When Blabber’n’Smoke spoke to Courtney Marie Andrews at the tail end of last year we were awaiting the release of her album Honest Life with the promise of a tour to follow. Four months later and Ms. Andrews is the talk of the town. The album’s been a great success, reaching the number one slot in the Official Americana charts and her performances on her tour with The Handsome Family received critical acclaim. A measure of her success is that she was back in London for a two day stop last week to perform on the BBC’s Later…with Jools Holland, quite a coup for an artist on an independent label given that this show is just about the only televised music show on the Beeb these days.
The day after she recorded her appearance Courtney was gracious enough to talk to Blabber’n’Smoke during a brief coffee break before she set out to perform a short set at Rough Trade West later that afternoon.
First off, we should say congratulations to you. The album’s taken off, the tour was a success and finally you get to appear on prime time TV.
Thanks. It’s just been great. I really enjoyed touring with The Handsome Family and loved meeting so many people and then getting on to the show last night was brilliant. They only showed one song last night but we recorded two with Jools playing piano on the second one.
And you were accompanied by BJ Cole on pedal steel, a man who many folk would call a legend.
Yes, he was tremendous. Did you know that he played on Tiny Dancer?
He’s been on so many great records but that’s a great one. I love that scene in Almost Famous when they sing along to it on their tour bus.
Yeah, that’s a classic film.
It’s funny that you mention Tiny Dancer because Bernie Taupin apparently wrote that about his and Elton John’s experiences in California in 1971 and many folk have mentioned how your music reminds them of that time. Just yesterday I saw that you were asked by Albumism to pick a favourite album and you chose The Band’s The Last Waltz. You explain your choice there but I was going to ask you why this period of music talks to you.
Well, although I love classic country songs and singers my influences are mainly in that early seventies sound. The Band took stuff like the blues and old time music and Levon Helm influenced the other guys to write those country type songs. I really think that they were the first “alt country” or Americana band as they were doing this even before Gram Parsons when they sat down and did The Basement Tapes. And the guys I play with in the band, we all kind of come from that rootsy background that comes across on their records so The Band resonate with me a lot.
Looking back over the past three months it seems you’ve been incredibly busy but you had the time to record a song with Will Oldham, a cover of Nina Simone’s I Wish I Knew How it Is To Be Free.
There’s a project called Our First 100 Days and I wanted to do something with them. I’ve always loved that song and I wanted to do it as a duet and I really like Will Oldham so we called him and he agreed to do it! So the band and I recorded the song and then sent it over to Will and he did his vocals.
So you weren’t together in the studio? I thought that maybe you would have jumped into your old tour bus and searched him out.
That would have been great but we’re too far away from each other for that.
I’m only kidding. I saw the van in the video for Put The Fire Out and it looks really funky but not altogether roadworthy. Do you really go on the road in that?
Yes, sometimes we do.
Well you need to fix the license plate at the front, it’s falling off
I know, it’s still like that.
In that song, Put The Fire Out you sing that it’s time to let down your hair and have a good time so has this year been fun?
Yes, I’ve been having a lot of fun. It’s been hard work but I’ve been feeling good about it. I’ve been so busy since the beginning of January but when I fly home I have two weeks off.
Some of Honest Life was written in the aftermath of a break up and the album has a somewhat melancholic air about it. In the wake of what’s happened since can we expect the next record to be a happier affair?
I think people will be surprised when the next album comes out, I’ve been writing for it a lot. I think that I inherently have that melancholia in me regardless but I’m not afraid to explore other emotions. I think it’s important as a songwriter to really go with your feelings and not to stick with just one hyper sad song. Bob Dylan’s written about a wealth of emotions and I really respect it when people can do that so I never put that type of barrier on myself. I hope I can write songs that are not so melancholic but which are still great. I think that if I were to write Honest Life over and over again people would get quite tired of that so it’s important to kind of push yourself.
I was looking at your tour schedule and it looks pretty daunting. Tours of Canada, Australia and New Zealand before you come back to the UK in August and then zoom around Europe.
Well I’ve got a bit of time before I head out again and that will be time to write for the next album but after that I’ll be on tour until the end of the year. I’m really excited to get back to the UK and let folk hear the full band sound and we’re playing again in Glasgow at a place called The Hug & Pint.
Well everyone I know who saw you earlier this year is going to that although it’s such a small venue that once you and the band are on stage there might not be room for the audience. We’re looking forward to the full band experience although your show with Bryan Daste on pedal steel was wonderful. A Blabber’n’Smoke acquaintance who also plays pedal steel was quite impressed with him and they’re now Facebook buddies.
Yeah, everybody loves the pedal steel and that’s kind of how the pedal steel world works. They have their own little forum where they talk to each other.
One of your label mates on Loose Music, Danny Champ, calls the pedal steel the ironing board of love.
That’s great. I’ve heard so many great terms for it but I call it the crying machine.
And with that we left Courtney to enjoy her coffee before heading off to do her instore show at Rough Trade. You can read a short review of her performance over at Americana UK. In the meantime I’d recommend that if you want to see her later this year to grab your tickets now as it’s unlikely she’ll be performing in such intimate venues again.