Ingrid Andress has had a surreal spring by any metric. In early March, a tornado badly damaged the 28-year-old singer-songwriter’s Nashville apartment building and forced her to find temporary housing. A week later, her high-profile opening slot on Dan + Shay’s world tour came to an abrupt halt after just three shows as the COVID-19 pandemic put live events on indefinite hiatus.
At the same time, she was experiencing some major career milestones. Her full-length album Lady Like was released via Warner Music Nashville on March 27th and her single “More Hearts Than Mine” reached the top of the Mediabase country airplay chart in late April — a far-too-rare accomplishment for any woman working in country. With hugs and high-fives out of the question, Andress’ team threw her a parade on the street outside her new apartment.
“Everybody drove by and it was very sweet. And it was kind of a bummer too, because in country music it takes a very long time, especially for a new artist, to climb the charts. So this has been like a year of grinding,” Andress says, calling from the beach in Alabama where she headed for a change of scenery. “Still social distancing,” she insists, “but with water.”
With online consumption of her work swiftly on the rise — there are nearly 35 million streams of “More Hearts Than Mine” on Spotify alone — Andress has landed at Number 15 on Rolling Stone‘s Breakthrough 25 chart, which ranks up-and-coming artists by their growth in streams. It all points back to the steady growth of “More Hearts Than Mine,” which had a solid start in 2019: SiriusXM named Andress a “Highway Find” and put the song into rotation, while terrestrial radio made it the most-added track the week of its release. A fragile ballad depicting family as potential collateral damage in any breakup scenario, “More Hearts Than Mine” immediately stood out among the summertime, uptempo party songs also vying for airplay.
“It just showed that a good song prevails — doesn’t matter what kind it is or whatever, or who sings it,” Andress says. “Country music is really about storytelling and, at least for me, it has been. To me, it was a sign that people are ready to have meaningful songs on the radio.”
A few years back, Andress, who was raised in Colorado, was a Berklee College of Music student studying composition. In an effort to make new friends, she joined up with an a cappella group that was invited to compete on NBC’s The Sing Off.
“I knew nothing about a cappella. [It] was something that really tightened my skills as a vocalist because you have to be really on pitch and really dynamic,” she says. “It was almost like training me to record music.”
Andress caught the ear of pro songwriter Kara DioGuardi (Kelly Clarkson’s “Walk Away,” Christina Aguilera’s “Ain’t No Other Man”), who was one of her instructors at Berklee. DioGuardi took on a mentor role for Andress, encouraging her to keep going with her writing.
“She was really the one that prompted me to take songwriting more seriously,” Andress says. “When I first met her I was like, ‘I’m just gonna move to L.A. and be a singer, comedian, whatever,’ and she was like, ‘I think you could actually do this.’ So that’s why I wanted to move to Nashville — to get better at songwriting.”
Prior to her solo career taking flight, Andress moved back and forth between Nashville and Los Angeles co-writing songs for others, including Charli XCX’s “Boys” and Lauren Jenkins’ “No Saint.”
That varied background is evident all over Lady Like, which ranges from the defiant, soaring title track to the quirky “Bad Advice” and the vulnerable current single “The Stranger.” They’re lyrically rich songs, conversational and story-driven the way the best country songs often are, but Andress — who co-produced the album — also tries to work in a broader melodic palette when she’s writing.
“Sometimes I get bored with how country music only uses the same four chords. As a musician, I’m like, ‘Ugh, do I have to limit myself to that?'” she says. “It’s really more of, ‘How can I push the sonic boundary and create something I actually want to listen to?’ I love the stories in country music, but the melodies and the chords are just so overused that I just get like, ‘I would listen to that song more if it was a little more interesting, musically.'”
So far, the strategy is working: Lady Like is now the highest streamed country debut album by a woman and continues to pick up steam. Andress is also supposed to open shows on Tim McGraw’s summer tour, though those dates may end up being canceled due to the pandemic. With everything on hold, it’s been tough for Andress to make heads or tails of all her recent milestones.
“When I hear those accomplishments, I’m like, ‘Oh cool. That may have happened? But it may not? Who knows?'” she says. “It doesn’t really change what I’m doing today, or ever. It’s hard to get any emotion from it when you can’t see anybody or interact.”