Running out of hard drive space—and figuring his loops and tracks would face the same fate as countless other songs he’d recorded over the years—Nashville singer Kyle Andrews dragged the master files for his debut release, Amos in Ohio, into his digital trash can and sent them into oblivion. Then, to his surprise, Badman Records, who’d heard a copy of his collection of gems, called him up. They wanted to release them.
Though he found backups for some of the tracks, others were lost for good. So he remixed what he could, scrambled to re-record a few songs and added the catchy, self-deprecating track “Self-help Tapes.” The result is the new and improved Amos, now slated for national release. (The original version was released by local indie Fictitious Records.) “I save stuff now,” Andrews admits.
After spending some time with Andrews, his act of self-vandalism seems less like stupidity and more like naïveté. After all, as far as he knew, this batch of songs was no different than any others, so why would people start caring now?
“In Chicago,” says Andrews, “all my friends went off to college and I would hang out with them, and their parents would say, ‘You should go to school to work with computers or something.’ ” But instead he moved to Nashville, where an old friend was playing in a band and people didn’t look at him funny when he said he wanted to make records. He still struggles with the transition from guy who plays music—and serves country stars their carrot juice at Wild Oats—to recording artist.
There is, of course, a reason that people care now. Amos in Ohio is simultaneously bright and melancholy, and at times ecstatically vibrant. Though it’s an admitted breakup record filled with observations like “I’ve got a way with girls / they get away with my heart,” it rarely sounds sad. As Rob Fleming famously asked in High Fidelity, “Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable, or am I miserable because I listened to pop music?” Andrews espouses the belief that strong, beautiful music about misery can be cathartic. As Andrews put it, “I was depressed, but figuring out how to admit that and move on. I can’t write overly sad stuff.... If you succumb to that, you don’t even want to record—you want to blow your brains out. I need the pep talk.”
This record is precisely that pep talk. Plucky and defiant, it’s a refreshing change from the usual singer-songwriter fare, the kind that would feel more out of place at a party than Tommy Lee in an emo kid’s bedroom. Layers of keyboards, acoustic guitars and catchy loops combine to create crisp pop to tender,
Amos is a record made with very few cooks in the kitchen. First laying everything down himself, Andrews then brought in drummer and roommate Neil Mason (of Bang Bang Bang) to play along to the finished tracks. The result is loose and spontaneous—a wonderful counterpoint to the exactness of the loops and other electronic elements.
The songs aren’t overworked, or even crowd-tested, they’re just little bursts of melody and momentum. Most of them were taken from embryo to fruition in a day or two and only four tracks run over three minutes. “If you already have a song and you’ve been playing it out for however long, it’s harder to record because you have this set version in your head that it has to live up to,” Andrews says. “But doing it this way is easy because you really can’t go wrong.”
The whole lot, with the exception of “Self-Help Tapes,” was written over a finite period of time: “That’s how I think about an album,” says Andrews. “The songs were all done in those two months so they’re all friends with one another. They can go out and hang out together.”
The album has both an aesthetic and emotional cohesiveness that’s bright and wistful, with songs centered on innocence and escape. The brevity of the record’s genesis makes the lyrical strength even more impressive. Songs like “Your Tester Bunny” pine for the beautiful yet crippling uncertainty of youth: “I don’t stand out in a crowd / sometimes I barely feel I’m here at all / The neighbor’s dad got a Cadillac / maybe I’ll wear a dress to school.” And on the transfixing, idealistic “Moon Tea,” a standout, Andrews sings: “I’ve got a Tonka truck and a box of sand / Gonna dig my way back to you / I promise it’s true.”
Oddly enough, another source of inspiration for Andrews was the concept of Rumspringa, the Amish custom of sending teens (Amos) out into the world (Ohio) to test the waters before deciding whether to be baptized into the Amish Church. “I imagined what it would be like to step out into the real world and just be blown away,” says Andrews. “Not in a negative way, but just kind of step back a bit. So, [the record] is kind of naive—I was definitely trying not to be cynical about everything I was going through.”
In his careful, unassuming way, Andrews talks about his expectations for the now year-old Amos. “Anything that happens for me is a step forward,” he says. “I think it has the potential to do well, but my concept of doing well is pretty modest. When you’ve only sold a few hundred copies of something it’s not too hard to top that.” But if enough people hear this infectious piece of bedroom pop, then Andrews is headed for a big step forward—one that will hopefully afford him a larger hard drive.