A So-Called Strife
By Arrissia Owen Turner
Courtney Marie Andrews sings like an angel, just ask her ardent fans. And it’s due to her pure persistence that we know about it. The 21-year-old pop-folk phenom helped cultivate her hometown music scene as a driven teen, tracking down musicians through MySpace and gigging at local venues to packed crowds.
These days, she’s touring to promote her fourth album, No One’s Slate is Clean. Her local alt-newsweekly once called Andrews “the biggest star in the pop-folk scene in Phoenix.” In the same article, Jim Adkins of Jimmy Eat World, who had Andrews sing backup vocals on the band’s 2010 release Invented, called the young singer “all pro.”
But being huge in Phoenix isn’t big enough for Andrews, who hits the road relentlessly. She visits Upland’s The Wire Sunday, Jan. 29, bringing her somber, Carole King-ish crooning and Zooey Deschanel bangs to the stage.
The self-taught songbird is influenced by artists as far reaching as Sun Kil Moon and Billie Holiday to Joni Mitchell and Pink Floyd. But what inspires her creativity most, she says, is change—people, places and things, continually evolving.
Touring, which provides plenty of spark for songwriting, is part of the deal for the desert dweller. “It’s bad and it’s also vital for my sanity,” Andrews says. “I really like the stories,” she says, adding that nearly every song on No One’s Slate is Clean was written in a hotel room.
Many of Andrews’ tunes are autobiographical, of course, sometimes intimately, painfully so. “But there are always those little stretches of truth,” she concedes. “But that is what makes a story a story.” The ones that come easily usually end up as tracks on the album, she says. But that doesn’t mean they are Andrews’ favorites.
“The ones that come out of nowhere and come easily and flow and you don’t know where they came from, they always end up on the record,” Andrews says. “The ones that take weeks end up on the B-sides. I’ve always thought it would be interesting to put out an album of all B-sides”
Andrews finds solace in writers like Leonard Cohen, who famously took extended periods to pen songs. “He seemed to be perfectly okay with it,” Andrews says. “That was what was amazing about him. And then Bob Dylan could write songs in minutes and they would be masterpieces.”
Self-penned songs like “Sex Dreams” shed light on the 21-year-old’s old soul psyche. “I’m 20 now, and I already know the routes around hell,” she sings, sounding mature beyond her years.
“When I wrote it I felt like I had seen a lot,” Andrews says more than a year later about the hazardous lyric. “But whenever you think you’ve seen a lot, you see a bunch more. At any age, you feel like you’ve seen it all, but there is always more to be seen, which I realized after I wrote that song. But I think everyone feels like that.”
To her credit, Andrews did get a head start on chronicling life’s lessons, writing her first songs as a young girl, followed by learning to play guitar at 13.
“It just came out of nowhere,” Andrews says. “I don’t have a musical family whatsoever. It was just something I really always wanted to do.” She was gigging the coffeehouse circuit by age 15 on her way to graduating from the Arizona Conservatory for Arts and Academics.
Not all teens are so driven, but you wouldn’t know it from talking to Andrews. “I think people just naturally do things,” she says humbly. “I don’t know if it’s maybe, um, predestination.”
That didn’t stop the fear the first time she played on stage though. “It scared the shit out of me,” she says laughing, comparing the experience to learning to ride a bike.
“You kind of push yourself into it,” Andrews says, “but then you do it. You’re scared, and then after you are glad you did it.” Even if that route is a bit hellish.
Courtney Marie Andrews with Feel Good Fire, Sunset Pilgrims and Peter Wilso at The Wire, 247 N. 2nd St., Upland, (909) 985-9466; www.thewire247.com, www.courtneymarieandrews.com. Sun, Jan. 29. 7PM. $10.