by Kelly McCartney (@theKELword) for FolkAlley.com
When you leave home at 16 to pursue music, there’s no denying that it’s a calling even more than it is a career. Such is the case for Courtney Marie Andrews who has spent the past 10 years touring with Damien Jurado and Jimmy Eat World, while also making records of her own. Back in August, Andrews released her sixth album, Honest Life, which is a captivating collection of Laurel Canyon-era folk. Self-produced, the set stacks vocals and plumbs depths in order to get where it needs to go which is right to the heart of the matter… and the listener.
Kelly McCartney: This record feels rather much like a rite of passage — you stepping away from old, bad habits and into a more solid sense of self. Is that about right?
Courtney Marie Andrews: Honest Life is a record about striving to be your best person, in spite of life’s circumstances. It’s about finding peace with your flaws and the flaws of the world, and not letting those flaws define you. It’s truly a record about acceptance, and realizing that life’s not a linear line, but a crooked highway.
Quite a few of your songs are very cinematic, lyrically, in the scenes that they set. Are you a visual writer? Do you watch an image of the story play out as you write?
I’m definitely a visual writer. I’m a film photography hobbyist and, in every sense, I’m always dreaming different lines, depending on where I am. Imagery and words blend naturally for me. I’m always striving to connect a feeling to a story, so it feels more human and relatable. You can write a line like “I loved him,” but there’s not weight to that until you give that line life. Where did you love him? Why? What’s the point? That’s where visual lines and imagery come in.
One of the most striking aspects of your songs is how you use your phrasing to make things fit, rather than filler words. “Table for One” has some great examples of that, like the way you draw out “Ohio.” Is that a conscious engagement on your part? Are there singers you admire with a similar approach?
That’s probably a skill I subconsciously developed over time. I’ve done some time at the figurative school of songwriting — the school you never stop attending — and studied the best: Bob Dylan, Townes Van Zandt, Woody Guthrie, Hank Williams, Joni Mitchell. I owe it to those songs. They almost never have filler.
Obviously, you’re getting lots of (much-deserved) comparisons to early Joni Mitchell and Emmylou Harris. There certainly seem to be quite a few winks and nods in that direction — the vocal stack near the end of “Put the Fire Out,” for one. But nothing you do comes off as the act of a hackneyed copycat. What’s the secret to honoring without stealing?
Those comparisons are both such an honor, and both those women have taught me so much. There’s no secret other than that, at the end of the day, I strive to be my own artist and I’m not going to try and fail to emulate another’s career because I have my own story to write that’s unique and different. It all comes back to owning your own story and not drawing career and life comparisons to others, no matter how great they are.
In what ways does having been a support player make you a better band leader, singer, and producer?
Playing with other groups has given me great confidence as my own performer. It’s also taught me about respect and love. Respect yourself to make the right decisions within a group, and respect others. They are your roommates, family, co-workers, and friends, and you spend ALL your time with them, so treat them with love, support, and respect. Also, it’s taught me a lot about the business side of things, which I’ve never been the best at. But I’ve learned to let that go, and just try to TCB.