Song-by-Song: ‘Old Flowers’ by Courtney Marie Andrews
Drawing inspiration from everything from dreams to postcards, the writing of this Americana artist’s new album was a fascinating process
Having been fans of her honest music for as long as we can remember, it was a true pleasure to speak with Arizonan singer-songwriter Courtney Marie Andrews about her already timeless album May Your Kindness Remain for the Autumn 2018 issue of Songwriting Magazine. An Americana artist who is equally comfortable operating in the worlds of folk, country, soul and gospel, Andrews now returns with new record Old Flowers.
Originally set for release on 5 June but rescheduled due to the temporary closure of the vinyl manufacturing plant that produced the record, the album is now here and has already justified the eagerness which had built up in its absence. Perhaps Andrews’ most vulnerable creation to date, it chronicles the end of a relationship, heartbreak and learning to be alone again – with the occasional sprinkling of humour and told in her unique way.
Charmed by the record’s candid beauty we wanted to find out a little more about how it was written…
Before recording Old Flowers, I would send my producer, Andrew Sarlo, songs to gauge their effect. One night, in his reply to a song I had sent, he gave me a songwriting prompt to write something with more space between lines and less words. So, I went home, put pen to paper, and Burlap String was the result of that exercise. I’m glad he suggested it because it allowed me to sum up everything I was feeling in a shorter number of phrases.
Guilty was a painful song to write and sing for a long time. After I first wrote it, I felt ashamed about how honest these feelings were, and I truly did feel guilty when writing it. It felt too close to home to sing. That’s also why I knew it needed to be on the record. Once I broke through, the fear and shame of this brutally honest song, I was able to accept these feelings in my real life.
IF I TOLD
While on an opening tour in the fall of 2019, I knew I still had one last song in me before heading to the studio. We were playing these huge theatres opening for Tyler Childers, and sometimes that allowed us two green rooms. One night after our set, I grabbed a bottle of wine, got drunk by myself, and wrote three songs in a fervour. One of those songs was If I Told. There are these magical times in a songwriter’s career, where a fully formed song plops down from the universe. If I Told was one of those songs.
TOGETHER OR ALONE
Painting an honest portrait of the ending of my nine-year relationship was very important and cathartic for me. I wrote this song maybe a week after my breakup, unsure of where it was all headed. Sometimes I write songs as a means of processing pain or trauma, and this song aided me in understanding everything I was going through.
One night around two or three AM, I woke up from a dream where I was searching for my ex at a carnival. It was so vivid that I walked over to my piano and wrote this song while I was still practically asleep. The next day, I randomly received a text from my ex asking if I wanted to catch up. We met up, and at the end of our reunion, he told me that he’d been having these visceral dreams where he searches for me at a carnival almost every night. I stood there dumbfounded, then told him about my dream and this song. We were both stunned.
I spent some time writing in Portugal last summer, hearing that the light, art, and colours there are very inspiring. I found all that to be true and ended up writing a ton of songs for Old Flowers there.
The music in cafes begins really late in Lisbon, and I found my way into this open mic fado cafe where I made friends with a Portuguese poet at the bar. We hung out until about four AM one evening and he recited a poem to me by a river at the end of the night. When I asked him to translate the title of the poem, he said flatly and sheepishly as if unsure of the proper translation, Old Flowers. It hit me like a freight train. I went back to my Airbnb and wrote the song. What a perfect way to describe love coming to an end. A poetic plea that a relationship is still beautiful, even if you can’t resurrect it.
IT MUST BE SOMEONE ELSE’S FAULT
All of my favorite writers find masterclass ways of hiding sarcasm into the lines of songs – Randy Newman, Bob Dylan, and Joni Mitchell. When I sing, “It must be someone else’s fault,” I am also making myself and the listener know that I am, painfully, self-aware at times. When I sing that line, I’m really trying to say that most of the time, I am in control of my own story. We are all so quick to blame someone else or something else, but truly it is us who hold the reins. I come to terms with both relationship and ancestral trauma in this song as well, always returning to that sarcasm, “It must be someone else’s fault.”
BREAK THE SPELL
I’ve always liked the idea of love being a spell. This song started with a hypnotic strum on my nylon guitar, followed by that first line, “You and your magic ways…” I remember when writing it, I truly felt like I was under a spell. In this song, the spell is a way of saying, ‘I am being emotionally manipulated,’ – an ode to the person who knows exactly how to keep you reeled in. I chose to make the metaphor with a spell, because it’s kinder, and I don’t necessarily always think the spell caster is even aware of the pain they are causing.
HOW YOU GET HURT
On one of my first dates in over a decade, I went out dancing in Nashville at a honkytonk. This song is as straightforward as they come, and there aren’t any analogies to hide behind. My intention behind the clarity and openness behind the lyrics is actually a strange juxtaposition because I’m singing about how hard it is to be vulnerable again, knowing how much pain it might cause. So, I am being completely vulnerable and open about not being able to be vulnerable and open.
SHIPS IN THE NIGHT
I am an avid postcard sender. Ships In The Night was actually a postcard I wrote and never sent, so I decided to make it into a song instead. While crafting the arc of this record, I started out with Burlap String, a song very much written in the early stages of grief, and then eventually made my way to this song.
This is a song that represents the afterthought of a relationship. These are the words you say a year later, looking back over time. You feel nothing but love and respect for the person, even if you know it wasn’t meant to be. This is my unsent postcard.