In a reversal of the popular bumper sticker, singer-songwriter Andrew Combs was born and raised in Texas, but got out as quick as he could. Seven years removed from his Red River exodus, the change certainly seems to have been a good one for the Dallas native. Along with the release of his excellent, thoughtful album Worried Man, Combs hasn't only piled up the critical accolades, but he's also landed some choice gigs. In fact, Combs recently completed a toured overseas with the highly-notable up and comer, Caitlin Rose.
Speaking to Combs over the phone he before heads to Texas for South by Southwest, not to mention a show tonight in Dallas at the Doublewide, Combs reflects on the move and the reasons for it. At this point it's easy to see why he does so with the confidence of a man that made the right call at the right time.
"I spent the first 18 years of my life in Dallas," Combs says. "I grew up in the same house, with the same parents and the same dog and all that jazz. After I graduated from [Dallas Prep High School] Jesuit, I moved to Nashville. I have a cousin who had been involved in the Texas Country scene at that time. He played guitar for a bunch of different people, and to be honest, I'm not a huge fan of a lot that music. So, I decided it was time for me to move. This will be the first time I've played in Dallas since I moved, actually."
While Combs hasn't been wild on many of the bands that currently dominate this region's college circuit, he continues to respect his origin-state as a veritable breeding ground for timeless artists who had to make their own move in order to shake things up.
"Most of my favorite writers are from Texas," he says. "Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson and Mickey Newbury are all from Texas, but they spent a lot of time in Nashville. There are some other writers, and younger writers from Texas that I also like very much."
Citing those legendary examples, it's fitting that Combs failed to find immediate success, as the artists he idolizes felt similar frustration upon entering the gates of Music Row. Combs is now a more comfortable, secure resident of Nashville and a productive member of its music community, thanks to sticking it out longer than many would prefer to. After years of hairnet-required labor in multiple restaurants and even using a combination of his car and people's couches for places to hang said hairnet, Combs has settled nicely into a diverse life as a professional musician.
"It took about five years to get anything rolling, really" he says. "People say that Nashville is a 'Five Year Town,' and that was certainly true for me. I took a while to get to know the right people, and to get my songs into the right hands, and the get the right kinds of gigs. I honestly feel like the last two years have really been my first years as a part of the music industry, because it's a very tough town. It's very competitive and business-driven, so there is that side of things to deal with."
The Nashville that Combs went seeking isn't the Music City of prime-time dramas or reality-show stardom, though. Combs migrated to Nashville's East-side, which, in the past few years, has become the rootsy, scruffy cousin to Brooklyn, where every other so-called buzz-band seems to have sprouted from in recent years. Such a vibe suits Combs' charming country-folk music well.
"There's a great community of younger writers on Nashville's east-side that are blossoming," Combs says. "While there's competition, it's good competition. You aim to please your peers there. I figure if I'm pleasing my peers then I'm doing alright because I've got a lot of really talented peers and talented friends in East Nashville."
Aside from a fantastic album and the ability to perform with other great artists, Combs landed a publishing deal, which he calls; "a really fun homework assignment I get paid to do." Such a deal provides him stability as he looks for the next exciting gig.
All in all, Combs moving from Dallas to see what might happen in one of America's great cities isn't all that different from a fresh High School graduate setting off to the college he's dreamed of attending. Thanks to the lessons Combs learned in roughly the same amount of time one might get their college degree, he ended up where he's always wanted to be - both geographically and artistically.