Andrew Combs

S&S Presents

Andrew Combs

Monday, October 21, 2019

8:00 pm

$10 ADV / $12 DOS

Andrew Combs
Andrew Combs
Andrew Combs is a singer and songwriter whose work bridges the freedom and
possibility of his visual art with the influence of classic writing and storytelling. On his
new album, Ideal Man, Combs worked with producer/engineer Sam Cohen (Kevin
Morby, Benjamin Booker) to achieve a more raw, direct sound. The collection was
captured live in Cohen’s Brooklyn studio, with compact, muscular arrangements fueled
by taut, elastic grooves, and also featuring Combs’ longtime collaborators, drummer
Dom Billet and guitarist/keyboardist/bassist Jerry Bernhardt. While Combs may be best
known as a singer/songwriter in the classic 1970s Laurel Canyon sense of the term, he
proves the true versatility of his work here, often setting his acoustic aside in favor of
atmospheric synthesizers and distorted electric guitars. The songwriting for Ideal Man
was partly inspired by Combs’ recent fascination with painting. Combs started painting
when his wife was pregnant (They welcomed a daughter in 2017). “It really changed the
way that I write songs,” he reflects. “When I paint, I might start with a very abstract idea
or maybe even just a feeling, but from there I’ll paint and scrape and paint and erase and
keep on painting until something starts to take shape. I just let nature play out.”

“I’ve never felt so visually stimulated as I am right now, and this has been a really
unique way for me to make sense of the record as a whole, to find some sort of common
thread between the music and my life.”

Enamored with the fresh creative avenues that painting opened up for him, Combs
applied the same approach to his music, beginning songs with an emotion rather than a
concept and treating lyrical and melodic ideas as raw material that could be added to or
layered over at any point. When he heard the finished recordings, the songs in turn
suggested entire canvases in his mind, and Combs began work on a series of oil
paintings designed to accompany each track on the album.

“I started seeing all these motifs and symbols when I listened to the songs,” reflects
Combs, who plans to present the album and the paintings together in a gallery show.
“Some of the pieces are more representational and some are more abstract, but I’m
ultimately trying to capture the mystical qualities of each tune rather than the
analytical.”

Fatherhood is another obvious source for Combs’ change in perspective and the record
reflects the emotional rollercoaster that comes with raising a child in such turbulent
times. No longer simply an observer documenting the world as he sees it, Combs finds
himself thrust into the role of protector and guardian on these songs, which means that
joy and hope often come packaged with fear and frustration, anger and anxiety. “So
often I find myself just sad and disappointed in humanity these days,” he explains. “I’m
scared for my daughter and her future on so many levels,” adds Combs, explaining the
tumultuous character of some of the album’s lyrical content.

Combs first began garnering national attention for his music with the release of Worried
Man, his acclaimed 2012 debut. The record, which received the deluxe reissue treatment
this year, earned Combs a slot at the iconic Newport Folk Festival alongside dates with
Shovels & Rope and Houndmouth, and it prompted American Songwriter to proclaim
that “[as far as] first albums go, it’ll be tough to beat this as one of the year’s finest.”
Combs followed it up in 2015 with the similarly well-received All These Dreams, which
landed him performances with Kacey Musgraves and Eric Church among others, and
then signed to New West Records in 2017 for his breakout third album, Canyons Of My
Mind. Songs from that record racked up more than 15 million streams on Spotify and
prompted raves from Rolling Stone to NPR, who hailed him as “one of Nashville’s most
poetically gifted young singer-songwriters.”

A Dallas native, Combs has called Nashville home since 2006, but when it came time to
record Ideal Man, he opted for a change, heading to Jupiter Recordings in Brooklyn,
where he and his bandmates—drummer Dom Billet and multi-instrumentalist Jerry
Bernhardt—cut the album in a series of short bursts with Cohen both playing guitar and
producing.

“One of the things I really admired about Sam is that he wants to capture a moment,”
says Combs. “In the past, I’ve tended to pursue a studio sound that was really polished
and clean, but I wanted to do something different this time, and I knew that working
with Sam would lead to more of a loose, psychedelic, spaced-out vibe. We did everything
live in the studio, even my vocals, and there’s a sense of immediacy and discovery in
those early takes that you can’t recreate.”

It’s that immediacy that reaches out and grabs you by the lapel on album opener “Stars
of Longing,” an insightful, questioning gem that begins the record with a snare drum
cracking like a gunshot. Propelled by a deep-in-the-pocket rhythm section groove, the
track marries elements of classic soul and funk with psych-rock and sweeping folk as
Combs challenges and explores the spiritual journey he’s been on since his Catholic
school days in Texas. “All I’ve learned is all I really know / There’s only love,” he sings,
piercing through the pomp and politics of organized religion to get down to the core of it
all. The hazy title track bluntly grapples with identity and insecurity, while the
R&B-influenced “Hide and Seek” laments the games lovers play to avoid saying what
they really mean, and the minimalist “Like A Feather” strips romance down to its bare
essentials.

“This was the first song I wrote for the album, and it started as an experiment to see if I
could write something with just three chords,” says Combs. “I was trying to get myself
out of the mindset that the more chords you use, the better the song is, and this one
really opened up the door for me to write the rest of the record.”

Combs worked with some of his favorite writers on the album, including Dylan LeBlanc,
Jeff Trott, Joe Henry, and Kenny Childers, but the stories he tells here are deeply
personal and remarkably vulnerable. The heartrending “Firestarter” watches helplessly
as a friend self-destructs, and the tender “Golden” finds Combs balancing the beauty of
witnessing his daughter grow up with the wistfulness of knowing that she can’t stay a
child forever. It’s perhaps “Born Without A Clue,” though, that best captures the
emotional push and pull at play on the album.

“That song’s about being a dad, certainly, but I also think it’s about all of us,” says
Combs. “I’m a hopeful, positive person, and I don’t like to dwell too long on the
negative, but it’s so in our faces. There’s no way not to be apprehensive of the world
around you right now.”

A sense of danger and violence underlies the entire record, much as it does the entire
country, but it only serves to make the moments of beauty and connection here that
much more poignant. Life is short and the clock is ticking. Andrew Combs doesn’t plan
to waste a second.
Venue Information:
Urban Lounge
241 South 500 East
Salt Lake City, UT, 84102
http://www.theurbanloungeslc.com/