John Andrews :: The Aquarium Drunkard Interview

“I love touring, I’m a road dog,” John Andrews tells me. “I dropped out of school to do this so I at least have to lie to myself that I love it.”

It’s a cloudy October afternoon when we meet on a patio of a Sultan’s Market near Cole’s Bar. He just arrived from Detroit where he performed the night before, and tomorrow he’ll be traveling to St. Louis for a house show. He’s alone on this tour, driving himself and his gear in a “nerdy ass Toyota Matrix” that he purchased off a friend’s mom. His next five hours are free until his show at Cole’s Bar, and he’s already loaded in his gear, which isn’t very much. Playing solo, John only needs his keyboard, a ’70s drum machine, an amp, and a Memory Man pedal. 

“It’s pretty mellow,” he tells me, which makes sense, as John is a pretty mellow guy. He speaks softly and is careful to understand my questions before answering. His newest album, Cookbook, feels like an extension of his personality; the foot-tapping and head-swaying effect from his previous two albums is still there, but its more relaxed, more easy-going. A perfect soundtrack to the incoming fall weather. 

Many of the songs from the newest album were inspired by his experience road-tripping on his last solo tour, but small midwestern towns and rolling highways are not what come to mind while listening to Cookbook

“That record was definitely a road trip-inspired record,” he explains. “But I didn’t want it to sound like a road trip record. I wanted it to sound like a record you would listen to at home, because at that time I was kinda looking for a home in a way. I didn’t have a place to live for a bit, so I went on a solo tour and I was kinda looking for a home in a way. I wanted a very domestic feeling. Bad posture is more acoustic guitar which is what someone brings with them on the road. Cookbook is mostly acoustic piano which is this stationary big piece of furniture in your house.”

Having written songs such as “Homesick in Heaven” and “Home Is Just As Good As Anyplace,” it’s no surprise that John has strong feelings towards his home, wherever that place may currently be. For the past five years he had been living in something of an artist’s escape up in the New Hampshire countryside. Many of his music videos feature the house as a backdrop. Colonial in design. Rustic furniture. Trees—trees everywhere. 

“I think the landlord is crazy,” John says. “He’s in his 90s and he just has never upped the rent for twenty years so my friend pays 50 bucks a month to have this studio space in the barn in the backyard, and my rent when I lived there was 200 dollars a month. It was a big place, but that’s how I was able to tour for so long and not have another job because I was spending basically the amount someone pays at the grocery store to live in that house.”

Besides his own tour, John has also been a keyboardist with Woods, Hand Habits, and, as of lately, Cut Worms. Even with plenty of time to work on his music and animation while in the New Hampshire countryside, John decided to move this year. When his tour comes to an end, he’ll be playing a couple shows with friends and then beginning his sublease in a New York City apartment. 

“I was living in New Hampshire the past five years,” he says. “I definitely lived a hermit lifestyle. I just wanted something different. Living in New Hampshire was like reading a famous novel over and over and over again and you’re like, ‘This book is amazing!’ But it’s the only book you can read. When I moved to New York City, it was like looking at the internet…there’s all this crazy shit and it can be bad for you, but it can also be productive if you use it the right way. It’s everything opposite from New Hampshire that I kinda need.”

The quickening pace of his environment even carried over to John’s workflow, where he already has an album that’s nearly complete and is expected to be released sometime next year. Once he returns to New York, he’ll be finishing the over-dubbing and hiring a string quartet for some of the songs. 

“Hopefully it comes out in a relatively timely matter, it takes so long these days, it’s kind of a bummer, but I’m also at the point where I’m not gonna stop recording. I’m gonna get this record done and immediately start recording other stuff. I’m at this realization that people’s voices change in their 30s to 40s and I’m really happy with my singing right now and I want to record as much as I can so I can have a document of how my voice sounds, because 10 years from now I won’t sound like the same person, it happens. Some people can get around it, like Neil Young sounds great. Bob Dylan on the other hand, I mean he sounds like the Cookie Monster at this point. I don’t smoke cigs or anything, but I definitely feel like I cough a lot. I think about this type of shit. I even get nervous about talking loudly, I try to be soft spoken. Didn’t Harry Nilsson lose his voice cause Lennon egged him on to scream in a song? Little asshole, that John Lennon.”

Even playing solo on stage with the minimal setup, John manages to bring out the full life of his songs while performing. For his Chicago show, Ella Williams, known by her stage name as Squirrel Flower, will be joining John to sing “River of Doubt,” one of the songs from Cookbook Ella’s vocals are featured on.

“Ella used to live in New England also,” John says. “And so we invited her to play a show in our barn in New Hampshire and as soon as she played I realized this person was super talented. We always kept in touch and I love her singing so I asked her to sing on the album.”

Although he might be an artist that romanticize the home he’s driving towards, John doesn’t seemed phased by the traveling. His Instagram is filled with stories and photos of small details of small towns—an Indiana town filled with Santa Clauses, a thrift store filled with vintage shoes, a half-empty coffee-and-eggs diner. The “hominess” of John’s music follows him everywhere he goes and reflects out to the world in front of him. This tour, he’s driving to the music of Arthur Russell and Neil Young.

“I forgot how much I love Neil,” he says. “Good time of year to listen to Neil…” | t cundy

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