Interview: Courtney Marie Andrews
Jeremy Williams-Chalmers, Arts Correspondent
Courtney Marie Andrews released her debut album, Urban Myths, nearly a decade ago. A DIY artist at the core, she got her mainstream breakthrough at the end of last year when her debut album for Mama Bird Recording Co. ended up on an array of 2016 Best-Of album lists.
With the likes of Jools Holland giving her television exposure, her profile has skyrocketed and she has spent the summer at a number of high profile festivals. We caught up with her at Moseley Folk Festival to find out more about our new favourite singer/songwriter.
Honest Life has been a runaway success. Did you anticipate such a huge response?
I shopped Honest Life for about year. I was very hopeless. I had no idea that it would be my "breakthrough record". I had lots of trials and tribulations when it came to making it and getting it out there. It was quite a shock to me. It was a very slow burner.
What do you think made Honest Life different to your previous records?
I sort of reached out for a team. It was that mixed with the maturity of the record. Of course with a breakthrough record it feels as if you must have done something different, as it was your breakthrough record. It turns out you can't do it yourself. I did it DIY for a long time, so I reached out to people who were good at their jobs. That with the record I made was a good combination. It's all a little bit of luck and time.
Having been a DIY artist for so long, did you find it strange to balance everything with a record label?
The record was made. The team wasn't there before. I had a record I made and gave it to a bunch of people. I had a private soundcloud link that I would send to people and a lot of labels turned me down.
This very small label out of Portland, Oregon called Mama Bird was the only label willing to put it out. It was the perfect choice as they put everything into it. It was very much a slow burner. It wasn't like it was on their label and that was it. All these people it was sent to were at first like, "yeah it's cool" and then three months later it had become their favourite record.
The more they listened to it, the more they liked it. It wasn't until the end of last year that people started putting it on their end of years lists. It was a very slow process. It didn't feel as soon as I released it that it would be a breakthrough record. After all of this it got picked up in the UK. So it was a long and slow process.
Although clearly not written for radio, Honest Life contains a couple of radio ready tracks. Was this on purpose?
I never consciously write songs for radio, but as I have gotten older I have tried less to try and fit into a unique box. When I was younger I felt I had to be unique and weird to stick out, but I was actually just hindering what I was capable of. I don't try and fit my songs into a box anymore. I just write the kinds of songs I would listen to.
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After this tour, which has two more weeks left, I have three days off then I record the next record. A lot of the songs we are playing on this tour are really new and will be on the new record.
When you approach a record, do you know exactly what tracks it is going to consist of?
With Honest Life that was the album. I was so poor that I only had 10 songs and 3 days to record them, so that was always going to be the record.
With this record we have a little bit more leeway so we are probably going to record 15-20 songs, but only around 10 will end up on the record. That's the goal anyway.
There are certain songs that I know belong no matter what. Not every vision is as clear. It always seems to be the clearest on the last day of the session, when you can finally see how they all fit together.
Having written so much material over the years, do you ever revisit old songs that you never recorded?
It's funny you say that as I actually just recorded this song called Near You, which I wrote when I was 20 years old, so seven years ago. It was a song I never put on a record, but I continued to play it. It kind of grew its own fanbase just for that song.
I had several songwriters cover it and that sort of thing, but I never did anything with it. I put it on this acoustic demo sort of thing, and some people got a hold of it and they loved it. I just knew I needed to record this song, so I did and put it on a 7" and gave it the treatment it deserved.
Would you say that international success has altered your ambitions?
I have very similar ambitions but in very different circumstances. When I was young I knew I wanted to be at this point but I had no idea how to get there. I was a very confused little kid who had no idea how to do anything in the music industry.
I wasn't very good at reaching out to people. I always felt I could do a better job, but I wasn't meeting the right sort of people. I have always had my eyes on the prize, so to speak, which is to make this my life. It's all I have ever wanted to do!
It's different now as people show up to the gigs and they didn't before. Before it was like, "oh wow there are 5 people here, that's cool!"
Finally, what words of advice do you have for other artists out there trying to get their break?
It's all or nothing. A lot of people have a back-up plan and I know sometimes you need one to survive, but it really is one of those careers that you have to spend 10 years rolling through the trenches to really come out on top. You just have to keep going, which sounds like silly advice, but it is a career where you just have to stay focused.
I can only say that as it is what worked for me. Even when I was a bartender, writing songs was all that I was focused on.
Interview: Courtney Marie Andrews, 8th September 2017, 14:00 PM