We first heard Andrew Combs at Bottletree Cafe in Birmingham last month. From the moment he hit the stage, it was obvious that when it comes to singer-songwriters with lyrical skills, Andrew is the real deal. Likened to folk-country legends like Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt, the Nashville-dwelling, Dallas native is well on his way to becoming a preeminent voice in his genre (just check out his video of “Suwanee County” to see what we mean).
We caught up with Andrew on Southern literature, music venues, and the best hot chicken in Music City, as he gets ready to release a split 7-inch record with fellow Nashville musicians Steelism this Friday.
You are originally from Dallas, what drew you to Nashville?
I moved here six or seven years ago to play music because a lot of my music heroes lived here in the 60s and 70s. Harland Howard, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Mickey Newbury, and Guy Clark—all of those guys, except for Harland, were Texans like me who came to Nashville.
How would you describe the Nashville Music Scene?
It’s changing constantly. It’s not all just country music now, although there is still a lot of great country happening. The musicians here have a strong sense of community, but there is also a sense of business—we all look out for each other, but we also work to outdo each other in a good way. It’s healthy competition.
You are really becoming known for your lyrics, what influences your writing?
I read a lot, especially Southern gothic. My favorite writer is Larry Brown, he was from Mississippi and wrote books like Fay, Joe, A Miracle Catfish, and a book of short stories called Facing the Music. His writing is simple, but poetic. There is no self indulgement or frills around it; it’s just right in your face and cuts to the bone. That’s the kind of writing I try to do.
You just got back from a tour, did you uncover any great, small Southern towns?
I always love Fredericksburg [Texas], and that whole area of the Hill Country. It’s so pretty—kind of deserty with hills and the river that runs through it. Earlier this year, I was touring with Johnny Fritz and Shovels & Rope and we stopped in Juliette, Georgia, where they shot Fried Green Tomatoes. We ate at The Whistle Stop Cafe and went to a swimming hole—that’s the definition of small Southern town, to me.
What is your favorite music venue to play in the South?
The Bottletree in Birmingham is one of the best. You can stay there in the Airstream [trailers they have out back] and they feed you. Hospitality is such a huge thing a lot of venues don’t take into consideration. The vibe is always great in there too.
Another one is Callaghan’s Irish Social Club in Mobile. They have the best burgers in the South, and the owner, JT, treats everyone like royalty. I can never steer away from the burger, but all my bandmates say the shrimp po’boy is amazing too.
What about in Nashville?
The Basement. It’s right below Grimey’s record store, and it’s tiny—literally in a basement. You could get 150-200 people to come out and it feels like a packed house. It’s the kind of venue where the sound is so good that people actually listen too, it’s not just a loud rock club.
What’s your go-to Nashville food joint?
I like to go to Bolton’s [Spicy Chicken & Fish] right down the road. Prince’s [Hot Chicken Shack] is the original, but you have to be tough for that one. It’s beyond spicy.
Describe your perfect Nashville day.
I’d go eat at Sky Blue Cafe (they have breakfast all day), then go record shopping at Grimey’s and Phonoluxe. I’d grab coffee at Ugly Mugs, then go walk down with my girlfriend in Shelby Park, a 14-mile stretch of greenway along the river. Then I’d go to City House for a nice meal, before going back home to listen to the records I bought earlier in the day.
What is your favorite Southern expression?
Y’all come back now, you hear. You can’t forget the comma and ‘you hear.’
Andrew releases a split 7-inch for his dance-friendly track “Emily,” on Friday, October 25 at The Basement in Nashville. There’s only 500 copies of this limited release, and the first 100 people in the door get the record free.