Courtney Marie Andrews is a rising superstar in the world of Americana music. She has one foot rooted deeply in the traditions of American folk and she has the other placed firmly in modernity. For Andrews, whose band mates hail from Seattle, her journey is one through classic songwriting and personal responsibility - all while navigating the dark, difficult world of rollercoasting mental health (more on this below). But on her latest record, May Your Kindness Remain, Andrews portrays strength and honesty in a way that captivates. And so, we wanted to chat with the singer about the origins of her music and to find out what might be next on the creative horizon.
You introduce the record with the idea of kindness. What’s important to you about kindness right now?
For me, as a non-religious person, it’s sort of a gospel and moral compass. It’s also something to strive for in discourse as well as in the depression and poverty that’s happening in the world. Having empathy and kindness is hard, but it’s something that I feel like is good to aim for in your day-to-day.
There are many great lyrical turns on the record. Who did you look to lyrically as you wrote the album?
I’m a sucker for the legends of songwriting. I just can’t help but continue to always come back to them. Bob Dylan, Townes Van Zandt, Lucinda Williams, Tom Waits. I’m a huge writer-buff. I love people who you can read their lyrics and they’re poetry. I’ve also been listening to a lot of Little Feat and Motown. Motown has some of the most brilliant writers that ever existed.
Any specific records you want to mention?
Mule Variations and also the Little Feat record, Dixie Chicken.
What balance of traditional music and the contemporary did you try to strike while writing this album?
My philosophy is to keep it timeless. I try and go for that. To make records that you can’t really place where or when they are. With this record sonically, I wanted to explore more. I felt like I wanted to create rock and gospel elements while still feeling like it was made in 2017. It’s a hard balance. But lyrically, I try and not talk about things that happened in the 1920s. No “I hopped a train and used the dial-up internet!” And I try not to date anything that has political connotations. My more political songs, if that’s what you’d like to call them, are more of a storytelling thing.
Often, you’re singing about just scraping by. Is this a reality you’re used to?
Yeah, definitely. It’s a life that I’ve always understood very well. I grew up with a single mom who worked two jobs. It’s also a lot of the people I know and love who are also scraping by. It’s not just me. It’s definitely a personal experience but it’s also something I’ve noticed - a lot of people are just scraping by in America. Most people are having a hard time.
What do you hope people learn about you on this record?
I hope that people find bits of themselves in this record. With me being honest and laying things on the table in my more personal tracks, my end goal is that people empathize and realize I have felt that too. A lot of the tracks are about overcoming mental illness and maintaining good in a world that’s constantly trying to strip you of it. I hope people understand that they’re not alone and that life is tough. There are things you can’t control but what you can control is your kindness and empathy. That’s how I try and talk people and I hope other people will get that.
Do you want to talk a bit more about your battles with mental illness?
I’ve dealt with a lot of depression and that sort of thing. I have a serious history of it in my family. There’s also a lot of suicide in my family and so it’s something that I definitely struggle with. I think a lot of the songs that deal with that sort of issue is me coming to terms with it with my lover, trying to explain myself. That’s what a lot of those tunes are about.
The song “Border” is different than many of the other tunes on the album. Can you tell me how it came to be?
I grew up in Maricopa County, in Phoenix, Arizona. We’ve had a sheriff there for 16 years, Joe Arpaio. He was a terrible sheriff. He was very inhumane and blatantly racist. I don’t know if you heard about the law that basically said if you looked Hispanic and didn’t have your license on you, you were immediately put in prison until you could prove you’re a citizen. There were several protests about it. I wrote “Border” from the perspective of an immigrant who is trying to work and make a living for his family. I wanted to write a song from an immigrant’s perspective in the hopes of gaining empathy from Sheriff Arpaio.
What did you learn about love and the relationships in your life as you wrote the record?
Responsibility. I guess what I learned through a lot of these tunes was being responsible and for owning the way you react to things and your own mental health when loving somebody. A lot of the songs are about the state of America. I learned a lot about that - how the real America is something we like to sort of gloss over.
The final song on the album, “Long Road Back To You,” is so beautiful - it’s this mixture of hope, loss and an acknowledgement of the work ahead. How did you decide to include it on the album and to place it last?
That was exactly where it should have been. I think it’s the perfect statement to end a record with. It’s a long road back to you, especially though the strife of the narrator and the world the narrator is living in.
Now that the album is done, what artistic themes do you find yourself exploring?
I’m not sure, because they haven’t really developed yet. I’ve been writing a lot but it’s sort of hard to know the themes until I look at the body of work. I didn’t know this record’s themes until I recorded it, until I placed all the songs together. I thought, “Oh! This is what it’s all about!” But recently, I’ve been exploring writing in a way that I’ve never explored before. That’s been really fun.
Kyle Craft’s singular brand of bordello glam-rock is coming to Upstream Music Fest. For the first of our Local Artist Spotlights leading up to the festival, we speak to the Portland singer/songwriter about his approach to his craft of writing and recording.
KEXP catches up with Shana Cleveland of La Luz about their telenovela-style new music video, their recent Australian tour, and their upcoming third full-length Floating Features out May 11 via Hardly Art Records.
The former Street Sounds DJ shares a part of his interview with Digable Planets and Shabazz Palaces' Ishmael Butler and his experiences that formed the record.