Ingrid Andress is, by most measures, one of the most successful upstarts in mainstream country music over the past few years. After her debut album, “Lady Like,” came out in 2020, the Michigan native was nominated for best new artist at the Grammys as well as by the CMAs and ACMs. She’s a thoughtful live-wire and a media darling — those media including the press, late-night shows and, yes, country radio. Her first single, “More Hearts Than Mine,” was a double-platinum breakout hit that went top 5 at country radio, and a recent duet with Sam Hunt, “Wishful Drinking,” went top 10. She lands coveted tour spots, like her current one opening arena shows for Keith Urban all the way into November.
So maybe her sophomore album, “Good Person,” shouldn’t feel as much like a risk as it does. But in fact Andress has been beating some odds all along — by being a woman in country, first of all, but also by being a largely balladic singer-songwriter in a format that, more often than not these days, means to throw a party. She takes some more chances on the new album by structuring it to fit the recent arc of her personal life, filling the first half with romantically wary songs that eventually land at a breakup at the halfway point… with songs about the fulfillment of finding a new love having to wait for the back half, because Andress wanted to roll them out just as things happened IRL. There are few obvious instrumental country tropes, so she’ll face even more “Isn’t this pop” questions (although that didn’t stop the success of the first album).
She seems pretty fearless about any of these things, anyway — at least until the moment in an interview when she confesses, “I hope people like it and hope people aren’t too hung up the label of it, you know? That’s probably what I’m most terrified about. But,” she adds, “it’s gonna be fine.” If being a “good person” — or good artist — actually does count for anything, it probably will. Andress spoke with Variety while she was in L.A. to premiere one of her new songs, “Feel Like This,” co-written with Julia Michaels, on Jimmy Kimmel’s show.
You’re out on tour with Keith Urban — that seems like it might be a good matchup? You’ve got a lot of ballads, so you couldn’t go in front of any kind of crowd and be able to trust you’d get some attentive ears.
Yes, it is very rare. I have to be very strategic, unfortunately, when it comes to tours, because my music is more introspective and talking about deeper feelings. And most of the time, when you go to a show, you’re trying to escape your feelings. So it’s one of those things where you have to really be intentional. his fans are awesome. I’ve been trying songs from the new album every night just to see people’s reaction, and they’re a very attentive audience, which is really nice.
Have you had a few experiences where it was the wrong headliner, or a festival where people were too drunk and crazy to sit still?
[Laughs knowingly.] Yes. My first summer back, 2021, was all outdoor festivals and they were all country music, and there were so many moments when everybody was just looking at me and I was looking at them, and we were all like: “Why are you here?” And I’m like, “I don’t know!” [Laughs.] Everyone was wasted, just wanting to hear like a beer and truck song, and I was talking about not being the life of the party because someone broke up with me, and everyone’s like, “What is happening?” So the more that I play, it makes me appreciate my fans more, because I’m starting to understand that you have to be in a certain head space; it’s definitely not your run-of-the-mill “come out and drink and party.” I mean, it is, but it’s also not. I feel like I still put on a good show and trick people into thinking that it’s happy.
Your new album is interesting to experience without foreknowledge or preconceptions. Because it is more or less split into two halves, and for the first half, you may be sitting there thinking, “Wow, I really admire her courage in making this a 100% unhappy album!” While maybe allowing that you might pull some surprises in the second half. And then, sure enough, the more positive songs start coming, and you realize that it really does have a narrative arc, where songs about a breakup are followed by songs about finding new love. There are people who’ve done that before, but it’s very, very rare.
Yeah. Who do you remember that did that?
You’ve probably never heard it, because it’s obscure, but the one that comes to mind is an album called “North” by Elvis Costello, where the whole first half of the album seems to be about his divorce and then the second half is about him meeting and falling for Diana Krall.
OK, I can’t wait to listen to that. I just wrote that in my notes. Wow, great minds… I get how that would be obscure, because most of the time, especially nowadays, everyone’s like just, “Hook ’em at the beginning. Rope ‘em in.” And I’m unfortunately not thinking that way. So it’s like, if you can make it past the sad part, then we’re good to go.
Can you talk about what went into the decision-making to structure the album where it’s about the end of one relationship first and the beginning of another one next?
Yeah. So, I am a very private person and guarded, and I’m one of those songwriters where I’m like, “Oh, everyone’s writing about love. It’s stupid.” I would like to think that I could write about other things. But fortunately and unfortunately, I’m an emotional person, and it’s really hard for me to not write about the things that I’m going through, because writing for me is very therapeutic and it helps me process my emotions. So when I was writing these songs, I had no idea that I would order them in the way that they happened. When I’m writing, I don’t think big picture; I just think, what’s good for this song? But when I was picking the songs for the album, I thought about how I actually wrote these in the timeline in which everything happened. So I feel like that tells a story in and of itself, ordering them that way.
Eventually, I would love to write about something other than relationships. And I think I’m at a point where I will for the next album. But this one was such a huge… like, so much life changed for me in the past two years, which I feel like it happened to a lot of people. I know a lot of people that split up during the pandemic because once you spend countless hours with somebody without any intermission, you really start wondering like, oh, do I actually really love this person?
That kind of set me on my journey of like, well, am I happy? What am I doing with my life? And then I realized that I wasn’t happy, and had to process that. Now I’m at a place where I actually am happy — and that’s very new for me, because I feel like most of us assume that life is hard and miserable. Which it is, but there are moments where it’s actually really beautiful, and I feel like we don’t care enough about that.
It’s interesting that you’re not usually driven to write about love or relationships.
Yeah, never. Never, ever. But it’s like one of those things where you can’t lie about how you’re really feeling. I was really reluctant, honestly, to share this timeline with everybody, because it is so personal and it is very relationship-based, and I feel like everyone does that. So pride kind of kicked in and was like, “We’re a songwriter! We can write about whatever we want.” But sometimes it’s better to just be vulnerable and just let it take its course. That was a struggle for me at first, because I was like: This is such an easy, low-hanging-fruit topic.… I just couldn’t pretend to be thinking about anything else right now.
I was thinking, “This subject matter feels like it’s in a Julia Michaels wheelhouse,” even before I saw she had a co-writing credit on the album.
I think I’ve been in Nashville long enough to kind of suss out like who my people are, and even not in Nashville. Like I’ve come out to L.A. to write for the past 10 years of my life. So getting to work with Julia Michaels for the first time and realizing that we are literally the same person was awesome. it was actually a beautiful, magical day. We were both falling in love with people at the same time, and I feel like we really captured that. I brought Shane McAnally in, too, and the first time we met was actually in his office, because I’m more of a vibe person. I don’t care how many No. 1s you have; I just wanna know if we can vibe in the room. Which is probably not a great business plan, but here we are. But I vibed with him. There weren’t that many new writers on this album, though, to be honest, because Sam Ellis and Derek Sutherland are my OG songwriters where I feel like I can walk in and tell them anything. I don’t feel that way with everybody. I wish I did.
Some writers really prefer writing sad songs because they’re so powerful and vivid, and maybe that’s easier to pull off in some ways, too. Do you get more creative fulfillment out of writing the sad songs or the happy onds?
It’s so unfortunate that more introspective songs are labeled as sad. Because I feel like we all have those thoughts at some point. And I feel like I am starting to learn that questioning things and viewing things from a different perspective is how my brain works, and the world has labeled it as sad. I don’t actually view it as sad, which might be weird; I view it as just being human. Nobody in the real world is happy all the time. And if they are, they’re probably on mushrooms, which I love for them. To me happiness is just as important as sadness, which is why I set up the album to start dark and then end light, because you can never have one without the other. But I gravitate towards quote-unquote “sad songs” because I just feel like I’m actually getting to the heart of the matter. To quote Don Henley.
I wanted to ask about genre, which is probably not your or anybody’s favorite subject…
Oh, fire away. [laughs.]
You dealt with it when you were releasing your first album — like, how country is it? Why is this not pop? And with this new album and these new songs, they seem very squarely to be classic pop, in some ways. And yet, if this music you’re making now was actually targeted at the pop radio format of today, even on ballads, there would have to be a lot of very specific 2010s production effects put on it to make it fit in. And it would not elevate your songs to add all that 2022 pop production stuff.
It would not, no. So, the genre thing has been brought up a lot to me, because people hear this record and they’re like: What is this? And that is honestly — no pun intended — like music to my ears. Because I think what I love so much about country is the storytelling, but what I hate about it is how limiting it is for everyone. And I think a lot more people would love country if we talked about things that were happening in the country that also were relatable to everyone, everywhere. So to me, it was a big deal for me to kind of put the genre hat down where it’s just like: What’s good for these songs?
And that’s a really scary thing to do. But at the end of the day, the tighter you hang on to a genre, the quicker it’s gonna die. Just like with jazz, the tighter you keep the circle, the less and less people are gonna want to know about it. Sometimes I feel like country music is still doing its same parade and same rodeo of “this is who we are.” And I’ve met a lot of these fans and people, and it is so real — there is still a culture there. But everything evolves, whether people want it to or not, you know? We used to not have cell phones, and now we all have cell phones and everyone was against them at the beginning and now we all have them. So you have to let things evolve. And I know it’s scary and I know unfamiliar things are terrifying. But that’s part of being alive. You should never feel like you’re just resting in one place.
I know that country music prides themselves in just being the same thing, but there’s a way to do it to where you can still honor the tradition of it while still making it relevant. Otherwise you’re gonna just kill your own genre. And I hate putting it that way. But I hate hearing people say that they hate country music, and I’m like, why? “Well, it’s all beers and trucks.” And I’m like, “Yeah, it used to be so much more than that. I promise. It isn’t just all that.” And it’s the same with any genre to where, when you oversaturate people with the same sound over and over again, people are gonna start to make assumptions. That’s just what we do as humans. But country, when done well, is actually really smart. It is really good. And it tells the story in a way that makes people feel like they’re going through it, even though they’ve never been through it before. And that is what I’m trying to keep alive.
I’m totally OK with people coming at me being like “This isn’t country,” because I’m sure, based on their references, they are correct. But I am not chaining myself to anything. I am just doing what I do. I’m not trying to change a genre. I don’t think everyone should sound like me. I’m just doing my thing. And the sooner people realize that I’m not here to shit on country, the better, because I actually really love it. I love the good parts about it. Art reflects life, and I think everyone’s a little lost right now, and everyone’s scared of change, which we should be, because we’re humans. But picture me as a painter. I am painting what has inspired me from the genre. And if you don’t want to hang it in your living room, that’s OKt. You don’t have to hate it. You don’t have to do anything. You can just not hang it in your living room, and that’s all there is.
You’re on tour with Keith, somebody who mixes things up a lot and doesn’t have any purity test for what he does. Have you had a chance to have any conversations with him about what you do?
Yes. I’m learning so much from him, and it’s been really enlightening to see how he makes every show feel like it’s his first time playing. That is an art in and of itself. He cares so much about his fans, and he is also so meticulous about his set list and changing it up every night. We have talked a lot, and I’ve realized we have the same personality quality to where we’re both just gonna be curious till we die. He’s been doing this for as long as I’ve been born, and he’s still trying to figure out new ways to revamp his set or the production or anything. He’s just constantly searching, and I feel like that was one of the first moments when I realized I wasn’t alone in that, because sometimes people pin that as reckless or unstable. It’s like, no, we’re just genuinely artists who are constantly seeking inspiration. Like, you never really make it, if you think about it.
It’s good that you get to be out with somebody who feels like a kindred spirit.
It was very refreshing. I wasn’t expecting it. I honestly didn’t know what I was gonna walk into, but his fans are very attentive and he is just so lovely. He plays his guitar for like four hours a day — it’s wild — just testing new amps, and you can tell he really loves what he does. And that is something that I feel like… not to shit on TikTok artists, but it’s like, there is a grind to this, and I don’t think most people know what that’s like until you’re in it. So to see somebody who’s been doing it for so long still love it is very inspiring to me.