Listen to her heart-scouring alt-folk and country ballads about break-ups, breakdowns, toxic relationships and breezy affairs, and Courtney Marie Andrews reads like a lyricist prepared to lay it all on the line in the service of a truthful song. But by her own admission, that openness is at odds with how she comes across the rest of the time.
“You know what’s really funny,” Andrews says via video from her home in Nashville, “in my personal life, I’m not very revealing at all. At some point, in my childhood, I clicked that I didn’t have to burden anybody with my stuff, and I could just put it in a song, or put it in art, and that would be enough.”
But Andrews’ new album, Loose Future, is a change of tack: a brisk and easygoing set of songs about freedom, renewal, self-love and saving commitment for tomorrow. Its spacious, softly psych-frazzled soundscapes enhance its freewheeling themes exquisitely. “I wanted it to sound like that feeling of possibility,” says Andrews, “when you’re driving down a coastal highway with the sun setting and you’re just like: things can be good.”
Andrews hasn’t always greeted independence on such happy terms. Raised in Phoenix, Arizona by a single mother who worked two jobs, she was a latchkey kid who had to grow accustomed to her own company. “I was quite dramatic and felt a lot,” Andrews reflect. “I had a lot of a huge, wild emotions that I would put on everybody around me because I didn’t know where to place it.” Poetry became a private vessel for self-expression (Andrews published her debut poetry collection, Old Monarch, last year). “I would walk myself home from school and if I didn’t have a friend to talk to, I’d just write these poems and sing. And I found that to be very helpful.”
Andrews grew up surrounded by country music. Her “cowboy grandpa”, who lived out in the desert, would drive her around playing country songs in his truck. “My mother would take me to this woodchip saloon called Mr Lucky’s and I would sing country karaoke.” As a teenager in the mid-2000s, she picked up a guitar and rebelled into feminist punk, crashing out covers of Violent Femmes and Bikini Kill in a high school band with friends. “I clicked that we needed songs,” says Andrews. “Once I discovered that, I just couldn’t stop writing.”
Discovering Lucinda Williams’ 1998 album Car Wheels on a Gravel Road sparked the epiphany that took her back to Americana, and the die was cast. Andrews released her debut album in 2008 aged 17. A year-long stint as backing vocalist with emo-punk band and fellow Arizonans Jimmy Eat World gave Andrews her first taste proper of touring life and taught her many positive lessons about the music industry (“it was my college,” she says) but she was determined to remain focused on her songwriting. Four more records poured out in the next eight years, including her critically acclaimed break-out, 2016’s Honest Life.
Andrews’ seventh album, 2020’s Old Flowers, was nominated for a Grammy for best Americana album. Due to Covid restrictions she had to watch the ceremony online in her Nashville garden. “I had a few friends come out,” she says. “We all dressed up, had a little bonfire.” (Sarah Jarosz’s World on the Ground took the prize that night, though Andrews’ time will surely come again.) Where Old Flowers chronicled the end of a nine-year relationship, leaning into heartache as hard and slow as only a great country singer on their downers can, Loose Future is in many ways its spiritual and sonic antidote. Produced by Sam Evian, whose credits include Big Thief’s Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You, it features drumming from Grizzly Bear’s Chris Bear plus contributions from Bonnie Light Horseman’s Josh Kaufman.
Andrews wrote it in summer 2021, in a beach shack on Cape Cod. It felt like an unburdening. “Leading up to that was a very dark time in my life where I was finally processing a breakup from a relationship that had lasted most of my 20s,” she says. “When I finally got to Cape Cod, it was like I was shedding. Feeling for the first time in my body and in my zone, in a way that I hadn’t felt for a long time.”
Loneliness no longer darkens her door the way it did when she was a kid. And yet, songwriting remains Andrews’ most trusted companion and confidant. “It has been,” she states, with the utmost certainty, “my greatest friend.”
• Loose Future is released on 7 October on Fat Possum.