Photo: Jess Williams
Meet The First-Time GRAMMY Nominee: Ingrid Andress On Finding Her Sound—And Breaking Country Norms With It
Despite the abundant darkness of 2020, Ingrid Andress had the biggest year of her life. Along with honors like inclusion on Forbes 30 Under 30 and big-time TV performances, including "Colbert" and "Today," the 29-year-old singer/songwriter celebrated a country radio No. 1 with the heartfelt breakup ballad "More Hearts Than Mine" and the release of her debut album, Lady Like. Both the single and the album earned Andress her first-ever GRAMMY nominations, for Best Country Song and Best Country Album, respectively, as well as a coveted Best New Artist nod, at the 2021 GRAMMY Awards show. (Ahead of GRAMMY night, Andress will participate in the Recording Academy's inaugural "Women In The Mix" virtual celebration on International Women's Day, Monday, March 8.)
Andress has already achieved so much, she's joked about retiring before she even turns 30. "Honestly, I do think I've peaked," Andress says with a laugh. "I've accomplished all the things that I've wanted to do, so it's kind of like, 'Should I get into the restaurant business? What is next for me?'"
Though she has been working on her cooking skills while in quarantine, Andress' success thus far proves that she's too good at songwriting to give it up just yet. Even before she had hits of her own, the singer/songwriter co-penned cuts for pop stars like Charli XCX, Fletcher and Bebe Rexha and landed in the studio with Alicia Keys and Sam Hunt. And as the only country act in the Best New Artist category this year, Andress has made a name for herself as an artist, too.
Ingrid Andress gave GRAMMY.com a call to talk about her beginnings, her transition from behind the scenes to center stage, and her hope for a female-driven future. (Don't worry, Ingrid fans: Her retirement isn't part of it).
How does it feel to be the only country artist in the Best New Artist category?
I still feel like that was an accident. [Laughs.] It's sort of a mindf--k because I'm still so new—like, new new—nobody knows who I am because I haven't been able to tour or anything. I feel honored that I am doing something that represents Nashville.
I'm glad that I get to represent a part of country music that maybe people don't necessarily think of when they think of country—you know, a lot of people think of it as like, beer and trucks. I'm glad that people realize that I don't have to sing about beer and trucks for people to like it.
Although "More Hearts Than Mine" was released in 2019, last year felt like you established that you weren't going to be a one-hit-wonder with the release of your album Lady Like. What was it like to have your breakout year happen in a time when you could hardly even be face-to-face with people?
I'm probably one of the only people I know who can be like, "2020 was my year." But I feel like it might have been for the better. There's just so much hype that goes with all that celebration, and to me, it's about the music and how people are connecting to it. Last year was more about that authentic connection to the music. It was cool to hear people's stories of how they hear their own lives in whatever I was saying.
Your mom was a piano teacher, so I assume that's how you got started with it. But what ultimately made it feel like your instrument?
It was a love-hate relationship at the beginning. But when you live with your piano teacher, you don't have a choice. We made a deal where if I got to a certain level of piano, then I'd get to pick whatever instrument I wanted.
Naturally, I picked drums because I was going through a punk and metal phase. I was like, "I just want to bang on some s--t." I got more into [playing] piano in high school. I was homeschooled for the majority of my education, so high school was confusing. Piano felt like therapy. It was just a great outlet emotionally.
After getting your start writing for other artists, what made you decide to pursue being an artist yourself?
There was a song that I wrote that was very personal to me. I didn't want anybody to have it, but I still had to give it away. When I started writing about my personal feelings, it became harder to picture somebody else singing them.
So I thought, "You know what, if I don't want to give these away, I probably need to sing them and put them out myself." I knew I wanted to be an artist, but I also didn't think I was [fit for it] because many of the artists I worked with didn't know what they wanted to say. It came out of the natural progression of me finding what I wanted to write about.
So how did you find your sound after that?
I think it was going back and forth between Nashville and LA to write. I've been doing that for five years now. The writing process is so different for each city—writing country music in Nashville, you're all sitting in a room with guitars and talking about lyrics and how to set up the song. Whereas in LA, you go in, there's a track playing, it's on a loop, and you just have to sing melodies over it.
Nobody's talking about lyrics. My sound came from learning how to combine those two things. I would write songs that would straddle the line, and people would say, "We can't pitch it to a country artist, but it also has smart storyteller lyrics. And it's not poppy enough for pop."
So the songs just sort of created their lane that nobody could cut except for me.
You're part of a groundbreaking GRAMMY year for women in country, as the Best Country Album category—which includes Lady Like—is all projects from solo women or female-fronted groups for the first time. Has it felt like there's been a shift in the way women are supported and recognized in the genre?
It's still kind of slow, but the female turnout in the GRAMMY [categories] this year was such a breath of fresh air. Then you look at country radio, and it's white dudes. It brought me a lot of joy to see the contrast and how opposite it is to what country radio is doing right now. But to see all these women validated for their great work is a huge statement. Even if it's not on the radio, it's still acknowledged as a beautiful piece of art.
I feel like there's sort of a female movement and confident, feminine energy happening in every genre right now. Do you think that, too?
For sure. I hope more women start saying how they feel about things because chances are, we're all going to relate to it. Even if it's something that people feel is controversial, I'm like, please bring it on. The more controversy, the better. We've evolved so much, and I feel like it's our jobs as creatives to pull the mirror up to what's happening in society. It's going to happen eventually, so we might as well start coming out and being honest about how we feel.
You hold true to that on Lady Like, and now you're being rewarded for it.
I'm just here to write about my feelings and hope people feel the same way. Especially in this past year, when everything was so divided and chaotic, I feel like the response to my music was a nice reminder that we all could come together by listening to music that is relatable to all of us.