AN INTIMATE CONVERSATION
Thousands of songs have been written about heartbreak but on her latest album, Old Flowers, Courtney Marie Andrews has found a captivating way to breathe honesty and intimacy into the subject matter.
By Chris Familton
It’s late in the afternoon in Nashville, TN and Courtney Marie Andrews is reflecting on her past few weeks of isolation as the coronavirus pandemic sweeps across the United States of America. “I’m taking it day by day, as well as you can,” she says, before turning her thoughts to the livestream performances she’s been doing. “I was pleasantly surprised by them. At first I was like “Oh God!” and for the first one we had a few technical difficulties but once we got on there we found there were people interacting and it felt like a communal thing. It’s a positive filler for right now but I certainly hope it’s not forever as there’s nothing quite like playing in a room with people.”
Old Flowers is Andrews’ reflection, dissection and way out of a nine year relationship in which “we taught each other, grew up together, we were family.” That seismic event in her personal life meant she had little choice in the writing of these songs. “I honestly didn’t have much time to think twice about it. A lot of them were written in under ten minutes. It was such a long and meaningful relationship in my life that letting go of it was all I could write about. Even if I wanted to write another type of song I just couldn’t. These were the type of songs that came out and I just embraced it.”
From our conversation it’s clear that the whole journey of writing and recording Old Flowers has been an integral part of navigating her heartbreak and being at peace with where she is now. “The feelings in these songs felt fresh and recording them felt like the final chapter of this book in my life. In each of these moments I was acting as my own therapist and it was very cathartic.”
We don’t often hear the other side of these types of songs – the other half of the broken relationship. Andrews was sensitive to the way her ex would react to the album. “I mentioned to him that I would keep him anonymous. I didn’t want him to feel like his name was about to be spread across the world,” she laughs. “I told him about the album and he said that he honestly probably wouldn’t listen to it for a long time. Which I think is very fair.”
Aside from Andrews and her producer Andrew Sarlo, the only other people in the studio were multi-instrumentalist Matt Davison, and James Krivchenia (Big Thief) who added drums and percussion. “It was mainly just Matt and I performing in a room and that felt like an intimate conversation,” says Andrews. “A lot of the songs were Matt and I going around different instruments and trying to inspire ourselves in different ways and that enabled us to get the most real versions of the songs.”
Andrews spent many of her formative musical years as a backup singer for other artists, learning how to “be a good leader and mold myself into other people’s projects”. It also gave her the conviction to write her own songs and do her own thing.
As well as dealing with social distancing and isolation, Andrews is also mourning the loss of a friend and mentor with the recent death of John Prine, who she was lucky enough to perform with. I ask her what one of the key things was that he taught her about songwriting… “Oh man, he’s a heavyweight. I can’t even begin… If I had to give you one word it would be humanity. That’s what I’m always trying to reach in my songs. If I’ve felt it then someone else certainly has. It’s just the way of the world. He’s a big dealer in songs about that. I am so grateful to have learned that from him. He’s written songs that will be in the songbook for a long time, if not forever.”
Old Flowers, will be released July 24 on Fat Possum Records.