by: Thomas D. Mooney
Early last week, we caught up with singer-songwriter Andrew Combs to talk about his latest album, All These Dreams, his songwriting process, and his progression as a young up-and-coming songwriter.
Combs will be performing at The Blue Light on Wednesday, April 22 along with Caitlin Rose and Benton Leachman. Pre-sale tickets are still currently available here.
Watch/Listen to “Nothing to Lose” from All These Dreams below.
New Slang: OK. This may sound weird, but I think there’s definitely some truth to it. Your latest album, All These Dreams, it doesn’t sound nearly as depressing or as despondent as Worried Man was.
Andrew Combs: [Laughs].
NS: I mean, there are moments of lonesomeness on this album, but overall, it feels like these songs and the general feel, it’s a little more hopeful. There’s some redemption in there. When you were writing these songs, seeing these songs be collected, did you realize that there was more of a positive outlook?
AC: Yeah. It was kind of what I was going through. I was coming out of a stranger, darker chapter of my life. Really trying to figure out who I was–still doing that. I do love a good sad song so there’s still some sadness, but I did want everything to have that glimmer of hope. On “Rainy Day Song,” “Pearl,” and “Nothing to Lose,” it’s all hopeful while at the same time being sad.
NS: Yeah. I think a part of that is also the sound of the album. You could say that the album is more polished–in a good way. The arrangements and melodies are really lush. I think you can hear moments on Worried Man, but in comparison, All These Dreams are much bigger. Was that something you knew you wanted to expand on this time around?
AC: Yeah. With Worried Man, I only had enough money to record two songs a month for six months. And I had been writing them kind of along the way. It was very much “write a song, record it and don’t take too much time to think about it.” Also, I’m a firm believer in never making the same record twice. I wanted to do something different and more thought out. I hired some producers, Skylar [Wilson] and Jordan [Lehning], and we just had fun with it. I guess it does sound a bit more lush, but I really wanted to do something I had never done before.
NS: I think the lyrics to your songs are phenomenal. I’ve had a few conversations with friends about specific lines in your songs that just pop out. One of my favorite lines is from “Foolin’.” It’s the “But if I can’t stand for something, they say I guess you’re good for nothing.” I know you’ve talked about the song before being commentary on social media. But I think it’s really the first song in country or Americana that talks about social media in a smart way.
AC: Thanks. You mean that talks about it but it’s just using words like cell phone, texts, and things like that?
NS: Yeah. Exactly. I kind of feel that Americana and country are a little behind on that. I mean, it is 2015, but rarely does anyone actually talk about modern technology even though it’s obviously a part of our daily lives.
AC: I totally agree. I think that it’s something that needs to be, I don’t know, I guess expanded upon. I always get frustrated with the state of–and obviously, commercial country is totally a different beast–but when looking at Americana or country, I’m just tired of people talking about trains, drinking, and crying in your beer. I mean, it’s fine and great, but I’d rather listen to Lefty Frizzell do it. I like hearing about new and interesting things. Whether it’s about technology or whatever. One of my favorite writers is a friend of mine, Johnny Fritz. He talks about stuff that no one else talks about. It’s going to alienate some people right now, but in the long run, he’s going to be looked at as a really great songwriter.
NS: Yeah. I’ve listened to a few of his records. Perfect example of not being the status quo. Another aspect of this record that may not be noticeable right off the top, but I feel helps create a great pace to the album is that the majority of the songs are in that three-and-a-half minute range. How important was that to you when making the album? Or did you really not think much about it?
AC: I don’t know. I honestly didn’t think about it. I’ve always drifted that way. I never want a song to take too long. I don’t know, it might have something to do with being in Nashville. It’s definitely a three-and-a-half minute kind of town. I think it may have just been ingrained in me.
NS: Yeah. So the first two songs I heard from this album, they were acoustic versions of “Rainy Day Song” and “Month of Bad Habits.” They were from some American Songwriter sessions that you had done. Obviously, it’s just you and your guitar, so it’s a little more dark and sparse. The studio cuts, they’re a little more full. Was that what you had in mind from the get go–that fuller sound–or was that something that evolved as the song got older and something you guys expanded on when recording them?
AC: It was kind of both. With “Rainy Day Song,” I definitely heard the arrangement when I was writing it. “Month of Bad Habits,” that came together during preproduction–especially with that outro and the strings. There’s some tension in the guitar and pedal steel. We didn’t spend a lot of time, but we spent a couple of days doing preproduction with the songs. That’s where a lot of the arrangements got a lot of their finer tuning.
NS: I know you’ve been doing a bunch of traveling as of late. Playing a bunch of shows with the release of the record. Are you a songwriter who is able to actually write on the road or do you need to be at home and have your space to think? Some structure if you will.
AC: Yeah, I do need a little bit of structure. I collect a lot of ideas on the road, but I hardly have the time to sit down and be alone. It’s hard when you have a band with you. If I’m playing solo, then I can sometimes. You always think you’re going to have a little bit of time personal time, but you never do. You think that you have 23 hours of doing nothing–driving–and one hour of actually doing your job, you’d be able to find some time, but no. I’m also the kind of songwriter who needs to write a lot of songs to get one that I’m actually happy with.
NS: I’ve seen you talk about the writer Larry Brown before and how you’re a fan. You got a title of a song from one of his books, “Big Bad Love” on Worried Man. Reading is really one of best things you can do when you’re a writer. It seems simple and a fairly logical thing to do. How important of a role do you think that’s played in your own progression as a songwriter?
AC: I definitely agree. I think it helps put different characters in your head that maybe you’re not experiencing. I’m a middle-class white kid from Dallas, Texas. I’ve had the same parents. I’ve not gone through any turmoil. Reading about different things and reading someone else’s use of language, it’s educating. It can be inspiring. Sometimes, I’ll see a phrase or a line and I think, “Let’s try and write a song around that.” That’s kind of like with the “Big Bad Love” thing. It wasn’t about that collection of short stories, but I saw that and thought it had a nice ring to it.
NS: You’re from Dallas. When you’re a songwriter from Texas, you come from a long lineage of storied songwriters. The Townes Van Zandts, Guy Clarks, Willie Nelsons. You know what I mean. But I think you personally have been able to blend the sounds and style of guys like Jackson Browne and Paul Simon into that as well. You think this was just something that came natural to you? Did you grow up on these various songwriters or did you have to go out and discover them for yourself?
AC: I kind of grew up with my parents listening to people like Jackson Browne, Paul Simon, and people in that kind of world. Kind of the California folky thing. I discovered on my own the Guy Clarks and Townes Van Zandts. In high school, I had a buddy who turned me on to Guy Clark. I just liked their lyrical approach and kind of the musical approach from the ’70s folk music. It kind of came together that way.