Ingrid Andress is making the best of the pandemic.
The female country artist should have been out on the road with Dan + Shay and Tim McGraw celebrating the fact that her debut single, “More Hearts Than Mine,” just hit the top spot on Mediabase Country Airplay chart. She should also be promoting the release of her first album, “Lady Like,” which ranks as the highest-streaming country female debut album of all time.
Instead, she’s quarantined in her Nashville home, connecting with fans through virtual appearances on network TV and social media as she continues to work on her craft and readies a return to the road when the restrictions are lifted.
“The disappointment comes and goes in waves,” she says. “But there’s also acceptance. I would have been at Stagecoach or on the road with Dan + Shay, but I’m sitting back and trying to appreciate what’s happening. The last two years, I really haven’t had time to enjoy it and think about what I want to do next.”
Thanks to her recent success, that bar is now set much higher for the 28-year-old Warner Nashville/Atlantic Records artist.
Andress hails from a suburb of Denver, the daughter of Brad Andress, a Major League Baseball coach, and his wife Inger. Sports were a big part of her upbringing and Andress played competitive soccer and volleyball and ran track during her formative years. But instead of continuing her sports career in college, she discovered that her true calling was music.
“Both my parents were athletes in college and I grew up playing sports,” she says. “Music was always a hobby to me because there was no one in my family that was musical.”
She’d been playing the piano since she was six and wrote poetry to decompress, but it wasn’t until she made a trip to Boston for the World Series and discovered the Berklee College of Music that she realized there were entire institutions devoted to music. “I didn’t know it was even an option,” she admits.
She was accepted and it changed the course of her life.
She won the Unsigned Only Music Prize, a competition for unsigned artists that includes a cash prize and mentoring, and soon had her songs recorded by Bebe Rexha, Charli XCX, Fletcher and Dove Cameron. She also wrote with everyone from Alicia Keys to Tori Kelly.
Andress also formed an a capella group called Pitch Slapped that performed on the NBC singing competition show “The Sing-Off,” as well as another group, Deliah, that also performed on the show.
It was while she was at Berklee that she met Kara DioGuardi, a Grammy Award-nominated songwriter and former “American Idol” judge, who steered her toward country music.
“I spent a lot of time in L.A. for ‘The Sing-Off’ while I was still in college,” she says. “And frankly, it was almost a little too overwhelming for someone just coming out of college.”
But because she had developed a love for songwriting during her stint in school, she decided to follow DioGuardi’s advice and make the move to Nashville. “It’s the songwriting capital of the world,” she says, “so I moved there and started my songwriting career.”
She says sitting in a room with other writers and a guitar taught her how to create “a well-crafted song.” In the beginning, she admits that it was frustrating since many of the lyrics and melodies she was creating were outside the boundaries of a traditional Nashville sound. “’Nobody says that here,’” she recalls her songwriting partners telling her. “But if you take those songs to L.A., everybody thinks they’re dope. So I just formed my own sound.”
That sound is markedly different from that of most other female artists on country radio today. Rolling Stone described her as “country soul with an L.A. sheen,” while Paper pointed to her “lyrical specificity, moments of self-critical vulnerability and raw vocal gravity.”
Case in point, “More Hearts Than Mine,” where she writes about bringing her boyfriend home to meet her close-knit family.
In addition to her unconventional vocal style, the autobiographical tune is also slow, which is generally the kiss of death for a debut single. But in Andress’ case, it worked out, becoming a gold-certified song and leading to her being nominated as New Artist of the Year by the Academy of Country Music Awards, which will now be held this fall.
She also hasn’t experienced the uphill battle that many other women have trying to break into country radio and its pervasive “bro-country” sound. She feels it’s her honesty and openness that has connected with the industry and the fans.
“It’s a song about my family, who I love so much and who have been my number-one fans from the beginning,” she says. “I’m beyond happy it has resonated with so many people, because that’s the whole beauty of country music; real stories that are told about real people living in this country. It’s an honor to tell those stories as so many legends have done before me.”
Although Andress keeps her private life private, she admits that the guy she wrote the song about is actually driving the car she is sitting in doing this interview as they venture out for a rare socially distanced trip to a local beach.
“It’s a true story,” she says. “It was around the holidays and I was going to see my family, and I said, ‘Do I bring this person?”
But all of the music on “Lady Like” is autobiographical. “You get to know who I am in a very honest way,” Andress says. “People are always curious about a new artist and with this album, it’s: ‘Here I am, take it or leave it.’”
That also translates into her social media presence.
“Some people don’t feel like putting content out, but I do,” she says. “I love meet-and-greets and I love having people hear my songs.”
The eight songs on the album — she cowrote all of them and coproduced the album — run the gamut from “Bad Advice,” which speaks about the bad tips she got from friends after a breakup, to the title cut, which offers a nontraditional take on exactly what constitutes being a lady. Although she says it’s hard to pick a favorite — “It’s like picking your favorite child” — she admits it would probably be “Lady Like.”
Even so, the next single is “The Stranger,” which speaks to how love changes over the years and knowing that being head-over-heels about someone doesn’t last — and that’s natural. The video, which has already been viewed more than 1 million times, shows real-life couples seated face-to-face across a table without saying a word.
That’s reality, something Andress has learned a lot about over the past few months. “The goal for this year was to be on the road, which is hysterical now, but I’m writing more songs I’m really proud of. If I was on the road, there wouldn’t have been as much time to create,” she says.
Not touring or walking red carpets also means she can’t indulge her flair for fashion. Andress, who is 5 feet, 8 inches with an athlete’s body, has a distinct style, opting for pantsuits rather than dresses, often with cropped tops and/or plunging necklines.
“Dresses are fine for some people, but I find them very restrictive,” she says. “I like to move and don’t want to worry about flashing anyone, so I gravitate toward suit separates.” She’s also partial to wearing “big chains” as accessories.
She says she considers herself to have a “tomboy vibe,” but one that is “comfortable and sexy — kind of a combination of masculine and feminine.”
She works with a stylist, Sonia Young out of L.A., who also counts Abigail Breslin, Chloe Bennet, Paris Jackson and Joe Keery among her clients. For red carpets, they tend to lean toward “a little more of a wow factor,” Andress says, adding that Brandon Maxwell and Christian Siriano are among her favorites. And then there was the Armani tuxedo she donned for the Country Music Association awards in 2019: skinny black pants worn with just a white vest with black lapels. “It was very sexy,” she says with a laugh. “I can be a little bolder and racier on the red carpet and show a little more skin. There was a lot of double-sided tape being used that night.”
When on stage, she prefers being comfortable yet edgy, and will opt for “cool tennis shoes and two-piece sets,” which she believes “look really fresh.” The same holds true for her footwear. “I’ll wear heels on the red carpet because they’re sexy, but on stage, I’d just fall, which would not be good.”