Andres at All Roads

A dynamic approach

By Dagney C. Ernest | May 16, 2018
Vicky Andres

Midcoast musician Vicky Andres is known for her big sound. She wields her electric ax like Paul Bunyan, charging through original blues-rock songs that are expanded by her band Life Itself into can’t-be-only-a-trio immersions of passion and power. But at the All Roads Music Festival in Belfast, it will be just her and her guitar.

Andres, who lives in Rockland, is one of the participants in the festival’s Maine Songwriters Circle, set for 1 p.m. Saturday, May 19, at the downtown Colonial Theatre.

“It'll be myself and four other songwriters and we'll perform probably two originals and one cover, our version of a cover. And then also talk about the songwriting process,” she said nine days before the fest.

The songwriting process has been part of Andres as long as she can remember. She thinks she wrote her first song at age 3; she recalls cajoling fourth-grade classmates into checking out her latest songs. It’s just something she’s always done ... and loved.

“It was like my favorite toy, something you get to play with in your head, you know. And it's still my favorite toy,” she said.

Andres moved to Maine as a teen, and it was in her teens that she began playing in bands. In those days, being in a band was all about playing covers.

“Playing a song like another band was the way to show how good we were. It was also a way of getting good, and getting influenced,” she said.

Andres kept writing her own songs, occasionally trying to get her cover bandmates to play one, but that wasn’t what they were about. Finally, she said, she had to take a leap.

“I said, no, I really just want to do original songs. This is what I'm doing, so find the people that want to do that. That's when Gregg McGowan came to me and said, 'I've got the perfect background rhythm section for you,'” she said.

 

“I need a song with the power of a freight train.

A song with the rhythm of the driving rain.

A song with the wisdom of the ages.”

— Vicky Andres, “Worth the Wait”

So in the late ‘90s, Andres became one of Maine’s earlier indie rock artists. McGowan eventually moved out of state, but one of his students, Max McFarland, became Andres’ bass player and they played all around the state as a power duo. With the addition of Midcoast drum-meister Jason Dean, the band became a unit to be reckoned with, although Dean departed for several years to play with prog-rockers The 220s.

“We're so glad to have him back! So it's called Vicky Andres & Life Itself; it took us a long time to come up with that name,” she said. “I wanted something that was big, that could describe what they did for the music, and that's what they do, they breathe life into it.”

Their individual lives include a variety of day jobs — Andres is working at a group home for adults with mental illness, so her “days” include overnights. But her Sunday-through-Tuesday schedule front-loads the week, leaving her time to write, practice and play out, all around the state.

One of the things she wants to talk about in the Maine Songwriters Circle is dynamics, something she feels strongly about in her own work. So one of her original songs will be “pretty rocking” … especially since she asked to be able to play electric, rather than acoustic, guitar. She had yet to decide on which of her rockers to play, but she has plenty to choose from.

“I know I want to do one that's pretty rocking and has a lot of dynamics, so we can talk about dynamics and why that's important to me as a songwriter, in the building tension and the different things that happen for us as listeners. I want to make sure I do a rockin’ one that has both those dynamics,” she said.

She also requested to have a drummer for her cover song, which will be a tribute to the late Chris Cornell, someone she said was a big influence on her work. Playing a cover has become so rare for her that the Maine Songwriters Circle is breaking some ground for Andres … and her augmented performance does the same for the Circle.

“It won’t be super-loud, but it will be different, for sure,” she said.

On this day, she had just gotten back some mixes for her first album, which should be out sometime next month. There will probably be a couple of CD release performances, likely one at Rock City Café in Rockland, “because it feels like home here.” And she and her songs have found such a home in Vicky Andres & Life Itself that she does not foresee performing gigs without the band.

“Jason and Max are wonderful! Max can play so dynamically on the 11 strings: not only can he play the bass runs, but he can do some chordal things, which fills up the sound. So between that and Jason's versatility, because he’s incredibly versatile and knows just what a song needs, usually; I think that's why as a trio that we're able to convey the songs so well,” she said.

Upcoming appearances include an evening next month at Geno’s Rock Club in Portland, sharing the stage with another trio — this one genetic — Random Ideas; and a July 20 concert at the Camden Opera House with New Hampshire’s 61 Ghosts.

“That's going to be a really good show, they're amazing! Both bands I think have that same intensity, but slightly different styles to keep it interesting,” Andres said.

And while Andres and Life-mates will certainly be playing tunes from the new CD, they also will be introducing new ones, including the just-penned “Walking Contradiction.”

“I can't wait to play it! It's already pretty tight with the band and I'm excited about that one,” she said.

Although she’s been writing songs for most of her life, Andres doesn’t have hundreds to draw from. She’s pretty picky about what makes it to performance. The self-taught artist didn’t go to music school — “We were poor … I didn't even know college was an option, even though it was” — but she knows her craft.

“You write a lot of bad songs, too, and I don't count those,” she said, estimating she has 60 or 70 songs that make the grade. “You learn a lot through the years.”

Andres is excited about being at All Roads, an invite that arrived quite unexpectedly by email. And she’s excited about hearing about the Circle’s other participants’ songwriting process.

“I love to talk about it, and I love to hear about it! It's what I do … and it’s interesting to hear how other people do it,” she said.

The audience will have an opportunity to ask questions of the Circle’s musicians. For more information about Andres and her music, visit vickyandresandlifeitself.com.

Comments (0)
If you wish to comment, please login.