A road warrior since her teens, Courtney Marie Andrews kicked off her career as a sidewoman, touring the country as Jimmy Eat World's backup singer before she could legally drink. The resume has grown since then, but it's Andrews' own music – a blend of Laurel Canyon folk-rock and countercultural country, delivered in a voice that wails, warbles and woos – that steals the spotlight, turning the former hired gun into one the sharpest-shooting songwriters in the Americana underground.
As the guest on this week's episode of Walking the Floor, Andrews talks about an adolescence spent behind a guitar and in front of a crowd. She also swaps Greyhound horror stories with host Chris Shiflett, recalls her days as a teenage street busker and explains why songwriting is a lot like fishing. Our list of highlights from the pair's 35-minute conversation is below, followed by the premiere of Walking the Floor's 70th episode.
Courtney was a punk rocker.
"Punk was the reason I started writing songs," says the Arizona native, who formed a punk band during her final years of middle school. Since neither of her bandmates wrote songs, Andrews stepped up to the plate, infusing an appreciation for Bikini Bill, the Distillers and the Clash into her very first songs. "I was probably 13," she remembers.
She was also a teenage busker.
One summer during her high school years, Andrews hit the Pacific Coast Highway, tracing a line along the Pacific Ocean in a buddy's SUV.
"My friend Thomas has a Suburban," she remembers, "and he had a battery operated PA. We made this plan that summer to drive up the coast." They stopped at beach boardwalks, college campuses and any public space that would welcome them, paying for gas by selling CD-Rs of their original songs out of guitar cases.
She stumbled into her indie-folk career by accident.
Andrews went solo at 15 years old, buying a cheap recording system from Best Buy and making acoustic demos of her newest batch of songs. It was only after uploading the songs to an online music forum that the punk fanatic realized she was making a different kind of music.
"Someone commented and said, 'You make really great folk music,' and honest to God, I didn't know what folk music was," she remembers, dubbing the genre "accidental folk music." She quickly did her research, though, falling in love with the greats – from Lucinda Williams to Townes Van Zandt – and diving headfirst into the genre.
How, exactly, does a teenage folk singer become a member of Jimmy Eat World's touring band?
"Jim [Adkins] came out to a few shows, and he needed someone to sing on their latest record," says Andrews, who was already playing as a solo act when she caught the attention of Jimmy Eat World's frontman. "I was about 19 at the time."
After impressing Adkins with her voice, Andrews sang on nearly a half-dozen tracks on Jimmy Eat World's Invented, then joined the band on tour throughout 2011 and 2012. After returning home, additional offers came pouring in, with Andrews eventually singing backup for more than 40 artists.
For Andrews, songwriting is a lot like fishing.
"I'd say I'm somebody that's always writing," she tells Shiflett. "You know, if you're going fishing, you don't know what fish you're gonna get, unless you're always fishing. . .If I'm always casting my line, then I'll pick up a bunch of different types of songs."
The song on Andrews' latest album, Honest Life, were inspired by the stories she picked up as a bartender. . .but Andrews could write another record about her tales as a bus rider.
"I've never met the level of characters that I've met on a Greyhound bus," she says, listing a four-night haul from Phoenix to New York City as one of her many Greyhound trips. "Just absolute insanity. I met these hookers who were abducted by a pimp, and they wanted to sing harmonies with me because they saw I had a guitar. So I was in the back of a bus with these hookers, singing whatever R&B song they wanted to sing."