Although he was born by the sea, it wasn’t until he moved to the desert that Nels Andrews began writing songs. He sang them alone in a house constructed of mud and tires on the sage-brushed mesas of Taos, New Mexico where he spent his 20’s, airing them occasionally around campfires. It wasn't until a move 90 miles south to the dusty yet curiously eccentric city of Albuquerque that he began to play them in front of strangers, and from there, to start collaborating. Andrews enlisted the talents of some inventive indie musicians he met at the Red Door, a creaky second-floor respite and practice space (and former railroad brothel) on historic Route 66 in the center of downtown. That initial collaboration began to shape his desert-infused folk/rock sound, pairing literary narratives of curious high desert outsiders with the psych-rock palate and electro-fuzz of his then band, The El Paso Eyepatch, and resulted in his debut album Sunday Shoes.
After his band dissolved, Andrews and his new wife moved back to her native east coast to set up a home in the freshly-blossoming bohemian enclave of Williamsburg, Brooklyn. There he crossed paths with bass virtuoso/composer Todd Sickafoose (Andrew Bird, Ani DiFranco, Anaïs Mitchell) who offered to produce Andrews’ sophomore record, Off Track Betting (Reveal Records UK/Lucky dice NL). Sickafoose brought with him a whole new palette of musicians from NYC’s downtown experimental/new music scene, which lent new textures and shapes to Andrews’ increasingly impressionistic story songs. Third album Scrimshaw was gleaned from his time working as a chauffeur in Manhattan; he followed his literary heroes Melville and Yeats, as the songs drew on an earthy mysticism and a romantic look to the past.
Now, happily stationed near the sea again in Santa Cruz, Andrews has gracefully woven the morning fog, redwoods, and oceanside into his forthcoming record Pigeon and The Crow, produced by traditional Irish flutist Nuala Kennedy (Gerry O’Conner, Will
Oldham). A songwriter’s record in the spirit of Van Morrison’s Veedon Fleece with a breath of the texture, rhythm, and longing of Milton Nascimento’s Club De Esquina 1, Pigeon and The Crow brims with literary wordplay, mixed with some sway, some shimmer, and some sand between your toes.
The bones of this soon-to-be-released fourth studio record was tracked live over three days at Whispering Pines Studio in Los Angeles.The studio was originally built for Sam Cooke in the 60s, turned into a funk/soul palace in the 70s, abandoned when the owner found religion in the 80s, and later rehabilitated by Indie rock outfit Lord Huron.
While recording, Andrews slept on the tracking room floor every night and dreamt in technicolor born of the vibes steeped into that well-worn musical space. Andrews, along with Kennedy, Sebastian Steinberg (Iron and Wine, Fiona Apple , Soul Coughing) on bass, and Quinn on drums/percussion (T-Bone Burnett, Eastmountainsouth), breathed life into the songs together in that one room—and then the international collaboration began. Producer Kennedy headed back to Ireland with the tracks in tow, and beamed them across the globe to the rest of the players—from the UK to the Azores. The album boasts a mix of traditional players from Kennedy’s past to some of Andrews’ newest old friends like Stelth Ulvang of The Lumineers, as well as some older old friends and collaborators from New York, including guest appearances by fellow songsmiths Anaïs Mitchell, AJ Roach, and Anthony Da Costa.
The result is 10 ethereal yet substantial tracks that assess life “mid-game,” a time that is less straightforward than youth imagined, where our strategies and gambits are yet unresolved—stories from a place past innocence but perhaps still before wisdom. These are songs written about that place: an actress in her sunset, a husband folding now-soft wedding sheets, a father meditating on love and selfishness, and the ghosts of former relationships. Pigeon and The Crow contains wistful resolve, a steady backbone, and a late afternoon light reflected off the sea.
Pigeon and The Crow is set to be released August 9, 2019.