The award-winning Arizonan singer-songwriter talks about her folk heroes, her life on the road and of “living in a record”
Hailing from Phoenix, Arizona, award-winning singer-songwriter Courtney Marie Andrews is an authentic voice in the flourishing Americana scene. With a sound that has elements of folk, country, indie-folk – and, more recently, gospel, R ‘n’ B and soul on latest album May Your Kindness Remain – her emotionally raw songs and honest heartfelt lyrics have received major acclaim including winning International Artist of the Year at the 2018 Americana UK Awards.
Having toured extensively over the past decade since leaving her hometown at 16, Courtney has been a backing singer and session guitarist for established artists, including Damien Jurado and Jimmy Eat World and brought out a number of solo releases since 2008. The self-produced Honest Life, released in 2016 was a breakthrough record earning widespread critical acclaim. Recalling the classic troubadours of the past, the album’s 10 songs are full of beautiful arrangements, exemplary confessional storytelling and tender emotion.
Latest album May Your Kindness Remain produced by Mark Howard (Lucinda Williams, Bob Dylan, Emmylou Harris, Tom Waits) further cements Courtney’s reputation as a major songwriting talent. With this record a warm roots and country sound is infused with a soul influence; the addition of distorted electric guitar, bluesy organs and gospel-inspired backing vocals providing a rich backing for Courtney’s stunning and expressive soulful vocals. Gaining huge praise and rave reviews, the album explores empathy, loneliness and a longing for connection in working-class America.
Before her fantastic show at Norwich Arts Centre, as part of her current tour, we caught up with Courtney to discuss her songwriting, the new album and what inspires her.
How has the European tour been going?
“It’s been great. This tour has just been pretty easy, the drives haven’t been very long or anything so it’s been very easy and the crowds have been really sweet. We’ve been doing towns that we don’t usually do so that’s always nice.”
You’ve spent a lot of time on the road. Do you have fond memories of touring Europe?
“I absolutely do, especially when I first started touring here. I just had a big mountaineer backpack with all my CD’s in it and a guitar and I would just hop trains and so they’re pretty romantic years when I think back on them.”
How did you discover your gift for songwriting?
“I’ve always really loved literature and poetry. It’s funny because as a kid I liked both writing. I wanted to be both an author and I wanted to be a singer and I didn’t realise that you could both in one career. When I found that out it was really, really nice.”
Your songs have that timeless storytelling quality of the great songwriters from the Laurel Canyon era. Who were your music heroes growing up? Any there any particular songs or records from that period you admire?
“Pretty much all my biggest heroes are the songwriters; Joni Mitchell and Lucinda Williams. I mean Blue, of course, is like one of the all-time records and obviously Neil Young has a handful of really incredible records. Carly Simon. [Carole King’s seminal album] Tapestry. There are so many classic records I’m inspired by.”
Did artists such as Joni Mitchell lead you into exploring different guitar tunings?
“I honestly didn’t start to listen to Joni until I was 19 or 20 and I started doing the tunings before that and it was because of the tunings that actually led me to her. When I was a teenager I was more when into the indie songwriters like Iron and Wine. I heard his guitar and I was like, ‘That sounds like two guitars,’ so I started doing the open tunings and stuff.”
Do you remember the first song you wrote?
“I was very angsty in the beginning. The reason I actually first wrote a song is because I started a feminist punk band and none of the other girls wanted to write and so I was like, ‘OK I’ll give it a go,’ and I wrote a song and then that just spiralled out of control. I was like, ‘Wow, I’d love to do this!’”
Where do you like to write? You’re on tour right now so does that make it particularly hard to write?
“It’s hard if there’s a show every night but I do make time to write. Generally, my number one thing is to be alone. I have to write. If it’s in a beautiful cottage, if it’s in nature, maybe near a cute little town – that’s a perfect scenario – but you know, I’ve written songs in every type of situation so I don’t really stop.”