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NEW YORK — In a songwriting session with a group of rappers, which Ingrid Andress was attending to help write a hook, the conversation turned to immature guy talk about “all the different girls they had.”
Uncomfortable and over it, Andress left.
The musician with a publishing deal in Nashville vented to some of her industry friends, popped open a bottle of wine and turned her frustration into songwriting gold.
She began writing “Boys,” a pop bop which later became an international hit for British singer Charli XCX. Rolling Stone, Pitchfork, Entertainment Weekly and others named “Boys” one of the best songs of 2017.
The experience of being in rooms with all kinds of artists — pop, rap, R&B, country, rock — helped Andress build her songwriting skills, and now she’s being praised for lyrical prowess on her own album, “Lady Like.” It’s not just one of the year’s best debuts, but one of the year’s strongest albums.
Andress said she’s learned to write honest lyrics and stay true to herself — even if that means being an outsider.
“You’re not just born with the gift of songwriting. It takes time just like any sport or learning a language. You have to practice it,” she said. “I feel like I can adapt to any situation now. To me, it’s about making a good song that makes you feel something. That can be in any genre.”
She added that sometimes “people think if you’re too specific, you’re alienating yourself and not as relatable. I just kind of went for it.”
“Lady Like” is filled with lyrical gems that reflect the budding star’s maturity and knack for one-liners.
Andress, 29, has also written songs for Bebe Rexha, Halestorm, Lauren Jauregui, FLETCHER, Why Don’t We and Dove Cameron. She’s had writing sessions with Alicia Keys and Sam Hunt, though those songs haven’t been released, and she co-wrote (and even co-produced) every song on her debut album.
It might seem she was destined to be a songwriter, but it was a happy accident. The young girl from Colorado who madly played sports also sang in choir, wrote jingles, played piano and appeared in musicals. But she didn’t think music would make a career. That changed one day when she went to see the Colorado Rockies take on the Boston Red Sox in the World Series, and on her way to Fenway Park she heard loud, beautiful music blasting from a building. She headed over, not realizing she was walking into the Berklee College of Music.
“All these musicians just jamming out together — I was like, ‘This is a school? This is a college?’ I was like, ‘What? What have I been doing this whole time?’” she recalled.
The junior high school student “dropped every sport. When we got home, I was like, ‘I quit.’ I need to get my resume up for Berklee.”
In college, she took poetry and songwriting classes, eventually meeting songwriter and music executive Kara DioGuardi, who has written hits for Kelly Clarkson, Christina Aguilera and Pink, appeared as a judge on “American Idol” and signed Jason Derulo to a deal.
DioGuardi was impressed with a song Andress wrote at Berklee, and signed her to a publishing deal in Nashville after Andress left school early.
“When you live in Nashville and you’re writing down here, you’re working with some of the best lyricists, perhaps, in the world. She was mentored up with that sort of writing style — making every line count and every word count. Every word has an opportunity to tell a story,” DioGuardi said.
“I’ve known Ingrid for a long time now. … She was my student and now I see her on late night shows,” DioGuardi said, yet she “still is the Ingrid I know.”
Andress enjoyed writing for others but then began “writing songs that I didn’t want to give away.” One song, in particular, “pushed me over the edge, for sure. It was personal. I said, I didn’t want to give it to anybody unless they were really awesome. They weren’t. That made me mad and rebel.’”
So she began to focus on her own album, eventually crafting “Lady Like,” a pop-leaning country record about the different stages of a rollercoaster relationship she had been in. On album opener “Bad Advice,” she’s drunk on merlot in hopes of getting over her man; she’s starting a relationship over on “The Stranger”; and she’s dealing with her lover playing two sides on “Both,” singing: “You can tell me to stay, you can push me away/Have space or get close, but you can’t do both.”
The standout track, “More Hearts Than Mine,” came to life as Andress panicked about whether to bring the boy she was dating home for the holidays.
“I was like, ’Why am I so worried about that?’ I’m like, ’Oh, it’s because I care about my family so much.’ The last time I brought somebody home, they still ask about him to this day. Even though this was forever ago, and he hates me now, they still are like, ‘Well he was our favorite,’” she said.
“More Hearts Than Mine” resonated with listeners and country radio — it reached No. 5 on Billboard’s Hot country songs chart and crossed over to the pop world, reaching the Top 40. It’s nominated for song of the year at Wednesday’s Country Music Association Awards, where she will also compete for new artist of the year. Andress also received nominations at this year’s Academy of Country Music Awards and CMT Music Awards.
It’s a 180-degree turn from earlier this year, when Andress released her album — the same month the coronavirus pandemic hit.
“I was like, ‘This could be a terrible idea,’” she recalled. “Then I realized … we still need music. Music always gets me through my stuff, so let’s hope it helps everyone else, too.”
The accolades are also a far cry from what Andress felt when she first moved to Nashville.
“I was told all the time that I wasn’t ladylike,” she said. “If I was recording a demo and I’d mess up, I’d yell, ‘(Expletive).’ All everybody would just be like is, ‘Uh, OK, calm down.’ Everybody was very shocked by my behavior and how I spoke and even how I dressed. People would make comments. It just really confused me because I grew up not really thinking about that stuff.”
So — like Andress typically does — she wrote a song about it. And named her album after it.
“I tried playing the whole sweet girl game for probably a little bit, but I just ended up imploding. It didn’t work for me,” she said. “It’s so much work and it’s exhausting to be something you’re not — so let’s embrace who we are.”
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