Nashville Songwriter Andrew Combs Refuses to Settle on New Album ‘Ideal Man’

In the studio with a pop perfectionist


Stream Nashville songwriter Andrew Combs’ new album ‘Ideal Man,’ an LP that furthers Combs’ pop explorations

In the studio with a pop perfectionist

“I just feel like there’s something missing in the turnaround, maybe even the chorus,” he said. “I’m not in love with the Leslie BGV’s.”

, with the producer Sam Cohen. It’s the first time he’s made a record outside of Nashville, this time with a skeleton crew rounded out by the musicians Dom Billett and Jerry Bernhardt.

“I want that part to be bigger and it doesn’t feel…it’s not quite there,” he says.

harmony vocal. The duo run through several more takes, discussing the subtle differences of each attempt with Cohen and Combs. “What a rock & roll cliche,” Bernhardt jokes, “a bunch of dudes blowing out their voices on shitty backup vocals.”

Combs’ gradual shift away from straightforward country/folk (“pretty, acoustic guitar kind of thing,” he calls it) has been happening ever since he released his debut album

found Combs transitioning from country tearjerker ballads to more straight-ahead indie singer-songwriting. Combs’ new record is the most self-styled piece of work he’s ever put out, bearing the marks and textures of an artist who has figured out how to translate the varied sounds he hears in his head into his records.

isn’t an entirely unrecognizable collection of music, structurally or sonically. “I got into writing three-and-a-half minute songs through Nashville or country, folk, whatever you want to call it, that sort of style, and there’s a part of that that I don’t think will ever really leave,” he says.

Combs’ latest is a mix of vulnerable personal musings and larger societal commentary. “I mean, I find life as a human to be pretty absurd and overwhelming,” he says when discussing the song “Save Somebody Else.” Combs wrote part of the song by himself before enlisting the help of Sheryl Crow’s longtime writing partner Jeff Trot, who added some much-needed positivity when he came up with the central conceit of the song’s chorus.

are about people Combs has long observed from afar. The problematic “Firestarter” is about a distant friend, the same one who also inspired his signature “Too Stoned to Cry” nearly a decade ago. Others, like “The Stone,” is about Combs’ own struggle with anxiety and depression, the latter a problem that had plagued him earlier in his life. “I would have these feelings that there was just something blocking a pathway from my heart to my brain, just not letting me feel normal,” he says. “That song’s about moving that stone.”

do from the top?” Combs asks his studio mates. The group is still tweaking “Firestarter,” but by now they’ve moved on from the background vocals to the electric piano part, which Bernhardt is presently trying to re-record.

“Is that running through the Silvertone? That’s cool, man,” says Combs, who, despite liking this take more, is still not quite satisfied. “I just want you to play dumb. Pick your moments to be special.”

The piano part finally seems settled, so the foursome regroup in the control room. The song is all but done — until Combs has one more suggestion.

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