Ingrid Andress wants to make a connection.
"I'm not trying to be a rebel," says the Nashville-based singer-songwriter with a hearty laugh. "But I am putting myself on the line, because that's who I am. The goal is to relate to people, and that moment is all I want."
Now signed to Warner Nashville/Atlantic Records but originally hailing from Denver, Colorado, Andress has been chipping away at expectations of herself, and her sound, since she was a young child. As good at sports as she was writing songs, Andress was born into a large family and homeschooled in her youth, growing up outside of the traditional definitions that apply to most kids – of what little girls are "supposed" to do, or how she was supposed to interact with the world around her. While she excelled on the field, she also poured her heart into music that cut to an emotional core far exceeding her age. It all made for an artist who would later not only eschew expectations and tear down genre walls, but who could exceed them too.
Though still in her early twenties, Andress has already formed an enviable resume – she attended Berklee School of Music, won the prestigious Unsigned Only Music Prize and has co-written hits like “Steady 1234” and Charli XCX’s “Boys.” She’s written with heavy hitters in the music community such as Sam Hunt and Alicia Keys and was recently named one of CMT's Next Women of Country for 2018. It all has led to new music for 2019 that will prove her to be one of the most unique and moving voices in the country space and beyond; one that is thrillingly honest, raw and refreshing in a way rarely seen emanating from Music City.
Andress' sense of self, one that’s always looking for that moment to connect from behind her piano, indeed started young. She credits much of that independent spirit to spending her early years in Colorado, homeschooled with her four siblings. "We'd go camping in the mountains for vacation or go down to the basement and put on plays," Andress says. "When I started public school in eighth grade, I learned I was a 'tomboy' since I played sports and didn't like shopping. Music and sports were my way of making friends. I learned how to play double bass pedal before I learned how to play anything else."
Soon Andress started spending time at the piano and using poetry to decompress, but it wasn't until a trip to Boston her junior year when she discovered that there were entire colleges – like Berklee – where she could focus solely on music. She received a scholarship and soon linked up with Kara DioGuardi in a songwriting class, who thought her sound and approach would meld well in a country climate and that her mix of stirring vocal command and adept lyrics clearly made her stand out from the pack.
"Kara said I should pursue songwriting because almost anyone can learn how to sing but not everyone knows how to write," Andress says. "So I drove to Nashville by myself because she told me this producer Frank Rogers wanted to write with me." Known for his work with Darius Rucker, Brad Paisley and Scotty McCreery, Rogers was indeed interested – but he was also deep in the middle of a project with Rucker. So Andress set up a small apartment in Nashville with nothing much more than a card table, a mattress and an exercise ball. And, of course, her keyboard. For a few months she did little but work as a waitress (alongside future label mate Devin Dawson) and hone her songs. Once she finally sat down with Rogers it only took two days of working together for him to offer her a publishing deal.
Andress never thought much about the genre of her songs along the way, simply writing from her gut. She was enthralled by the singer-songwriter, story-focused approach surrounding her in Nashville, but the emotional palates and experimental textures afoot in pop and hip-hop excited her too. As a result, she started making frequent trips to Los Angeles and working both within the country and pop spheres, writing cuts for Akon and Matoma while defining her own unique sound.
"If you have a good concept it doesn't matter if it's pop or country," she says. "I love saying that I am a Nashville artist and not trying to define it by a genre. I love being in Nashville while it’s growing so much and it's still the songwriting capital of the world."
Andress soon realized that the direction of the Nashville creative community was most in line with where she wanted to take her own solo career. She wanted to, once again, challenge definitions of what people think of when they think of country music. In particular, what a woman is supposed to sound like or be like within that genre.
On stage at CMT's Next Women of Country event in Nashville in November, Andress unveiled a song called "Lady Like," an empowering anthem set to a gorgeous, plaintive piano riff that kept the crowd enraptured and even cracking a laugh or two. Andress isn’t at all afraid to cut a deeply personal or honest lyric, a wit that comes from how she taps into the truest parts of her persona. And the laughter? It came from people seeing themselves in her song and finding that incredible release in realizing no one is truly alone; that we've all been misunderstood, too.
"I always struggled with what everyone's expectations are of me because I am a blonde-haired, blue-eyed female who takes care of herself," Andress says. "When people see that, they automatically assume that I am something. But I come from a very honest place. I don't usually like wearing dresses because then I feel like I can't run in them, but that doesn't mean I'm not a woman or a lady. There are a lot of stigmas that I don't like which can sometimes make me feel like I don't fit in anywhere."
With a voice that can jump from plaintive and tender to big enough to fill a stadium in seconds, Andress is the kind of artist who fits perfectly in the moment but has the staying power and timelessness to last too. She's not afraid to sing about her imperfections, or her taste for tequila, or how she's loved and lost. Nor is she afraid to tackle subjects that are often taboo in her music or even her day-to-day conversations. Because for Andress, it all comes down to finding that connection, regardless of what it looks like.
"It's important to speak your truth, and music has always been a way where I feel like I connect with people," she says. "Now more than ever, we need people to start saying something real."