Interview with Jill Andrews: talks about her most personal and new album Thirties

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Singer, songwriter and guitar player, Jill Andrews music has had such a positive impact on my life, from her early days with beloved the everybodyfields, her most recent collaborative effort with Hush Kids, and now her fourth solo album with Thirties. This is Jill’s first solo release in five years, and the first project she’s produced. While Jill’s music is always relational and personal, Thirties is undoubtedly her most personal project yet. The album was co-produced by Jill and Lucas Morton, and features thirteen original songs exploring stories of women revolving around the isolation and joys of motherhood, the loss of a partner, and the path to standing up for yourself. Thirties also features several renowned musicians and songwriters, including Ian Fitchuk (Kacey Musgraves), Natalie Hemby (The Highwomen, Miranda Lambert), and Daniel Tashian (Kacey Musgraves).

As a companion to the album, Jill has also released a new book entitled, Thirties: The Album in Portrait and Prose, out now also. The book provides an in-depth look at the album through essays, photographs, and features a foreword written by Grammy Award-winning artist Joy Williams. In her open and honest interview, Jill spoke with me about the events that led to the creation of Thirties, her companion book, songwriting and making music as a solo artist and with a group, and several of her music firsts.

Thirties is out now on Vulture Vulture/Tone Tree via all digital platforms here. Purchase Jill’s companion book here. In celebration of Thirties’ release, Jill will perform the new album in its entirety via a special livestream this evening at 8:00 pm ET/7:00 pm CT on her YouTube channel.

Jill Andrews Thirties Cover

Although all of your records are personal to some extent, I think is the one that is most personal from what has been mentioned and from listening to it. I know you don’t want to share all of your experiences, but is there a certain instance you can share with our readers that led you to ultimately write and record Thirties?

Jill Andrews: It’s a broad question, but I’ll try to pinpoint what exactly you are probably honing in on. At this point in my relationship, well, I was in a relationship. But just, it started out as a beautiful thing in my life, but it kind of quickly turned into more of a caretaker kind of role for me and then was just kind of disappointing. And so, some of the songs are just about wanting to feel loved and just never feeling loved and just kind of being disappointed by that. And in the book [companion book to Thirties], I really go in depth about just the intricacies of my life at that point. I had a baby. And there’s a lot that goes into having a little child that needs you 100% and just not feeling supported. And I wasn’t feeling supported in my relationship at that point, so I just felt like I was single mothering all over again, which I had already done that once. And so, that’s kind of- where a lot of those feelings came from. Just feeling alone in such a vulnerable period of time and just resentful about it. I was sad and then I was resentful and then all the emotions of grief that you kind of go through.

I mean, you get to a certain point in a relationship and you go through all the emotions wanting something, trying to get that something, realizing that you can’t have it, you can’t change someone. And then when that finally sinks in. That took a while. I’m just one of those people that’s always wanting to see the value in someone and I just want them to see it. And that’s just not the way to go about it. But yeah. And then after that it’s like, “Oh, what have I been doing this whole time? Now I’m just pissed.” You know?

Referencing the companion book, what drew you to creating it to co-exist beside Thirties, and what do you hope readers engage differently from it than just listening to your music? 

Jill: I’ve always loved to write stories and I’ve always wanted to write a book and I’ve kind of tried my hand at it, but I didn’t ever really feel like I had a good story to tell. And then when I was in the process of finishing the album, I just wanted to take a deep dive into the intricacies of my day to day life during this period of time because I just felt like it was interesting and I’ve just felt like it there was kind of a universal theme happening. At least, I felt like maybe not a universal theme, but I felt like people could relate to my story.

And so I just started writing about it. And it was basically like, the book is basically journal entries, but they’re not exactly from my journal. I just sat down and I just remembered. And I just remembered and I wrote it all down. So I just felt like when the album was done, the project wasn’t done. Being personal in my music has always been a huge part of what I do. I don’t know why. It just is the way that I do it, I guess it just feels like home to me. And so I guess it kind of felt like, “Oh, I want to tell them the whole story.” And it just felt like the right way to go about it.

You collaborated with a few prolific songwriters for this album, i.e., Ian Fitchuk, Natalie Hemby and Daniel Tashian. How did you become involved with them? 

Jill: I’ve known Ian and Daniel for several years. Daniel and I, he wrote a couple songs with me on my last record, The War Inside. And we used to write from the same publishing company. So that’s how I met Daniel; we wrote for the same company and he’s one of my favorite people in the entire world. I love him so much. He’s just a fantastic being. And then Ian, yeah, we met kind of in the same era, just kind of on a random co-write, but we had a lot of mutual friends so we immediately just became fast friends. I don’t know if you know about the Hush Kids record and all that, but Ian was a huge part of that record. We wrote a ton of songs for that, me, him and Peter. And then he produced that record, and we wrote a few songs on that record with Daniel too. It’s a kind of a tight knit community here. I wouldn’t say I’m a part of every musical community because there’s a lot of different little niches, but there’s a pretty wide net in the community that I’m involved in and all the good ones are trying to lift each other up, and work with each other and just make beautiful music, really.

And Natalie. Yeah, Natalie was a big fan of the Hush Kids record. Peter and I started writing with her and Peter and I wrote “Back Together” with her. Peter and I were just writing with a bunch of people at that point, maybe for Hush Kids, maybe for not Hush Kids, but that didn’t feel like a Hush Kids song. And so I was just like, “I’m taking that one.” So yeah. And she’s awesome. She’s super encouraging. She’s just one of those people that I sent her a text yesterday and I said, “I want to send you one of my vinyls.” And she was like, “No, let me buy it. I’m your biggest fan.” That’s who she is. She’s great.

I love the photography for Thirties,  and I love the concept behind it. I’ve read where you’ve mentioned the concept behind it before, but was that your idea or was it a conglomeration of ideas between you and the photographer and vice versa?

Jill: It was very much a partnership, an inspiration partnership. We dreamed up a lot of it together. She had some ideas that stood alone and I had some ideas that stood alone, but we worked very, very closely together and we had 13 photo shoots to pull all this off. I mean, it was an intense process. So, yeah. I don’t know if you’ve seen all the photos yet or not, but we have pictures for every single song and every single story.

I’m sure it was hard to get the exact pose for each one…especially the one where you’re imitating dance with someone, and it’s only their shadow.

Jill: That was Fairlight. I mean, Fairlight Hubbard is the photographer and that was her brainchild. I would have never been able to dream of that. She’s so good. And the shadow person is Peter from Hush Kids. He was my male model for a lot of stuff.

When you’re able to resume your tour, how do you hope fans young and old, and new and old, connect with you in a live setting? 

Jill: Oh, that’s a good question. How do I hope they connect with me? I mean, I guess the biggest hope is just that people will connect with me. I hadn’t really thought about how. I guess just that they’ll listen to my music and be able to find meaning in their own lives from my lyrics and feel emotion by hearing my songs and hearing me tell my stories and I don’t know, all that stuff I guess. First of all, it’s hard enough to get people engaged at all. So just people coming to the shows is step number one. I’m like, “Yes!” And then once they’re there, having them not staring at their phones is step number two. But most of the time I don’t really feel like I have to deal with that too much. I feel like when people come, they’re there to be engaged and listen.

I’m going to go back on your solo work. You’ve released work with obviously my favorite of you, The Everybodyfields, and Hush Kids. And what creative freedom do you receive from each of these, not only as a solo, but as a group artist?

Jill: I think one of the things that I enjoy the most about working with other people is collaboration. It’s not all on me. Like performing, with Hush Kids, it’s me and Peter, it’s 50/50, it’s not all on him. It’s half on him and half on me, the responsibility of it, the weight of it all, the finances of it all, the creativity of it all, just all of it. And I think The Everybodyfields, that’s just how I started out. So I didn’t even know what creative freedom was at that point. I was just like, “How do you write a song? What is this chord?”

But I think one thing I enjoy about my solo career is I really enjoy collaborating with people, but I also really like to have the creative control myself. It feels good to just be like, “I like that. I’m going to do that.” And not have to ask anyone else’s opinion. I like both worlds. Sometimes it feels nice to…I mean, I’ve leaned on people a lot in the solo world, but sometimes it feels good to lean on people and sometimes it feels good to lean on yourself.

 Some fun and light-hearted questions

What was your first introduction to the guitar?

Jill: I had a friend at church that let me borrow his guitar for, I don’t know, several months. So I was probably like, I don’t know, 17, 16 or 17. And I learned a couple chords, like the basics, G, C, D. And I just kind of got real bored with it and then I didn’t do anything. And then when I was 19, that’s when I got the fire to start playing and writing songs and stuff.

Who was your first concert?

Jill: His name’s Ben Jens and he’s still a good friend of mine. He actually married my very best friend. And so I just saw him last weekend. That was very sweet. But yeah, he used to play in high school. I mean, no one else did that. It was just him and some other people. And he used to invite me and my friend Amy, the woman he married, on stage to sing harmony. And it was just really meaningful for me because I loved it. I just loved it so much. I would just be sitting in my chair in the audience like, “When is he going to ask me to get up there? What is he going to ask?” It was a really good way for me to get out there and not feel a lot of pressure but kind of test out the spotlight a bit.

What was your first album on cassette, CD, and/or vinyl?

Jill: Well, actually my very first one was on tape. My first album ever that I got was on tape and it was Diana Ross. I think it was called Swept Away. And the reason I got that is because I went to Kmart with my dad and I was like, “Dad, I have to get a tape. I need to start listening to music.” But I didn’t know anything about music at all. And so my dad had seen Diana Ross and the Supremes when he was, I don’t know, in his 20s or something. And he was like, “Okay, how about this one?” And so I got that tape and then I brought it home and I listened to it. I mean, I just listened to it so much. I had a little black boombox and headphones that I used to walk around and listen to that tape over and over and over again. And then I put it on in the car with my dad when we were driving somewhere and he didn’t like how much she breathed on some songs. There was a lot of heavy breathing happening. But I still have that tape somewhere.

My first CD was … Well, I got three all at one time because we went to the Disc Exchange in Knoxville. And it was called, well, there were three of them. One was Spellbound by Paul Abdul. Another one was a Gloria Estefan CD. I can’t remember the title. And then Brian Adams, Waking Up The Neighbors.

Do you have a guilty music or entertainment pleasure?

Jill: I guess my initial reaction is I just like what I like and so I don’t ever feel guilty about it. I know that’s a term, but things that people might think I should feel guilty about, I just totally don’t. Selena Gomez, I love Selena Gomez. I love John Mayer. I don’t know, some people hate Coldplay. I completely disagree with them. I’ve been listening to Harry Styles’ new record.

Follow and connect with Jill on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Stream her music on Spotify.

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