flowers‘ is released on July 24th on Loose Music