"That's the whole reason why I wanted to be a songwriter first, to be able to really be able to tell my story in a meaningful way" In conversation with Ingrid Andress
If you've not heard of Ingrid Andress then you will do soon. She's already written for (and with) artists like Alicia Keys, Charli XCX, and Sam Hunt and has released her own songs, the stunning 'Both', 'More Hearts Than Mine', and her calling card, 'Lady Like'. We caught up with Ingrid about a week into the lockdown in Nashville to talk songwriting and her growth as an artist.
Hey Ingrid, so you're on lockdown right now?
Yeah, I mean, honestly, it's not bad because I can still write songs. You know, it's not like I need to be anywhere to do that.
That was actually the first thing I wanted to talk about, how do you normally approach songwriting?
I feel like I normally start with like a real story or an emotion that I've experienced or something that somebody I know is going through. Just because I enjoy writing with that kind of emotional detail. So I usually start with a concept or some kind of lyrical idea, then go to the piano and start figuring out movement and phrasing. Melody is also important but I usually start with lyrics when I'm writing for myself. But if I'm writing for other people it really depends on what they want.
When you write for other people, do you generally know who you're writing for?
You've got kind of a vague idea of what sort of artists you think might pick it up. Recently I've been able to write with the artist directly, so that's very helpful as obviously they're right there. But if they aren't there then there's usually only so much you can do to really predict what somebody wants. You kind of have to like think outside the box a little bit and be like, okay, what hasn't been written yet?
Like what's something cool that I could write that would make somebody want to try their vocal on it. You don't want to follow what the label tell you an artist wants too much, often the artist doesn't really know what they want until they hear it. They think they do. But for my experience, they have they really have to hear it first.
I suppose that's the skill. It'd be pointless if everyone wrote the same thing based on the lists from labels, so making it sound different from everyone else is one of the key things?
Yes, it is. And it is a very different mindset that you have to have, you have to go outside your comfort zone as well. So it was an interesting process that when I wrote this album, it was very much real story songs, about things that have happened in my life. So that was pretty straightforward and easy for me to do.
You mentioned earlier that you generally start with the lyrics. Do you know what kind of story you want to tell in each song?
Yes. But pretty much every song that's on the album started with lyrics, there is only one song on the album that didn't start with lyrics, it started with melody, and that was 'Both'. It was the melody first, I was like "oh, shit, that's so good, now I've got to match lyrics to it". So that was the only one.
And what does that look like, is that you sitting down and thinking, "I'm gonna write about this thing now", or is it jotting down bits and pieces of lyric ideas across a couple of weeks, a few months, and then piece them together? Or do you generally just write a song kind of in one go on its own?
It's kind of a combo of both. Sometimes I'll get like a concept idea, like for 'Lady Like', that title came into my head and it took me like a couple of weeks to really figure out like how I wanted to spin it. So most of the time it's in passing, writing down ideas or, you know, maybe lines of a song. And then when I have time to write, I'll sit down and go through my notes and be like, okay, what what do I feel like tackling? Like what concepts do I want to try to hash out? And being at the piano and sometimes helps too, because even though lyrics are super important, I think phrasing of them is also how I like to write as well. So I usually hash it out at a piano so I have enough of an idea of what I want the song to be about.
Do find that when you've written something, do things evolve much from that point or are you pretty clear what you want the final sound to be when you're writing?
A lot of songs... like, the demos are just me singing and playing piano, so adding production was actually the fun part because a good song, to me, can stand alone just with a guitar or piano. But the fun part is adding in elements that you wanted to highlight and bring up the emotion of the songs, and make it more of a journey instead of it being this linear sound of just piano. So to me, I had sonically in my head what I wanted it to evolve to. So it was really cool to be a part of that production as well because I wanted all the songs to have some kind of tie-in. Whether that be with the strings or with the piano or just the ambience of the tones in every song. So it was a really cool, really fun process for me since I haven't really been able to do that a ton.
This is going to sound really sycophantic, but the way you write lyrics is so clever, they're the real hook to your songs.
I feel like that's the whole reason why I wanted to be a songwriter first, so that I could be this type of artist, which is to be able to really be able to tell my story in a meaningful way that everybody understands and can relate to. I really do think taking the time to learn how to do it was so important. And I'm really glad it didn't jump in to being an artist at the beginning because I would not have known how to word what I wanted to say or I would not have known how to direct a producer sonically for what I was hearing in my head. So it's been very intentional to start as a songwriter and then go into being an artist.
One of my favorite songs of yours is 'More Hearts of Mine'. You've said your songs are very personal but they're also really universal, what's behind that song?
Well, that one was probably the toughest one for me to write because it just gets so vulnerable. I wrote it during the holidays... I feel like everybody has that moment when they're dating somebody and it's almost Christmas, people are getting together, and you think "am I actually going to introduce this person to my family?" I'm very close to my family, there are seven of us, and, you know, I had that thought and I was like, oh, man.
And so I just felt like, okay, I think I'm going to write this even though I was really hesitant because it did require me to become very honest with my personal story, so if anything that really helped me become more vulnerable in telling stories on the rest of the songs I wrote.
That's quite a skill, to make the very personal sound universal?
I guess it just shows me that the more specific you can be about your life, the better, but I feel that a lot of people feel they have to be vague and general when they write songs so they're not eliminating anybody. But it's really taught me that the more specific you are, and open up to what is actually happening and how you're feeling, I think it opens the door in the conversation for other people who are like, oh, I know that exact feeling.
And to me that's why I write that way, so I can relate to other people, so other people feel understood because it makes me feel understood. It's very rewarding, hearing the stories of people who listen to my songs and say "I relate to that so much, thanks for writing this". It just makes me feel like I chose the right career path.
One final question, which is the one that nobody ever wants to answer... If people could only listen to one song off of the album which would you point them to that represents you and the album the most?
I think 'Lady Like' represents me as a person the most, especially as a new artist. Nobody knows who I am. So if you listen to that song, it kind of gives you the rundown of who I am and what I stand for. That song has always been very important to me because after you listen to it, either you like it or you don't. So the message of that song is also very important to me, which is probably why I named to album Lady Like.
You can find out more about Ingrid at her website. You can also check out her social media to see what she's up to. Lady Like is out on 27th March to stream and buy from everywhere.