Five seconds into “Woman of Many Colors,” the first track of Courtney Marie Andrews’ latest album, On My Page, instantly conjures a scene of the countryside from a train window. You can almost see the serene face of a girl with a guitar case next to her gazing out of it. Thoughtful and literary, On My Page, gives us a narrative of life on the road, of fleeting relationships and sincerity to the experience of being alive.
Already a veteran to performing, songwriting, and to life on the road at 22 years old, Courtney Marie Andrews released her first album Urban Myths at age 17. Originally from Phoenix, Arizona, she has performed alongside acts from Sub Pop, Barsuk and Saddle Creek, and in 2008, she organized the First Annual Winter Folk Festival at the Phoenix’s Modified Arts gallery and music venue, and was a touring member of Jimmy Eat World in 2010/2011.
After a month of a new tour and two since the release of On My Page, Courtney Marie Andrews recently returned to Phoenix for an intimate set among family and friends at Crescent Ballroom. A few hours before the show, Glide staff writer Jack Cavanaugh met with Andrews in a corner cafe a few blocks from the venue.
Would you say that a lot of what’s going on in this album is autobiographical?
Yes. Yeah, it’s mostly how I write. It’s the only way that feels.. Maybe one day I’ll be able to expand.
What would you say is the interplay between Courtney Marie Andrews onstage and who you are every day?
Ok. That’s a good question. Yeah, I definitely feel like this is a magnified version of myself. Maybe yodon’t get that when you first meet me but you sort of pick up on those intense traits once you start to know me very well. Or maybe it’s the other way around, that’s maybe just a first impression. I guess it’s one or the other. It’s like a very magnified version of me..
Maybe not made up, but embellished.
How would you describe your relationship to the songs you’re writing, both while you’re writing them and then after you’ve recorded them and are out playing them?
I tend to have a stronger relationship with them before I record them. Once I’m done recording them, it’s almost like I’ve finished a book, so I think that’s it probably. And it sort of works against me because when I play shows, I have a hard time playing old songs. I have a hard time relating with my past self. I just want to be creating a new thing and feeling that new thing. I like things that are.. fresh.
So ideally, you’d be spending more time just continually writing more songs?
Yes (laughs), that’s kinda terrible! In a way, I mean it’s good, because it keeps me busy, but it’s also like..the beginning of this tour, I was playing all songs from (On My Page), and I’m just feeling really worn out from playing them, because I have been playing them for a year, and..
They’re new to us, but they’re not new to you..
Exactly, so, I basically forced myself to write two songs, so I felt a little better.
How long have you been on the road so far for this tour?
For a month.
Do you get a lot of writing time in while you’re on the road?
This tour I have. I’ve had a few days off on this tour. My mom got married, her marriage was in the middle of the tour! She planned it so I would come down from San Diego, so I had to move a bunch of dates around.
So I noticed on Tumblr, you talked a little bit about how you’re doing a lot of the managerial stuff on your own, booking your own dates, you’re kinda doing it all..
I am, yeah. Super DIY.
Do you enjoy that part of the process too?
Not as much as I enjoy the creative part of the process, but it’s just sort of something you have to do if you’re your only resort, so..
You don’t have labels just crashing down and saying, “hey we’re gonna do all the work for you.”
Yeah, and it’s hard to find people that you can trust and that can, that you would trust with what you’re doing and people that have the same ideas as you or can expand your ideas rather than kind of hinder them.
So what would you say is the biggest difference in the process between writing songs on your own and working with other people?
Well, the way I usually collaborate with people is either, I have no ideas and I go in and we play the song and I hear something or they hear something and we expand off that or I just have, I do demo work a lot, and I just have an idea completely worked out, and I bring people in to play that idea, but it’s kinda one or the other.
So you’re basically bringing in session players..
Well they’re not session players, because they’re my friends, so I mean they’ll tell me if they like something, or they’ll change it a little to make it their own, but it all varies. I do ask them for their opinions and ideas, so they definitely come into play in making the song what it is on the record.
Sometimes, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts..
Exactly, and I think it’s good to have more ears.. not too many, but (laughs)..
So would you say you prefer collaborating vs. writing songs alone?
It really depends. I find it hard to stay in a stable collaboration relationship because I like to be free to write my own songs, and sometimes when I get too intertwined with somebody that I’m collaborating with, I feel like I have to, it’s almost like being in a (romantic) relationship. I feel like I have to write to their needs, so I definitely like to keep it open, especially lately. Who I work with is just different all the time.
I noticed that there’s a picture of you with a violinist on Tumblr.
Yes, at the beginning of this tour, I had my friend with me.
What was that like for you?
It was fun. We’ve been friends for years and I used to tour with his band. He’s from Las Cruces. I used to tour with his band a lot and he’s probably one of the most talented musicians I know.
If you have him on your project, you sound ten times better, no matter what.
You’re from Phoenix, but you live in Seattle right now. What would you say is the difference as far as climate and physical environment? How would you say it affects your songwriting?
It definitely affects me. It was actually a huge culture shock because I actually got up there in winter and in Phoenix in winter is when everybody’s out and doing things. They’re spending time in Phoenix and doing Phoenix things, and in the summer is when everybody leaves and tries to travel and all that stuff.
Yeah, or they stay and live the vampire lifestyle.
Exactly. And vampire lifestyle in Seattle is from, like September or maybe October until May, because it’s raining all day, and I think a lot of this new album, I experienced a little bit of seasonal depression disorder. (laughs) It’s a real thing. It didn’t happen last winter, but the winter before. I was used to that much vitamin D all the time from living here, and I lived in a basement with hardly any sunlight at all coming through for seven or eight months and I just, and so a lot of the songs sound like that to me, kinda lonely in a basement (laughs)!
I’ve always heard and thought that great songs come from gloomy places, both literally and figuratively, and that up in Seattle, you can’t go outside, so a lot of people stay inside all day and play music.
Yeah, it’s definitely the winters in Seattle. A lot of people stay inside and read or play music. It’s a very introverted place. Everybody seems very introverted.
It seems to have a different vibe to it that Phoenix is too new to really have.
Yeah, it’s different. It’s definitely different. And it’s a lot more forest, water, and it breeds a different type of person. I really do believe that you’re affected by your environment. At least I am.
So you wrote No One’s Slate is Clean here in Phoenix?
That was mostly when I was traveling. Hardly any of those songs were written in Phoenix. They were written all over the world, I guess, in hotel rooms.
When was the first time that you decided that this is what you were going to do with your life? Write songs and perform them?
I think when I got a guitar, and me and two girls I was friends with in middle school started a punk band (laughs), and I was the only one that wrote, and I was like, ‘let’s try to put it together. I really want to put it together.’ But I found that it was always me alone in my room writing my songs, and I just realized that that’s what I liked. I always really loved words and literature, and I always really loved to sing, and I picked up guitar and it just sorta made sense.
Where would you ultimately like to see your career go from here?
Wherever it can go, you know.
Well On my Page seems to be a lot about what life is like on the road, living this sort of nomadic or transient lifestyle. What would you say you give up by living this kind of life?
Stability (laughs)! Sometimes it’s hard to maintain relationships. Sometimes it’s really hard to maintain relationships.. friends and love.. you know, but I think it’s just one of those things that I really need to do right now. I can’t do anything else, so it’s just like this string that sorta pulls me in that direction. I don’t know if it’s the right thing, but it’s what I feel I need to be doing.
Do you see yourself ever having a more stable life?
Definitely. When I’m older. I picture a very stable life, and a place to house people who aren’t (laughs). So, but all this stuff when I feel like I’ve done everything that I could’ve done, you know, as far as traveling.
As far as traveling, as far as creating..
But I’ll create forever. The thing is just that I don’t know anything else so.
So there’s no Plan B, is there?
Not really. If there was a plan B, it would just be something else creative, but it’s always probably gonna be music.
You were talking also (on Tumblr) about working 25 hours a week bussing tables, telemarketing, whatever you need to do just to pay the bills. And you still have time to work on songs?
Yeah, the only reason you ever get jobs as a musician is to support your music career. It’s not even a job. I mean it’s just a job to pay the rent, and then your music is, but even 20 hours gets in the way; I barely get by. It’s too many hours and that’s not a lot.
If only we were able to just be at home and philosophize and just feel our feelings and somebody else would take care of the details..
Yeah, exactly. But I guess we can just be music doctors. Sometimes, you just have to imagine that you’re a music doctor and you’re healing everybody.
What do you think people gain from a great song?
Comfort, definitely. I think.. nostalgia. Sometimes you hear a song and you’re jus…you’re driving and you’re living in a particular moment that you could remember for the rest of your life and that song triggers that memory. I think that’s probably one of the most important things: like a photo album but for your ears.
I met this fiddler the other day in Las Cruces, who’s in his 70s or 80s and he has Alzheimer’s, but one of the only things that helps him remember is playing the fiddle. He’ll forget everything else, but he’ll remember a fiddle song and play it and it helps his memory. I think it’s amazing.
Where do you think songs ultimately come from?
I think it’s really easy to tell if the songs come from somewhere else than from your head. Really thought out, you know what I mean? I don’t really have any beliefs or anything, but I just feel like when a song comes that’s like a hard-hitter, I can feel it so much more than when I feel like I’m trying too hard, and there’s this musician named (Randy) Newman. He said once in an interview that he feels like he’s not one of those people who can channel a song from like another universe. He said he’s not like Bob Dylan or Joni Mitchell who can just pick up a guitar and channel some crazy thing. He has to think about the songs he writes.. So they’re often satirical and not out of the.. whereas Bob Dylan wrote “Blowin’ in the Wind” in five minutes, so I mean.. I don’t know where they come from, but you know, you can feel it when it’s from somewhere that you never thought existed, maybe.. I don’t know if that sounds too out there.
So would you say that you think out your songs more often than you, sort of let them happen?
It comes in waves. I hate when I feel like I’m thinking out my songs. It’s the worst feeling ever. I usually end up just putting the guitar down at that point, if I’m just thinking too hard.
Neil Young said something like, when you feel like that, go mow your lawn..
Exactly. It’s exactly like that.
So you’ve seen (the music scene in) Phoenix and you’ve been in Seattle for a while and I’m sure have seen plenty of local talent in both. What would you say is this sort of “X-factor” that gets somebody from being a really talented local act onto the national stage?
It’s all the right time, right place, right song, right feeling for that particular day for the song. Radio liking you, you know, just all the weird things that have to take place. Some people take a little bit longer to like and understand, whereas there are some songs that get people really well-known because it’s easy to understand right away, but a lot of really great artists have to grow on you. I think people that have to grow on you take a lot longer to get to that national level, but also, I think just hard work is where a lot of people are maybe.. Then again, sometimes hard work doesn’t pay off at all, so I don’t know.
Would you say it’s hard to maintain this approachable, down-to-earth quality?
No, because I always want to be a nice person, but I guess maybe if you surround yourself with people who aren’t, it’s hard to maintain it, but I think it’s important to be nice, no matter what, so. That’s just one of my morals.. Yeah, it seems like the whole music scene sometimes breeds a type of person who’s not approachable; they think they’re too big or too cool.. “Nobody understands me..” (laughs).
What you’re doing on this album sounds very organic, very conversational..
Where we recorded definitely helped that a lot with this album. It was in an old barn (near Seattle). They don’t really have any newer equipment. It’s all old, vintage equipment..and the producer of this new album is really.. I would say, “oh, let’s redo that” and he’d say “no” and I was really happy for that because I think I started getting too perfectionist, but that’s not really what my music is. I want it to be organic and I think he realized that. I don’t want it to be really polished, and so..the new album is mostly live with the band, and then I went over and did my guitar and vocals in a day or two.
It was a very quick process..
We recorded the whole album in six days. We did a lot of preproduction; we just rehearsed for a month.
The last album was different. We didn’t do it as live. It was more multi-tracked where as this one was a live take, so there was only a few dubs where the band wanted to fix one or two things, but it would be like one (drum) hit or one bass note. For the most part, it was live.
So now you’ve done a couple different albums with a couple different producers..
Yes. The last two have been with established producers, where that’s what they do for a living, they produce and engineer records. Whereas, the first three were more like my friends and I trying to make a record in my bedroom or in their bedrooms, so I think these two are a little bit different in that way. I think I just got maybe a little bit more professional, not to say that you can’t record a professional album in your bedroom, but with organization and that sort of thing. I think I just matured a little bit, knowing what I want.