Jill Andrews, formerly the female voice of melancholy folk-country outfit The Everybodyfields, recently opened for Willie Nelson at Knoxville's Tennessee Theatre. "I did that for the experience, but mostly just so I could see Willie Nelson," she admits.
Of the venue itself Andrews says, "It was the best place to sing almost ever." Of meeting the country legend: "I really wanted to. I thought about what I'd say and all that. But, instead of meeting Willie Nelson, I was helping Clint bathe our son in the sink after he'd had a big blowout."
The last time Andrews spoke to Xpress, two years ago, she had just moved from Johnson City to Knoxville. She was recycling outfits for performances and wishing she could spend more time at home. A year ago, the Everybodyfields (which Andrews cofounded with former boyfriend Sam Quinn in 1999) played its last show. During 2009, Andrews married and gave birth to baby Nico. And, though many female musicians leave the touring life behind when they have children, Andrews found herself launching both her solo career and her family at the same time.
"When things fell apart with the Everybodyfields, part of me was thinking, 'Oh man, I guess that was it for me in music,'" she says. "But the other part of me that was encouraged by so many people, like my husband and my friends and my family, who were like, 'It's time get up and start moving. It's not time to sit still.'"
Six months after the Everybodyfields parted company, Andrews bumped into drummer Chad Melton at a restaurant. He told her he wanted to get together, though the singer took some persuading. "He bugged me three or four times," she remembers of Melton's invites to jam. "I'm not much of a jammer." But an eventual meeting proved fruitful, and Melton introduced Andrews to Knoxville-based bassist Vince Ilagan and guitarist Robert Richards. When Andrews realized she wanted someone to harmonize with, she called on the Everybodyfields' keyboardist Josh Oliver.
The band seemed to fall in place, despite Andrews' early reservations. "I knew how hard a life it could be, being on the road, being away all the time," she says. That sacrifice is underscored by the Everybodyfields' final album, Nothing is Okay, the title referencing Andrews' and Quinn's breakup and subsequent attempt to continue the band despite bruised hearts. On the heels of that experience, Andrews seems plenty surprised to find that everything is okay.
"It's so different now, so much more positive for me," she reveals. First, her husband (who acts as her manager) and baby travel with her. And Andrews' fellow musicians make up an extended family. "Because of the guys in the band, it doesn't feel like I'm missing out on stuff at home," she says.
The quick rapport with her band led Andrews to record a six-track, self-titled EP which she released last October. "There's a plan to go full-length next fall," the musician says. "But I wanted to something out there for the fans, something they could take home. Something that defines me."
There is still the familiar loneliness in Andrews' style. Her voice is as achingly dusky; sounding themes of love and loss, regret and fragile hope ("I am grateful, but I am angry," she sings on "Always be Sorry"). Fittingly, the album was recorded by Sparklehorse collaborator Scott Minor, on vintage analog equipment. While the sound isn't dated, it's spare and haunted with resonate keys, languid guitar and a certain spacious elegance that was never part of the Everybodyfields.
"The stuff that I wrote for the Everybodyfields; that's just how I wrote," Andrews says of her evolution. "The stuff that I write for myself now, it's just me. It's progressed a little bit, from album to album you'll see a change."
Likely, Andrews — who has always had a remarkable voice and a promising talent — has simply been freed to realize her potential. But even for the musician who claims to be easygoing ("You have to just really go with the flow, and I'm really good at that. I live minute by minute"), once she started work on her solo album she was anxious to see the project through. In labor with Nico, Andrews was on the phone with her midwife to see if she could still log some studio time. And the day after the birth, she was talking to her band.
"I was like, 'Alright, you guys ready to practice?'"Andrews recalls. "They were like, 'I think you need to calm down a bit.'"
Alli Marshall can be reached at email@example.com.
who: Jill Andrews of The Everybodyfield (with Casey Driessen)
what: Singer/songwriter embarks on her solo career
where: The Grey Eagle
when: Thursday, Jan. 21 (8:30 p.m. $10 advance, $12 day of show. thegreyeagle.com)