Okay, so Phoenix singer-songwriter Courtney Marie Andrews doesn't literally read passages from her diary to audiences around the Valley. But the heartfelt — and occasionally uncomfortable — honesty in Andrews' lyrics is something one might find in a private journal. Andrews compares her lyrics to diary entries and admits that she struggles to express herself without revealing too many personal details.
"I'm very bad with that," she says. "I'm never vague in my songs, and people tend to know when the song is about them. I pinpoint people, which is kinda bad. But, I mean, it's the only way I feel I can fulfill my artistic ability . . . I wrote this really mean song about somebody when they made me upset, and they totally knew, and they totally confronted me about it, too. It was horrible but, I don't know, I guess I was just honest, so there's really nothing else I can do."
So far, honesty really does seem to be the best policy for Andrews. Just a couple of months removed from high school, the 18-year-old songstress is already preparing to release her second album, Painter's Hands and a Seventh Son, this weekend. Like her 2008 debut, Urban Myths, the new album is being released by River Jones Music, which is quickly becoming a popular home for Arizona folk musicians and singer-songwriters. RJM founder River Jones met Andrews last year at Holgas Art Gallery in downtown Phoenix and signed her soon thereafter.
"Courtney encourages me to do things," Jones says when asked if he would encourage Andrews to scale back the personal nature of some of her lyrics. "I just let her do her art and I record it."
Painter's Hands is a 14-song collection of polished coffeehouse folk that showcases not only Andrews' lyrical honesty, but her powerful singing voice and songwriting chops. The album also features guest appearances from a bevy of fellow Valley musicians. Mitch Freedom of local indie rockers What Laura Says plays cello and Megyn of Dry River Yacht Club contributes violin. There's also a duet with Tucson troubadour (and RJM labelmate) Asher Deaver. Still, for the most part, the album is a sparse, intimate showcase for Andrews' acoustic guitar strumming and soul-baring vocals.
It's not a flawless effort. A line like "I refuse to breathe when society tells me to breathe" is an over-the-top expression of teen angst typically found on screamo records. But for the majority of the album, Andrews displays a sense of maturity and understated grace rare for artists her age.
Andrews says she has been singing for as long as she can remember and picked up a guitar when she was 14.
"I think the reason I got the guitar was so I could write my own songs," she says. "I've always wanted to be a songwriter. When I was little, I would write little a cappella songs and stuff, without guitar. So it's always kind of been in the back of my mind . . . I actually didn't really know what kind of music I was playing. I kinda just sang and played guitar over it, and then somebody said one day when I was about 15 or 16, 'You know, that kinda sounds like folk music.' Then I branched out and listened to all these great bands that are considered folk or modern folk, but I don't know if I really consider myself folk. I mean, it's just music, I guess. I'm just playing my songs."
Andrews attended Barry Goldwater High School in northwest Phoenix before transferring to the nearby Arizona Conservatory for Arts and Academics for her junior and senior years. At 15, she landed her first gig at Fiddler's Dream Coffee House, in January 2006. Since then, she's played shows throughout the Valley, from downtown art venues like Trunk Space and Modified Arts to venerable Tempe dive bar the Yucca Tap Room.
"They assumed that I was 21, so they started handing me drink tokens," she says with a laugh.
Andrews also recently wrapped up a West Coast tour that took her through California, Oregon, Washington, and Utah. She played mostly coffee shops and smaller venues on the tour, which would seem to suit her style of music perfectly but also presents a unique set of challenges.
"The audience hears every mistake when it's just you and a guitar," Andrews says. "It's so intimate. You can hear all the lyrics. It's so brutally personal that I think sometimes it makes people uncomfortable. It's really hard, at first, to just be you onstage."
Ah, yes, the lyrics. When Andrews sings about hitching a ride with a cokehead or exploring "the geography of one another's bodies" with a past lover, it would appear that she's done a lot of living in her 18 years. They're the kind of lyrics that would presumably cause a mother to wince, but Andrews says her mom has been open-minded and supportive throughout her brief career, even inquiring about which songs are directed at whom. Andrews also knows that by opening herself up so much, she runs the risk of fending off an overzealous fan or two who might think they "know" her by virtue of listening to her confessional lyrics. But ultimately, she takes comfort in the fact that people relate to her intimate style of storytelling.
"It's weird sometimes, but honestly, it makes me feel real good because I know that everyone has had similar experiences. I don't feel like I'm completely messed up to the fact where somebody doesn't feel that same way. I just feel like humans all endure the same emotional ups and downs of life. I don't know. Maybe mine might be a little bit more extreme, or theirs might be a little bit more extreme, but I think they're all pretty similar."