Courtney Marie Andrews began her professional music career young. While many of her peers were piling equipment into vans and fighting to survive, she was on tour buses with hometown heroes Jimmy Eat World as a background vocalist. She then toured Europe as a background vocalist for Belgian pop-star Milo.
Still just 27 years old, she has now penned six full-length solo albums, including this year’s May Your Kindness Remain, named by Rolling Stone Country in June as one of the “25 Best Country and Americana records of the year so far.”
Before her return to Birmingham, she talked with Jefferson County Journal about being discovered by Jimmy Eat World’s Jim Adkins in their hometown years ago, and about how it prepared her to accomplish so much at such a young age.
You’ve been doing this for so long, and you’re still so young. What attracted you to this business at such a young age?
When I was a kid, I loved to write and I loved to sing and I loved to travel, so when I figured out that you could do all of them together as a career, it was a no-brainer.
Were you around a lot of music when you were young? Were your parents musicians themselves?
No, I wasn’t. I was just drawn to it. I saw Annie and that’s what I wanted to do.
You’ve been really prolific, with six studio albums already — do you ever have writer’s block? Does it always just keep flowing? Are you always writing?
I feel like I’m constantly thinking about songs, if not writing them. It’s just a part of my day-to-day routine in some way — at least writing in a journal or that sort of thing. I just always make it a point to write, and I’ve just always been that way.
When you went out on the road with Jimmy Eat World and “fell into” background singing, was that intimidating, to be on stages that large at 17 or 18 years old?
Absolutely. I had no idea how the music industry worked at that time. I pretty much thought it was just Woody Guthrie with a knapsack hopping on trains. When I found out there was all this other stuff involved, it was really intimidating.
My first show with [Jimmy Eat World] was [The Late Show with David] Letterman. So that was a lot of pressure at once, but I don’t think I would have had it any other way. I learned a lot during those years.
How valuable was that time for you, being able to spend time with a band that had already accomplished so much while you were still so young?
It was absolutely valuable — being able to learn how to tour in a professional sense and learning how to keep my independence on the road and how to perform. I was basically just learning about it all in a professional setting before that; I had a station wagon packed with friends and guitars and nothing was really set in place, just hopping from town to town. Getting that gig showed me a lot, and I don’t know where I’d be had I not gotten it. It’s hard to learn a lot when you’re growing up in Phoenix. There’s not a huge music scene there.
Jimmy Eat World is also from the Phoenix area, right?
So you crossed paths at a local show?
Yeah, I played locally a lot and Jim [Adkins, lead singer] came out to a few shows and he asked me to sing with him.
Not only is it in the title, but “kindness” is also an overarching theme of this record, which you’ve said is about depression and emotions that we all deal with. How are those two emotions, kindness and depression, interwoven?
The emotions that we express can morph and change, and they’re both things that we need to work on — empathy, depression — we all have things that we need to work on and at least have some awareness about. They’re all emotions that we all have to work through and be aware of.
Courtney Marie Andrews performs at this weekend’s Secret Stages Music Discovery Festival on Saturday, August 4 at 9:30 p.m. at the Outdoor Stage at Avondale Brewing Company. For more information, visit secretstages.net.