Courtney Marie Andrews is always in flux, and she wouldn’t have it any other way. The Phoenix-born and -raised folk artist has spent the better part of her adult life in some state of movement, never lingering in one place for too long. Though Arizona will always be home – “It’s nice to see people that knew you before you were you,” she says – her roving lifestyle lends well to the music she creates. It’s this constant change that has inspired her latest record, the brilliant and multifaceted Honest Life, a body of work that’s equal parts coming-of-age and full-throated, fleshed-out Americana. We spoke to Andrews by phone as she hustled down the I-5 freeway, on the road from Los Angeles to San Diego as part of her tour supporting Honest Life.
New Times: This record kind of feels like a journey in the way it’s sequenced. How did that change from Phoenix to Duvall [Washington] to Belgium and back manifest itself in your songs?
Courtney Marie Andrews: I think it all manifests and ties around living a sort of transient lifestyle, which I feel like I’ve lived for the past 10 years. I haven’t lived anywhere longer than six months. It’s very much true to my lifestyle, and realizing what that means, and a lot of songs kind of revolve around that.
So why is that? Why have you not stayed somewhere longer than six months?
I am in love with change, that’s why. I love to constantly be put in the position of not knowing what can happen.
You know, I remember when you were on River Jones back in the day and it was you, Steff & The Articles, and a lot of these younger bands that embodied the new Arizona sound. How did Phoenix help shape your sound?
I definitely feel more of a connection to Arizona now than when I lived there, just realizing my roots because of traveling so much, realizing how strange and different it is to grow up in the Southwest. It’s a pretty barren place, and so I always felt like I had to fill it with something, and that’s definitely where my drive to write songs and travel came from.
So where exactly did you grow up in Phoenix?
Like North Phoenix. Around 19th Avenue and Union Hills, that area.
There’s not a lot of – I hesitate to say culture – but there isn’t much to do up there in comparison to mid-city or downtown Phoenix.
No, no, I grew up in suburbia; there’s absolutely nothing to do.
It’s like a Harkins Theatres and a PetSmart and there’s nothing else.
[laughs] That’s exactly it, and everyone would hang out at the Harkins Theatres at night.
What were you kind of listening to when you were growing up then, what music was shaking you to your core?
Well, when I was a younger teenager, and I first asked for an electric guitar from my mom, I was really into punk music. Is that strange?
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No, no, it’s not, it’s what a lot of us get into early on.
The reason I started to get into songwriting was because I was in this feminist punk band when I was a kid and I told all the girls in the band that we all had to write songs as a band, and my plan was to all do writing, but when we’d all get together, I was the only one that would come up with songs. I kept going because it felt good, and I was playing at coffee shops around Phoenix when someone told me that I was playing folk music. It was strange because I had never heard that term, like “What is that?” So I looked it up and that was it – I loved Meiko and stuff like that.
A lot of folk musicians can often romanticize the nature of simplistic small-town life without ever really immersing themselves in it. Was your move to Duvall more of a reaction to that which was happening around you, or was it to study the American way that you sing about?
To be honest, I did not choose to move to Duvall, it just sort of happened. It wasn’t out of romanticizing living in a small town, but at that time it was just where financially it was the only place I could afford to live. But it ended up working out, because I had been touring for so long and seeing different cities every day that [Duvall] was exactly what I needed, just to be far away from everything.
From the time you spent there, what character or story from Duvall stood out to you the most?
I was bartending in town so I met a lot of amazing characters and people. I don’t know when [my label] is planning on releasing the music video, but one of my regulars, her name was Dancing Debbie, she’s a beautiful woman who dances to music all the time, and my music video is just her dancing to my music. I feel like sometimes I relate more to those people than musicians in some ways, because they’re just real with you.
I read that you spent a year and a half shopping this record around, and as someone who writes a way of life or their own way of life, it has to be pretty difficult to wait to release something that’s wholly your own.
You know, that was my first time going for that kind of thing, shopping a record around avidly, and it is really frustrating. That’s why I realized it’s better to go to people who are 100 percent on board and stoked about the record, because it’s just not worth my time to convince anybody that it’s good. It brought me down; all it did was make me sad. At the end of it, I just go with the people that are stoked, and I just feel right about that.