At 25, Seattle’s Courtney Marie Andrews is already a seasoned veteran of the singer-songwriter scene. The Arizona native started touring when she was just 16 and has served as a backup singer for acts ranging from Jimmy Eat World to Damien Jurado. But all that music can be exhausting. At the end of her last album cycle, tour burnout led her to retreat to rural Washington to get away from the frenetic city and road life and simply tend bar. In August, she returned with Honest Life, a new album of tender, heartstring-pulling songs inspired by those times. She winds down her current tour this Thursday at the Tractor Tavern with a homecoming release party for Honest Life featuring Banner Days and Kate Lynn Logan.
For our latest Fiendish Conversation, we chatted with Andrews about retreating to rural Washington, the lessons learned as a session musician, and the gray areas of songwriting.
What are your favorite aspects about Honest Life?
I like that it’s pretty self-explanatory. It’s directly from the heart. I fell like it’s my first album as a woman, where I’m wise and I’m not asking anybody to feel bad for me. I’m plainly stating how life can be and how it is. It’s very mature record for me.
So does that wisdom come from more songwriting experience or more life experience?
I’d say both. I mean life experiences made me a more mature songwriter. I’ve been writing for a long time, and I think I have the hang of it.
Is it easier for you to write the sadder songs or the more optimistic ones?
I do not have a preference or find that either one is harder or easier. I just write what feels right at that specific time, and what feels most true to me. I don’t really look at songs like happy or sad. I don’t think it’s that black and white. A song can be a journey. It can be a million different feelings wrapped into one.
How did your time in Seattle influence your music?
I’ve actually been living outside of Seattle in more of a small town. I definitely feel the stark difference between the dark and cold winters and the summers. The way you write goes along with the seasons. You write your songs like almost under a blanket in the winter, and then you come out and your vocal and ready to be on the road again come spring. I’m definitely a believer in the idea that you write different songs depending on where you’re physically at in that moment. Living in rural Washington made it so I can think harder about the song and become more introspective.
Where in rural Washington are you residing?
Seven miles between Duval and Carnation.
What kind of led you out there?
I wouldn’t say anything in particular led me out there. I was ready to be off the road. I got a job at the bar, and that’s where I ended up.
Do you prefer that pace to the city?
Not at all. Not at all. I think at that particular time in my life that’s what made most sense, and it felt right. But I can tell you that after six months of living in a small town and working at a bar, I was ready to be on the road again. [Laughs]
But it was perfect for that time. I’d been traveling for like three years straight and it was nice to take a step back, and reflect, and then make this album rather than rush into another one like I had previously done.
Since you burned out on tour last time, do you plan on maybe taking it easier this record cycle?
No. I think it’s pretty much ingrained in me. That’s my lifestyle. It feels more natural for me to be on the road to be working than it does to stay in one place.
Is there anything you’ve learned from your extensive backup singing that you’ve applied to your solo career?
Honestly, the only way that it has affected me is when it comes to business matters and how I treat a tour or things like that. Just like the level professionalism, I guess. It did teach me a lot about respect for other artists and treating your people right. I feel really luckily that the people that I did sing for were all mature and just really easy people to work for.
Besides that, I’ve always been able to disconnect myself. I feel like my mindset as a session musician and backup singer is a 180 mindset from leading my own band. You’re not in charge, you’re not making the calls. You’re just along for the ride when you’re a backup singer or session player.
It’s such a huge 180 difference because people that I’ve done backups for have such established careers; it’s hard to compare the two. For much as I have been working for other people singing backup and stuff, it’s not like I’m selling 1,000 tickets. [Laughs]
Courtney Marie Andrews: Honest Life Release Show
Sept 8, Tractor Tavern, $10–$12