“Just Enough Time to Lose Your Mind”: An Interview with Andrew Combs
Andrew Combs’ first full-length record, released late last year, flew under a lot of radars – including ours. But better late than never. Worried Man is an alt-country gem that’ll hit fans of Justin Townes Earle and Pneumonia-era Whiskeytown in their musical sweet spot. At 26, the Texas-born, Nashville-based singer-songwriter is still young, but his songwriting is mature beyond his years as he draws from a wide variety of influences ranging from Blaze Foley to Flannery O’Connor.
Combs is currently out for a brief (“sixteen days: just enough time to lose your mind,” he jokes) tour with Caitlin Rose; we caught up with him outside of Washington DC for a brief interview.
I’m hearing a lot of different sounds on Worried Man from gritty blues to folk and pop. Who were you listening to while working on the material for this album?
I was all over the place for that record. My go-to guys will probably never change: Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt, Blaze Foley, and Kris Kristofferson. But I listened to a lot of Tony Joe White, Ray Wylie Hubbard, and a lot of Jackson Browne and the Eagles.
I also love Southern Gothic literature. Flannery O’Connor is one of my favorite writers, so some of that is on here, too.
There’s a shift in sound from the Tennessee Time EP to Worried Man. How did that happen?
I think a lot of it had to do with the studio and the engineer we were working with. I don’t know if “polished” is the right word, but things were more Nashville on Tennessee Time. I liked it, but I was looking for something different. I got together with Mike Odmark, who engineered and co-produced Worried Man with me.
For the most part, the band and I recorded it live in the studio. There were a handful of songs that I redid the vocals. We made the record over the course of six months because I didn’t have any money. I kept my day job, working in a restaurant, and I would save up enough to cut two songs each month. So we recorded eleven or twelve songs over the course of six months, and then it took another six to eight months to master it. I had it for a long time before the record was released.
These days you’re a staff writer for Razor & Tie. Has your songwriting process changed with the new job?
It enabled me to quit my day job, not so much the touring. All my heroes have been staff writers, so I figured I should try it, at least. I think my work has gotten better, just from the sole fact that I write more songs. The more songs you write, the better you’ll be. And I’ve gotten into co-writing, because that’s really Nashville and staff writer-ish, but I still write a lot by myself.
Tell me about the title track, which stops just short of a murder ballad. The character in the song ends up shooting a straying woman in the ankles so she can’t dance with anyone else.
That one was pretty wild to write. I was in Austin at my cousin’s house. I wanted to write that night and he didn’t have any coffee, so I ended up taking far too many caffeine pills, which isn’t really rock and roll. I don’t know if you’ve ever taken too many caffeine pills, but you can really tweak out on ‘em. I don’t think I even touched the guitar; I just paced up and down their patio writing that song in my head. It was kind of a frightening time. I’m the farthest from a violent person, but I thought the song was pretty cool. I’ve always wanted to write something like that.
What’s next for you? Are you working on new material?
I’ve got half an album written, maybe more. I’d like to at least start thinking about it in the fall. When I’ve got eleven songs that I feel are good enough to record, I’ll go back in the studio. Right now, I’ve only got about six. It’s tough to write on the road. I get a lot of ideas and save them until I get back and can indulge them. I need to get back to Nashville, hunker down, and do some writing.
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