Andrew Combs ‘s new album Ideal man embodies ‘a sense of danger and violence, much as it does the entire country’. Yet chatting with the sing-songwriter revealed the many facets within which Combs experiments. He has an inquisitive mind, and as he cleaned his bathroom floor, he shared some of his thoughts on influences, what makes recording sessions memorable and how to stay inspired over the phone.
How did you get started?
My dad is a piano player and my cousin was like a brother. He played in bands growing up and later on professionally. He gave me my first guitar and my dad taught me my first songs. I was initially really into electronic music, but when I was in middle school and early high school it went from Aphex Twin to Radiohead to Oasis, and became gradually more and more song-oriented, I guess.
In late high school I got into the singer-songwriter thing and that inspired me to move to Nashville. I’ve been trying to keep it interesting for myself and the audience - which is why my records all sound different. I try not to do the same thing over and over again.
Is there a song writing culture in Nashville that’s influenced you?
Yes, definitely. When I moved to Nashville in 2006, I came for the school of country and folk music, and to write for other people. I quickly realised that the songs I like aren’t the biggest money makers. The writing in town is very structured and formulaic - not in a bad way, but the standard is something like: verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus. They write from the title, or find a tag line from the title. That’s also where I came from but lately I’ve been trying to mix it up as I got bored by it. Looking back, I guess I’ve gone back to where I started in music, with the Britpop kind of thing and electronic music, breaking forms and trying new stuff.
Who are you listening to at the moment that’s really inspiring you?
The guy who produced my newest record, Ideal Man, is called Sam Cohen [a Berklee Alumni]. I was really inspired by everything he has done as an artist and a producer.
I’ve been more inspired by the sonic quality of certain kinds of music right now, which is what I was talking about in reference to Sam Cohen. I’ve been digging Luke Timball’s records lately. He does all the instrumentation and lyrics, and it’s genre bending and form breaking, which is nice to hear.
If you could ask anyone alive or dead one question, what would you ask?
I don’t know if I’d want to ask a question, but I’d love to have a conversation with Leonard Cohen about religion, or his favourite wine. Something that makes these godlike people actual humans.
Do you have a writing process?
I used to have a process more than I do now. At the moment I work more like a painter, throwing stuff against the wall and seeing what sticks and what reveals itself. I used to write from a title, and use it as the tag line, but I’ve moved away from that. I don’t really have a process - it varies. Not sure what the standard is for me.
Can you share your most memorable studio experiences?
They’re all memorable in certain ways. Me and three guys who played in my band travelled to a studio in Brooklyn from Nashville. It was just us four, and that was awesome. The records before were just as fun. I try to surround myself with inspiring people and people I call friends, all because I need it to be fun. They’re all memorable, I think.
What advice do you have for your younger self?
I’m still trying to figure out how to not care what other people think. That’s my biggest thing to overcome as a person. And write from the heart, but that’s all under the same umbrella.
How do you #getinthegroove?
Usually by being teed off by something such as a melody or lyric, but being alone also helps. I have a shed behind my house which I insulated, and I can go out there and get away from whatever is going on in the house with the family, have a glass of wine or cup of coffee and try and hunker down. Reminding yourself that this is an enjoyable job and not a chore is also helpful.
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