Interview with Courtney Marie Andrews
FT – With your new album Kindness, is a central feature of this album, it’s a human quality, surprisingly not celebrated that much in popular culture. I can think of two songs with ‘Kindness’ in the title- Glen Campbell’s, “Try a little Kindness” and Richard Thompson’s, ‘The hand of Kindness’, I’m sure there are others. Kindness features twice in songs, including the title track. Why Kindness?
CMA – Well, I didn’t grow up very religious or anything, but I suppose morals were important. My mom had a really tough life and so she always told me, because of her strife and struggles, always be kind, you never know what somebody is going through. It’s just sort of been instilled in me, you know, I sometimes feel guilty about not being my best self in a situation, and so it’s a word that’s always kind of followed
FT – The record is also about mental health in America, and you have spoken about scratch cards and how a lot of poor people see them as the way to escape poverty. Again the record resonates with a sympathetic view of the have and have not’s in the country. Is that a topic close to your heart?
CMA – I grew up in a, I say lower class neighbourhood and so everyone around me was working class. They were roofers, bartenders, you know. It was the lowest income region, besides homeless people, so I just grew up around those stories. Those people being disillusioned by the American dream, and being kind of upset, and threatened that they couldn’t get it. You know. Meanwhile they are consuming television that is showing them this wealth and things that are so unattainable, and so I think that causes a lot of depression. I had a mother who struggled financially and watched her get depressed, and it’s a common thread that runs through American life.
FT – Do you see that as part of the role of the songwriter, to reflect that and try and make that connection? Maybe give some solace?
CMA – I don’t know if the songs necessarily help the people who they are written about, I can’t say that for sure, but I can say that as a songwriter, I do see it as my duty to be an empathiser for the world, and so I have to tell the stories of the people around me, because that what songwriters do. (laughs) So I can’t go round saying, ‘Oh I made somebody more kinder,’ or “I helped somebody feel like being poor is okay”. At the end of the day, it’s only a feeling that I’m conveying. It’s only a story. All I can say is that I’ll do the best that I can to honestly convey those stories.
FT – I think it’s evident that the songs have made an impact and do make people think about the issues is that the most you can do as a songwriter?
CMA – Well that’s the goal (laughs)
FT – Well judging by audience reaction, it seems to be working. In terms of your recording career, the ‘Honest Life’ album was pretty much a game changer. You had a number of fine albums before, but with that one something clicked and seemed to put you on a different level. It was self- produced. Yet with the current album you brought acclaimed producer Mark Howard in. Did you at any stage feel, I’ll do ‘Honest Life’ two, and produce this album also?
CMA – I was actually going to produce the record myself and I went into the studio to do something, to record a song for a show, completely unrelated to the album, but I took the band in and it felt easy, too easy. I felt that I wasn’t pushing myself you know. So I just wanted somebody to kind of shake things up. I’m a huge fan of Mark Howard and the records he’s done (Howard has worked with many top artists including, Dylan, Young, Emmylou Harris, Tom Waits and U2) we called him the vibe master. He’s not one these technical producers that are engineers. He’s not placing a microphone in a spot for two hours. He’ll throw open a microphone as long as the vibe in the room is good. It’s more about catching the feeling of that moment. So we would record the rockier more up tempo songs during the day when the sun was blazing through these big glass windows, and then the ballads as the sun was going down. So it kind of felt natural.
FT – And your first foray into music was punk? Massacre in a miniskirt.
CMA – Yeah, that was my very first band, when I was 15, I was in a feminist punk band. We weren’t anything serious, we didn’t release a record, but it was a giant catalyst for me to write songs.
FT – From that ‘lowly’ start you now are compared to some of your heroes, Townes and Joni Mitchell, Emmylou Harrison, Linda Ronstadt. You’re winning awards and artists like Elton John and Ryan Adams are singing your praises, yet you seem remarkably free of any pretensions. Is it easy to remain so grounded with all these plaudits been passed to you?
CMA – (laughs) Well thank you for that. I think it’s easy to be self- detrimental as an artist. I think as much as people say these nice things about you, you feel, ah, I could have done that so much better, and that’s just how I work. I set myself high standards and I don’t build myself up personally. It’s just not in my nature.
FT – Going back to ‘Honest life’, you’ve said that many of the songs came from a hard time you were facing personally during a difficult break-up. How difficult is it to perform those songs live, do those feelings come back to you at all during a performance, as when you were writing them?
CMA- You know, if I’m going through a similar thing I will occasionally feel it. I mean I do try and put my soul into every performance as well, I mean I really do try. But, I wouldn’t say that I feel that open wound as when you first encounter them in life, especially the break-up songs. I mean when I wrote some of those songs I was in a horrible place. The feeling I had when I first wrote them was like tearing the scab open you know, over and over. You can’t allow yourself to feel that way every time you sing it, or else you’ll just go crazy.
FT- When do you find time to write, you spend a lot of time on the road?
CMA – On a band tour it is hard to find the time, but on the solo tours I usually try and get as much motel writing as possible, and I try and be good about writing in the morning, not even song writing, just writing. I’m always thinking of lines during the day, just little things that’ll come and I’ll write them down and eventually try and turn them into a song.
FT- And the future. I know you’re still touring the “Kindness” album, but your fans grow ever hungry for new material, have you started writing for the next album?
CMA – Yeah, well I’m actually playing a couple of new ones tonight. I probably write all the time, and for every ten bad songs, perhaps I have one good one This month I’ve probably written eight songs, but will only stay with two of those and the other six, I’ll just toss aside, and nobody will hear them. This new batch of songs is quite personal. I mean ‘Honest life’ was quite personal, but it was almost guarded. I mean it was personal, but these new songs are very close to me. They feel like I’m revealing myself in ways I haven’t before, and so it’s an exploration of that.
FT- Does that mean you might be back in the producer’s seat for this set of songs?
CMA -That’s something that’s been circling as an idea, but because I probably only have four keepers for the album, I have others, but these four I’m really proud of, and these are the ones I want to show, but I haven’t decided just yet. But, yeah it’s definitely on the table. I haven’t decided just yet. Once I get all the songs, I can thread them and then we’ll decide what’s best for them.
FT – Courtney, It’s been an absolute delight talking to you, hopefully not too long before the next chapter in your career is out and I get the chance to do this again! Good luck with the rest of the tour.
CMA – It’s been my pleasure, and thank you!