"When I was a teenager I got wrapped up into some very shady business deals, and felt I was taken advantage of as a young woman by a label’’ explains Courtney Marie Andrews while considering how her sixth album Honest Life has finally propelled the native of Phoenix Arizona to the business end of the music industry. The album, released earlier this year in the UK, (2016 in The States) is already being hailed as an album of the year in many quarters and rightly so given the quality of the material and song writing. It positively overflows with hurt, emotion, rejection and isolation as Andrews simply pours her heart out, reliving her life experiences of the last decade. It’s a body of work that recalls Joni Mitchell’s Blue in many ways, but more of that later.
The encounters packed into her early career and the endless touring as a young artist involved heartbreak, isolation, relationship breakups and a lot of homesickness. It is difficult to highlight any particular tracks on Honest Life given the overall excellence throughout but Not The End and How Quickly Your Heart Mends are simply classic love lost songs and Table For One is the most candid and honest portrayal imaginable of life on the road as a solo artist.
Its impact has given Andrews considerable media exposure, particularly in Europe, including a recent appearance on Later with Jools. At the end of 2016 American Songwriter voted How Quickly Your Heart Mends as their No.4 song of the year.
''Honest Life definitely came from personal place. They sometimes twist the truth, but the original thoughts are very close to my heart. Personal experience is inevitable, so it’s important to be observant and empathetic enough to be able to connect the dots to your writing’’ she confesses. The album was self-produced by Andrews at Litho Studios in Seattle with the assistance of engineer Floyd Reitsma. "My trust in the industry was scarred for several years, and I was convinced that I had to do it on my own. The first few times I attempted to record Honest Life, I mostly had a bunch of older men telling me how I should sound, so that it will "sell." That really hurt me, and at the end of the day I wanted to do it my way, with my friends. My vision was clear for the album so it was easier to take the producer seat''
How long was the album in the making and was the intention to achieve a late 60’s breezy sound to the album or did that simply develop in the studio I wondered. "It probably has that sound because a lot of the album was recorded very much live, with little to no modern production tricks. I was focused more on the band getting a great take, then I was fixing it in mixing. A lot of these songs dropped into my lap fully formed. It’s so nice when that happens. I wrote them over a course of a few months. I wrote three of the songs in one day, Honest Life, Put the Fire Out and Rookie Dreaming. Regret and yearning feature quite strongly in a number of the songs."
Speaking like an industry veteran it’s difficult to fathom that she is only 26 years of age. Her early career reads like the ideal text book apprenticeship for any musician. While still in her early teenage years she was writing songs, touring as a busker at the age of sixteen and soon progressing to recording, performing and also working as a touring band member. The tours included back up vocalist with Arizona rock band Jimmy Eat World and playing guitar as part of Damien Jurado’s touring band, an experience that seemed to be immensely influential on her solo career.
"I met Damien while living in Seattle. I opened up a few shows of his around town, then also opened one of his European tours. We hit it off, and he was fun and easy to tour with. When his next record cycle rolled around he asked me to be a part of the band. I was elated! He’s really fun to play for because he allows for so much creativity within the frame of a performance." Listening to her debut album No One’s Slate Is Clean, recorded when she was barely out of her teens, it seems unthinkable that it did not expose her to a wide audience back then. Asked how she considers that album today even though it’s quite similar in style and quality to her latest album you are left in no doubt that she has moved on career wise and is not in the habit of glancing over her shoulder. "Once I’m finished with a record, I usually put it away. I don’t think I’ve listened to No One’s Slate in over 3 or 4 years. It’s sort of like reading old diary entries. You usually are very critical of your past self, and that goes for music as well."
On her success in making a considerable mark in Europe she enthuses "Europe is definitely more immediately receptive to good music. Since there is so much ground to cover in The States, you sort of have to beat listeners over the head with it. Someone needs to shout at them, "HEY THIS IS GOOD, LISTEN."
Scheduled to play four dates in Ireland later in the year in Dublin, Belfast and two appearances at The Harvest Country Music Festival in Sligo and Enniskillen I was more than surprised to see her named among the artists performing at Harvest and her quite often being hailed as the next country music starlet given that her music is unlike the vast majority of artists listed to play that festival. So how does the country music tag sit with her. "I love country music, but I never was shooting for that label. It’s easy for listeners to use that as a way of describing music, so I get it. It’s just, I’ve always been much more influenced by songwriters who explore a wide range of songs, sonic influences, and structures. I’m not sure people will label me country after they hear the albums that are to come. It’s more fun to be a songwriter who writes all types of songs, ‘cause then you can do whatever the hell you want."
Andrews is already at the early stages of her next album which she expects will be somewhat of a departure sonically but hopefully with songs equally as strong as those on Honest Life. Thanking her for taking the time to talk and noting how much we are looking forward to her Dublin gig it’s difficult not to ask her if a similar young songwriter in the 60’s named Joni Mitchell was a primary influence. "Of course, I love Joni. Every budding songwriter should study up on Joni. She’s up there in the “Tower of Song,” as Cohen wrote of Hank (Williams Sr).’’
Interview by Declan Culliton Photograph by Susy Sundborg.