Courtney Marie Andrews: ‘I didn’t intend to write an entire record about love, it just came out that way’

US singer-songwriter Courtney Marie Andrews’s new album focuses on a break-up. She spoke about it to Duncan Seaman.

Courtney Marie Andrews. Picture: Sam Stenson

Courtney Marie Andrews’ seventh album, Old Flowers, finds the US singer surveying the lay of the land at the end of a nine-year relationship.

A record that travels through several shades of emotion, making it, she says, proved a remarkable personal experience.

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“It was very cathartic writing this record,” reflects the 29-year-old Arizonan, from her current base in Nashville, Tennessee. “There was lots of discovery.

“I think that the life experience fed that and the music fed the life experience, so it was a cyclical discovery.”

Where previous records such as Honest Life and May Your Kindness Remain won Andrews considerable critical praise – and high placings in the UK Americana and indie charts – for her portraits of others, when it came to Old Flowers she no qualms about turning her gaze inward.

“I think as an artist I’ve never wanted to do the same record twice, and it for me was the most natural thing to do in this moment,” she says.

“There were certainly some moments where I was scared of how vulnerable I was in certain songs but in the end I feel my art really wanted this to be a record that I did.”

Courtney Marie Andrews. Picture: Alexa Viscius

Amid all the personal upheaval, the singer-songwriter found consolation in observing the small things in life.

“I actually just wrote a poem about this phenomenon,” she confides. “It’s like the middle part between really hard pain and grief and contentment. There’s like a space in between those two points in time in our emotional states in which we do actually start to notice small things and appreciate them.”

The songs follow a narrative arc from the initial shock of separation through guilt, pain and loss, with Andrews emerging at the end with a sense of self-renewal.

“It’s the way the songs emerged,” she says. “I didn’t intend to write an entire record about love, it just sort of came out that way. It seemed to be the only thing that I could write about for eight months.

“I do really believe that if you condense your writing into a certain period of time, six to nine months or whatever, the songs will all just naturally fit together, and that’s certainly the case with this record.”

The generosity of spirit on show in the album’s closing song, Ships in the Night, speaks of lessons learned. Andrews says: “I don’t know if I was trying to share wisdom more than I was trying to connect with the person that I was writing to, and genuinely wishing them love and healing and also gratitude four our time spent together and remorse for things not developing in the way that we both maybe wanted at some point. It’s more of a personal letter to somebody that you care about.”

Andrews had been writing and performing for a decade, including touring stints with Jimmy Eat World and Damien Jurado, before breaking through in 2016 with her fifth album, Honest Life. She thinks that being acquainted with the tougher side of the music industry stood her in good stead for dealing with belated acclaim.

“I’ve always been appreciative of my past,” she says. “It’s not been one that had a very steep and quick incline but I appreciate slow-burn and the things that I’ve learned along the way. It’s definitely been rocky but I take that with gratitude. I don’t know if I’d have it any other way, just because it also feeds my songs as well, so that’s positive.”

An admirer of the likes of Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell and the late John Prine, Andrews says she’s always been in music for the long run. “I’m what they call in the music world a ‘lifer’,” she says with a chuckle. “I hopped on this and it’s going to be forever, it’s really all I know.

“I always think back to a moment when I was a kid at parties and get-togethers around my neighbourhood. All the other kids would talk to each other at the parties and I would be that girl in the corner playing guitar, and I think I’m always going to be that girl in the corner playing guitar. It’s sort of my shield up against the world.”

As an aspiring singer, Andrews took her cues from Aretha Franklin. What she especially admired about the Queen of Soul, she says, was that “she really believes what she’s singing...and you can hear that in her voice.”

In Andrews’ 2018 album May Your Kindness Remain there’s a running theme of characters chasing a bigger, better life. She thinks that’s what made it resonate so much in the strife-torn era of Donald Trump.

“I feel that moral compass is really at the heart of every person, whether that gets off track or not,” she says. “Their moral compass and a better life and really a better attitude, even if people don’t want to admit it, is what people would prefer to have.

“It’s hard for me to say because I’m not those people, but I think the reason people have identified specifically with the song May Your Kindness Remain is because it’s getting to the core of what we all know is important. That’s companionship and camaraderie and kindness and feeling connected to our fellow humans.”

She’s optimistic that a different, more compassionate set of values may emerge from the crisis caused by Covid-19.

“That’s something that at least my friends and my communities have discussed, that there is a huge shift,” she says. “It’s really hard to predict what’s going to be on the other side of that shift but I’ve had many conversations that have led to discussing how people feel more in tune with what’s important, and I hope that we have a quiet revolution of sorts and discover what is most important and apply that to this new world.”

Old Flowers is out on July 24. Her concert at Pocklington Arts Centre has been rescheduled for June 17, 2021.