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How Courtney Marie Andrews learned to let the light in

On her seventh album, Loose Future, the Grammy-nominated country singer-songwriter sounds hopeful, determined, and completely at ease.

October 07, 2022
How Courtney Marie Andrews learned to let the light in Alexa Viscius / Press

Courtney Marie Andrews didn’t expect to be nominated for a Grammy, and she definitely never expected her first Grammys would look like last year’s. “The one time I was nominated, it was a Zoom call,” she chuckles. “It was hilariously what you would not want for your first Grammys.” Her sixth album, Old Flowers — a mournful and unsparing country record about a shattering break-up — had been shortlisted for Best Americana Album. And while the nod itself was a shock and the night not what people have in mind when they imagine an awards ceremony, it was all oddly fitting. “In some ways, it was perfect for Old Flowers. It should have been quite up-close and personal. I had a few friends over for an outdoor fire and we celebrated together. That was its own sort of beauty.”

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Old Flowers may have been the apotheosis of this peculiar beauty, an album so intimate and delicately rendered that listening to it felt at points like eavesdropping. But Andrews had been working in that deeply melancholy atmosphere since releasing her first albums as a teenager. It’s what makes her new album, Loose Future, such a revelation. The mix is wide open and airy, and a newfound optimism pours in from the sides. “I am older now / I am ready for a change,” she sings near the top of the album, a lyric that sounds more like a thesis statement. More striking still is “Satellite,” a softly psychedelic country track which Andrews says is “a love song without caveats.” Andrews’s subtly dextrous voice is still there, and her songcraft is still impeccable, but Loose Future is in outlook the polar opposite of its predecessor.

As Andrews explained when she joined me for The FADER Interview live on Amp a few weeks back, it was only after a period of enforced isolation and self-reflection that she was able to find that happiness. Written mostly on a Cape Cod beach, recorded mostly in New York, and tinkered with in Andrews’s “spiritual home” of Bisbee, Arizona, Loose Future is a reflection of its time and its places. But, above all, it captures the calm that settles in after the storm, the borderline bliss of looking to the future and seeing hope, however tentative.

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This Q&A has been edited and condensed from an episode of The FADER Interview live on Amp.

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Was it quite a challenge to write “Satellite,” a “love song without caveats?” Did you find yourself reaching instinctively for those caveats?

No, that’s the funny thing. And I feel like that’s the only reason I made this record. There’ve been so many people throughout my career — my family and other people — who ask, “Why don’t you write a happy song?” It’s the classic thing some artists get told, and it’s not that I never want to write a happy song. I’m sure there are moments of happiness in my songs. But it just never made sense for me, and I can’t fake it. I’m not going to write a song because I think it’s going to do well or connect with the most people. This is a time in my life, a period in my life, that felt very real. I was staying in this little beach shack and — I think for the first time — I truly accepted who I was and allowed a type of healthy love in that I really hadn’t before. A lot of these songs are written after a very dark period in my life, and I was truly ready to embody summer and the feeling of love, and not shy away from joy. Because joy also happens, as well as heartbreak.

I know that Cape Cod was an important location for this album. When did you head there for the first time?

I went through quarantine with a friend. I was living alone in my house during the pandemic, and I obviously wasn’t really seeing anyone. My friend was also living alone. She was actually running this beach shack, so we just decided to quarantine together because we were both living alone. That was where it started. It was such a dark period of self-reflection, having a lot of existential thoughts. All these feelings I had been escaping for so long came flooding in, and I dealt with these demons and then came to this beach shack. We spent every day at the beach, and I spent every morning writing, and I was, for the first time, truly connected with my body and myself. Some might say it was a “coming to Jesus moment,” where I realized that these are the important things: friendship and love, all these things you can deprive yourself of in a capitalist world.

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Capitalism in lockdown also meant the pressure to create. I know I found it hard to do anything bordering on creativity during lockdown. Were you the same until you went to Cape Cod?

I was. The first part of lockdown — the first four or five months — was so hard. I was stunted creatively because of the shock. I was finally also processing a breakup that I had escaped by leaving all the time and kept keeping myself busy. I was really not creative and more [focused on] doing a lot of personal work to try and understand how I was feeling. So when I arrived in this Summerland, it was like I had already gone to the depths of hell internally. It was like crawling out of a volcano when I arrived there.

How much did it help to have another person to bounce off? Even if you weren’t sharing ideas necessarily, just sharing even the simplest conversation.

So incredibly powerful. So much of Loose Future is about that very thing: the sweetness of a friend or lover, those sweet things that became so apparent during that time, and how necessary those relationships are.

Did you go there with any thoughts about writing songs?

I didn’t, actually. I was primarily painting during the first few months. I couldn’t do my normal craft. It didn’t make sense to me. So much of my music is socially oriented. I write the songs alone, primarily, and I’m usually alone when I write them, but they’re fed by humans — things happening in my life, personal and heart-involved things. So I didn’t write for the first half of 2020, the longest period of time that I didn’t write. And as soon as I got [to Cape Cod], it was like clockwork. I just felt so much. Seeing a friend and spending time up there during the summer, I wrote every day. I wrote a song every morning. It felt like a mediation practice, almost.

Did you find, being under a time constraint, that you had to change the way that you wrote and processed music?

The thing is, I didn’t feel like there was any time constraint. That whole time, I was supposed to be touring the record that I had just put out, Old Flowers, and suddenly my whole schedule was canceled. I felt like I had the most time in the world. Suddenly a song a day didn’t seem so daunting or hard. If anything, it made me freer; there wasn’t pressure to make the best song, because I only had five days off on tour. It was just endless months of being able to practice my creative creativity every day.

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There’s obviously a sonic shift on this record; things are more expansive. Were there other records you were looking to as touchstones?

[Paul Simon’s] Graceland was thrown out a lot, just for percussion sounds. I really wanted a record with a driving beat, percussive, not like the traditional rock kit. But more than harkening back, I think both of us [Andrews and producer Sam Evian] wanted to look forward and not try and make something that was a throwback. I’ve made lots of records with classic sounds, and we wanted to shy away from anything being too overtly classic.

You moved around a lot during the making of this album: between New York, Cape Cod, and Bisbee, Arizona. How much of that was an intentional attempt to change your mindset and outlook while you were creating?

I’m extremely sensitive to environment. Environments impact me a lot, and going to new places is going to affect how I write and how my songs sound. This record was very slow in one sense — I was in these places for months — so it was like I was slowly getting to know a place. Bisbee is a place I have gone back to again and again. It’s a place I went as a teenager, and since I grew up in Arizona, it was this sort of sanctuary. It’s a place dedicated to art in the purest sense, and I feel so comfortable creating there because of that. Nobody’s doing it for the riches and the fame. They are just creating to create. Writing a song or two there for Loose Future just made sense; every time I’m there, I can’t help but make music. It’s in the air, and in this really powerful and pure way.

Can you tell me a little about Bisbee? Because all I knew about it, before learning you spent some time there, was that the comedian Doug Stanhope lives there.

[Laughs] I know Doug! Doug is Bisbee in the truest sense. It’s a place full of unhinged freaks, which is why I love it so much. Nobody is trying to be the cool kid; they’re all just themselves — like, the most distilled version of themselves. The town allows you to be that, which is so rare these days. I think that’s why I love it so much. It doesn’t feel like it’s trying to be anything but itself, and I think that’s why it’s such a beautiful place.

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How Courtney Marie Andrews learned to let the light in