(This story originally appeared in the November 2012 issue of Fly Magazine.)
The legacy of the singer/songwriter walking the streets of Nashville, TN, is long and storied. But young musicians like Andrew Combs are helping to create a new generation of wordsmiths that call Music City, USA their home
First gaining notoriety for his self-released 2010 EP Tennessee Time, Combs has quickly garnered a reputation as a heartfelt lyricist in the burgeoning Americana scene. The video for his song “Month of Bad Habits” has received airtime on CMT, and this year he was invited to play at the prestigious Americana Music Association festival.
Speaking from his apartment on the east side of Nashville, Combs says he was enticed to move from his native Dallas, TX, more than five years ago, following in the footsteps of his musical heroes like Guy Clark, Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson, Townes Van Zandt, Mickey Newbury and Tom T. Hall who have all lived and worked in Nashville at one point or another.
Combs says the new breed of Nashville musicians – people like Jonny “Corndawg” Fritz, Rayland Baxter, Caitlin Rose and Robert Ellis – have developed a competitive music scene that is pushing everyone to do their best work.
“You’re always striving to please your peers – which are other musicians and songwriters,” Combs says. “If you can please them, you’re probably doing something right.”
Combs looks to build on his early achievements with the October release of his first full-length album, Worried Man. Comprised of 11 songs, Worried Man is a story album that follows the tribulations of a young musician with titles like “Devil’s Got My Woman,” “Big Bad Love” and “Too Stoned to Cry.”
Combs says Worried Man came together over the course of six months of recording, and he has been holding on to the finished product for nearly a year.
The process of putting the album together was no easy task. Combs lived on friend’s couches for eight months to save money. He scrounged together enough funds to record two songs a month, working as a server in a restaurant “like every other musician in town.”
“I’m really proud of Worried Man and want to get it out there now,” Combs says.
In addition to his new release, Combs was recently signed on as a staff writer with Razor & Tie Music Publishing, joining musicians like Clark, Kristofferson and Newbury who worked behind-the-scenes as songwriters for other artists in Nashville while recording their own albums on the side for decades.
Combs says he writes nearly every day when he’s not on the road, using different methods to develop a song – whether it’s a title or phrase that pops in his head or the strumming of a guitar riff. Although he used to carry a notebook to write lyrics, Combs says today he simply types notes into his iPhone. He records melodies on his phone while driving in his car. Technological advances have made songwriting a little easier, but Combs says it hasn’t significantly changed his writing process.
“Maybe there’s an app for songwriting that I haven’t heard of yet,” Combs laughs.
Regardless of his early successes, the 25-year-old Dallas TX, native is quick credit musical legend Guy Clark – a man that has called Nashville his home for decades – as the source of his appreciation of the country sound.
Combs was obsessed with finding new music while in high school. He was primarily focused on punk and electronic bands until his senior year when a friend played him a copy of Clark’s 1997 live album Keepers. It was Clark’s storytelling through song and his voice that convinced Combs there was a completely new musical landscape to explore.
“That Guy Clark album changed my whole view on music, and it made me want to write songs with stories,” Combs says.
Music has long been Combs’ passion. He says his father was a piano player that constantly made music in the home. And it was Combs’ cousin, Greg, who gave him his first guitar. Combs says Greg played lead guitar for several rock and country bands in Austin, TX, and was the first person to show him what it takes to be a professional musician.
Combs says he doesn’t consider himself a great guitarist; he says he’s a decent rhythm player, picking up his style by listening to other guitar players. Instead, his focus has been on his lyrics.
“People are just hungry for real music as opposed to cookie-cutter songs,” Combs says.