Ingrid Andress on Singing with Idols Karen Fairchild and Kimberly Schlapman: 'I Practiced "Not Fangirling" in the Mirror'
The 'More Hearts Than Mine' singer has quietly been spending five years writing songs and preparing for a career breakout as an artist: "I didn’t want to do it at a time when I wasn’t ready"
If you’re a new artist, when exactly do you know that you’re finally breaking through? For Ingrid Andress, maybe the moment happened last month at Nashville’s CMA Fest when she heard an audience sing her songs back to her for the first time.
“It really tripped me out at first,” the 27-year-old Coloradan tells PEOPLE. “Being able to look out and see people singing with me, I was like, whoa!”
Actually, Andress has been having a lot of “whoa” moments in the few months since her songs “Lady Like,” “Both” and radio single “More Hearts Than Mine” have been released. Another moment arrived when Little Big Town’s Karen Fairchild and Kimberly Schlapman picked Andress as the young artist they wanted to collaborate with on “Five Decades, One Voice,” a Cracker Barrel 50th-anniversary initiative that’s celebrating women in country music.
Fairchild heard Andress sing “Lady Like” last year at a country showcase and, Fairchild says, “I was so blown away just by the originality. You can just tell when someone’s authentic and genuine, and she’s a very, very gifted writer and has a beautiful voice.”
Fairchild and Schlapman invited Andress to join them on three songs: LBT’s new release, “The Daughters,” “More Hearts Than Mine” and a cover of the Dixie Chicks’ “Wide Open Spaces.” Video of their performance is now being featured on Cracker Barrel’s website and social channels.
How did Andress prepare to sing with two of her musical idols?
“Well, I practiced ‘not fangirling’ in the mirror,” she confesses, then “I rehearsed the crap out of every song we were doing.”
And, yes, that included her own song. If anything, Andress is an artist who understands the importance of preparation. In fact, she’s spent the last five years in Nashville quietly and patiently laying the groundwork for this breakout moment.
She arrived in the city laser-focused on developing her songwriting skills, and she already had an enviable calling card: Kara DioGuardi, the producer, songwriter, publisher and former American Idol judge who was also Andress’ pop-songwriting instructor at the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston. DioGuardi sent her to Nashville on a mission to collaborate with a songwriting colleague. Andress ended up staying and eventually signed two publishing deals, including with DioGuardi’s company.
She scored co-writes on a couple of pop hits — Vice’s “Steady 1234” and Charli XCX’s “Boys” — but she held tight to a long-term goal of performing and recording country music. During her time at Berklee she’d already had a taste of a national audience, appearing on two seasons of NBC’s a cappella group competition, The Sing-Off. In between school and the Hollywood experience, she says, “it made me realize I really did want to be in entertainment. I didn’t get nervous before we performed. I just loved doing it.”
Yet, she adds, “I didn’t want to do it at a time when I wasn’t ready.” For Andress, that meant spending years finding her own groove, writing songs that were only hers to sing. Today, listeners can hear the result in her clever wordplay and storytelling, the backbone of country tradition, and her unique brew of pop-infused, emotion-packed sound.
“I like the lyrics in country,” she says. “That’s what really got me into songwriting. ‘Whiskey Lullaby’ [by Brad Paisley and Alison Krauss] was the first song I ever cried to. I was like, why am I crying? But sonically, I really love everything. I think there’s a time and place for all genres, all music. But what I love about country the most is the fact that, when done well, you can tell stories that everybody can relate to.”
Case in point: the heart-tugging “More Hearts Than Mine,” Andress’ take on the high stakes of bringing a boyfriend home to meet the family. The lyrics are so spot-on that it’s hard to imagine this didn’t happen to Andress, and she has a family of seven that could certainly create the situation: a tight-knit unit that includes three sisters and a brother. Andress allows that she found more than fleeting inspiration for the song in a college experience.
“He was my first love and I broke up with him because, you know, I completely ruined that relationship,” she recalls. “But literally years after, my family would still ask about him. I’m like, ‘Guys, it’s never going to happen. He hates me. I broke his heart. I’m so sorry.’ But seeing how attached they got, that’s why I haven’t brought anybody to meet them since.”
Not that she’d have much time for dating these days. Between performances and a grueling radio tour “my favorite thing to do now is sleep,” Andress says, laughing. “It used to be, you know, ‘doing activities.’ I’m like, no, I’m just going to sleep.”
That isn’t a complaint. After all, this is exactly the life she’s been preparing for, though there have been some surprises. The collaboration with Fairchild and Schlapman, of course, has been among the happy ones. She also is still savoring an unexpected backstage encounter at a recent German festival with Keith Urban, who “knew my songs and told me which songs of mine he liked,” she recalls.
So which songs?
“Well,” she shyly admits, “I guess he liked all of them, actually. I still think that was a dream. Like, how do you even remember? I don’t remember the names of some of the songs that I’ve written!”
An even bigger surprise for Andress is just “how quickly everything’s moving” with her career. “When you first get signed as a new artist, the label kind of preps you, telling you it’s a slow start, but once things get moving it’ll be great,” she says. “And it’s been nothing but fast pace since I got signed.”
LBT’s Fairchild expects Andress’ career to rev up even more. “She knows who she is,” Fairchild says of her new friend. “She knows what she wants to do. She’s just the real deal. That’s why we handpicked her. It’s because we just really believe in her.”