In the four years since releasing her debut album, Urban Myths, North Phoenix native singer/songwriter Courtney Marie Andrews has toured the country with Jimmy Eat World (including a performance at Coachella), been featured in a top style/culture magazine (Nylon, earlier this year), and recorded three more albums. Oh, and she also turned 21 in November.
Speaking over the phone, Andrews is very much what you'd expect a young indie-folk singer to be; her speech is soft, sweet, and often interrupted by a cute little laugh. But Andrews' latest effort, No One's Slate Is Clean, scheduled to be released just hours after our conversation, reveals a spikier, sharper voice.
Love, heartache, and relationships — themes that seem to flood the majority of her first three albums — still very much apply here, but the "this song is about a dude" interpretation is definitely less obvious and more interwoven.
"[With] my first three records, I think I was a lot more vulnerable to those things. With this new record, I feel like I have a broader sense of love and relationships. You know, everyone might get something different from it. A song that might be about love to one person will mean something completely different for me. It's probably best as an artist, in my opinion, not to tell people what [a record] should be and let them, you know, have their own representations of the songs."
"A lot of [this record] is really about traveling," Andrews says. Though Andrews is speaking literally — having wrapped up a JEW tour in July and returned on a train tour around Europe after — it's clear that Andrews' emotional travels also have shaped the album.
"Let's not talk about things that we can break / There's no going back once it's made / No taking back the things we say / My mind the critic has nothing to complain about / I have nothing to say," she sings on "Bumper in the Hail," bolstered by swelling, expansive rock production. The song sounds enormous, a far cry from her first records, which were recorded in a friend's bedroom.
Credit producer Chris Testa, who has worked on many albums including Jimmy Eat World's Chase This Light and Dixie Chicks' Taking the Long Way, for pushing Andrews in new sonic directions.
"He's done a lot of great records. He actually won a Grammy for a Dixie Chicks album. I mean, of course, he suits to every person he records so it doesn't sound like a Dixie Chicks record, which is totally okay with me. [laughs] But, anyway. It sounds like me, but better. The quality, the production. It's the first time we've had the songs together before recording. Beforehand, it was me and one other person in the room trying to be the band. And this time it was a bit different. We recorded live as a band, and had everything [arranged beforehand], which always makes for a different sound."
Andrews laughs off congratulations. "I'm trying," she says.
But playing Conan, Letterman, and Coachella is pretty fucking major for someone just "trying." "The first show I played with them was Letterman, so it was pretty 'everything all at once.'"
With only six hours until No One's Slate Is Clean's release, I probe Andrews for some schoolgirl giddiness or, at the very least, a deep breath in and out. Instead, she seems unfazed, speaking with considerable confidence and maturity. "Yeah, I'm excited. It's just kinda, you know, the record is done and I'm already thinking of the next one."