Gem Andrews: "Country music is people pushing back and defining themselves"
The folk and Americana musician chats to DIVA about her upcoming album and UK gigs
IMAGE: GEM ANDREWS
Gem Andrews writes Americana and folk music with an honesty and rawness that takes you by surprise. Deeply rooted in alt-folk, her voice has been compared to that of Patsy Cline, Lucinda Williams and Kate and Anna McGarrigle. Danielle Mustarde spoke to Gem to find out what to expect from her new album.
DIVA: Thanks for chatting to us Gem. First off, how did you get into it music?
GEM ANDREWS: I started playing guitar and listening to country music when I was six years old. I grew up in Skelmersdale, a man-made council estate in Lancashire, that the Thatcher government had pretty much left to rot – people had hard lives. There was little money and no work. Outside our house was miles of concrete, kids grew up faster than they should have and many fell straight back into cycles of teen pregnancy and addiction. At home, my family was complicated - so music was the pool that I could plunge into to silence all of that background noise.
What was it about country music as a genre that spoke to you?
When I first heard country music, I heard poor and disenfranchised people telling their own stories. It was so different to what the government and newspapers were saying about us - that we were scum, lazy, the worst of the worst. Country music is people pushing back and defining themselves, through beautiful, evocative, emotionally complex songs. It resonated deeply with me. And I knew that I could use country music to tell my story, and those of the people around me.
Your new album North is due out just before Christmas, what’s it all about?
I have been on a bit of a journey for the last few years, I see people in my community in the North East going without food, and so much of the North still suffering from deindustrialization. I continue to be dogged by a depression that I cannot shake which is, at times, completely debilitating. Like many people in this country I have realised that I, and we, have not done this to ourselves – whether an individual or an entire government, someone is very much to blame. My own hopelessness has increasingly turned to fury, which I think is reflected in the album.
The album isn’t without a sense of hope though - would you agree?
The saving grace for me, and something that I have tried to reiterate through this collection of songs, is that by pulling communities together and working collectively, we can make an incredible impact to changing laws, lives and securing a positive future for the next generation - at the forefront of which is valuing each other as human beings first and foremost, to resist and question the endless dehumanisation of those different to us, to listen to people’s stories from backgrounds different to our own, and move through the world with empathy and compassion.
You're well established in the UK Americana scene, what's it like as a queer woman?
I've played around the UK for 10 years now and increasingly believe that many doors have been closed to me because a straight, male dominated industry is unwilling to give opportunities to women artists - especially those who do not fit a heteronormative mould. The UK Americana scene needs to wake up and see that times are changing, and a straight white man does not need to headline every gig and every festival in order to sell tickets - it’s a disservice to the audience and the genre itself. There needs to be more space for complicated adult women dealing with challenging themes through their music.
You live in Berlin now, why did you choose to settle there?
I moved to Berlin in order to play music full time, to learn another language and to experience life outside the UK for a little while. Berlin is a fantastic city, full of beautiful aesthetics, and interesting musicians and artists, from all backgrounds. It’s also home to one of the world's greatest LGBT communities, which has created many more platforms for upcoming artists, musicians and theatre makers to improve and share their skills.
When can people catch you next in the UK?
Also, I hear you have a cute pic of your dog in a bow tie..?
Always happy to oblige... Meet my faithful 10-year-old Pomeranian, Sugarpie!
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