Courtney Marie Andrews’ Honest Life caught the attention of critics and Americana fans in 2016. She opens for Joe Pug Jan 14 at the Cobalt.
Note: I originally intended this for my online magazine, thesnipenews.com, but we’re currently experiencing formatting issues, so I’m placing it on my blog instead.
Courtney Marie Andrews may be a new name to year-end best-of lists but she’s no stranger to the stage or recording studio.
The Phoenix-raised Andrews left her native Arizona at 16, armed with nothing but a guitar and a dream. She’s since gone on to play with pop-rock sensations Jimmy Eat World and master Pacific Northwest tunesmith Damien Jurado, as well as record several releases of her own.
But it seems that people are only beginning to discover her songwriting talents with her latest album, Honest Life. Released last year, Honest Life has landed a number of kudos, including:
#1 on The Bluegrass Situation Albums of the Year
#1 Impact 89FM Americana Album of the Year
#6 Stereogum 20 Best Country Albums
#8 Vinyl Me, Please 20 Best Folk Albums
#10NPR and Folk Alley 10 Best Albums
#36 Rolling Stone Countryr40 Best Country Albums
#38 American Songwriter Magazine 50 Best Albums
#4 American Songwriter Magazine 50 Best Songs
#37 ABC News 50 Best Albums
#50 Paste Magazine 50 Best Album
Greg Vandy of KEXP top 10 Albums of the Year
I talked to Andrews about Honest Life (the genesis of which includes tending bar at a couple of rural Washington State dive bars), the first record she ever bought, and the underrated genius of Jurado. She plays the Cobalt (917 Main St) this Saturday night, opening for Joe Pug. It’s an early show, so she’ll probably go on around 8. Don’t miss this one.
Shawn Conner: So you’re in Los Angeles now. What are you doing there?
Courtney Marie Andrews: I’m eventually going to be living here. I’ve been spending weeks off here when I’m not in Seattle.
SC: Did you spend Christmas in Phoenix? How was that?
CMA: It was good. I had Christmas in Phoenix for twenty years before moving to Seattle so it feels natural.
SC: Wasn’t the movie Bad Santa set there?
CMA: (laughs) I wouldn’t be surprised. It’s funny because I think people go all out because the weather’s so perfect outside during that time. There’s the craziest Christmas lights you’ve ever seen. People love stuffing as many Christmas things in their front yard as they can.
SC: You left home at 16. Why were you on the road at such an early age?
CMA: I think it was pure willpower. That’s what I wanted to do from when I was a kid. As soon as I got my first car I just planned a tour. I did have a fine home life. It just ended up that way.
SC: Did you have anyone in your family encourage you?
CMA: No, it was just sort of natural. My mom would watch movie musicals like Annie and The Sound of Music. I completely fell in love and wanted to sing since I could talk, really.
SC: Do you remember the first album you ever bought?
CMA: (laughs) Yeah I do, it was Leeann Rhimes’ Blue (1996). And I think the next one was TLC. I think LeAnn Rimes was a little bit beyond my age group at the time. But TLC was definitely in my age group. But I also really liked Aretha Franklin as a kid.
SC: You’ve recorded and released other records, but is there a sense in which Honest Life is a fresh start?
CMA: Well, the first three aren’t even available anymore. This is the first record that I made the plunge, and got a label and did that sort of thing for. But also, I feel like it’s the record I was most proud of, and wanted to show the world.
SC: You played guitar with Damien Jurado on his recent tour (for his 2016 album Visions of Us On the Land). What was that experience like?
CMA: That was wonderful. I love Damien. He’s a big inspiration. He’s such a unique artist and one of our best songwriters.
SC: Did you pick up anything when it comes to songwriting?
CMA: I wasn’t really writing songs around the time of touring with him. But there are techniques that I feel are very unique to him that I wouldn’t want to replicate because they’re him. He’s a very visual writer, and I really admire that. He plays with words in a way that I don’t hear very often.
SC: I don’t think he’s gotten anywhere the recognition he deserves.
CMA: No. That’s his story so far. He’s been up-and-coming since 1993.
SC: That tour came to Vancouver. Who else would you have played here with?
CMA: Well, I did open Father John Misty there once. I also played there way back in the day when I was a backup singer for Jimmy Eat World.
SC: You’ve said that the lyrics on Honest Life are a mix of autobiographical and in-character. What about a song like “Table for One”?
CMA: I think it’s a mix of both. Sometimes you can’t help but do that if you’re in character anyway.
Courtney Marie Andrews, “Table for One” (live at KEXP Sept. 7 2016):
SC: There’s a line the song that goes “I’m just waiting for the bar to open.” Did the bars where you worked while writing the songs cater to some hardcore drinkers?
CMA: Yeah, they were. I worked at two separate ones, actually. One was definitely more like a working-man, everyday-at-the-bar. the other one was still a working-man bar but nobody got too trashed. But they were both dive bars, they weren’t specialty cocktail type places.
SC: Could you have made a specialty cocktail if asked?
CMA: Absolutely not! Our head bartender made all the drinks and we just made what she created. The bars that I worked at, they weren’t a bar you’d come in and order a Manhattan.
SC: Or a craft beer.
CMA: No, we had a craft a few craft beers, because it was Washington. It’s just not like Phoenix where there are like no craft beers anyway, I’m sure maybe the hip places. Most people would drink gin-and-tonic, whiskey-ginger, margarita, that kind of stuff.
CMA: Yep, Jack-and-Coke!
SC: So this was rural Washington. Was this during the lead-up to the election? Were you hearing anything?
CMA: Luckily I was not, But I already know the conversations that would happen there. Especially at the more dive-y bar. I was one of the only liberal people. I learned to not dive too deep into those conversations. At a bar in a drinking situation. Just ‘cos nobody’s going to give in.
SC: You weren’t wearing your Hilary 2016 T-shirt.
CMA: No. But I would’ve worn my Bernie one!