Missy, Heine Andersen returning to Crash Music
FARMINGTON — Just because blues singer Missy Andersen has added gospel music to the repertoire she plays with her husband and guitarist Heine Andersen over the last year, don't go calling her a gospel artist.
"We don't even consider ourselves to be gospel — it's just something we do," Andersen said. "As a matter of fact, it was just kind of a fluke, and we went with it. What I like about it is, it gives us a chance to harmonize, and that's where I came from. I love doing backup vocals."
Andersen and her husband, who have become Four Corners favorites over the past few years through their frequent appearances at Crash Music and the Animas River Blues & Brews Festival in Aztec, will return for another show at Crash Music this weekend. The San Diego residents — she's a Detroit native who made her way west after growing up in Queens, N.Y., while he is a native of Denmark who found his way to the blues via the recordings of Jimi Hendrix — opened their Southwest tour last week with a show in Tucson, Ariz., before continuing to head east for a swing that will include performances in Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Denver, in addition to their local stop.
Missy Andersen said she and her husband's foray into gospel music, after years of building a reputation for themselves as accomplished blues artists, actually turned out better than either of them expected. They put together a show called "The Gospel According to Missy Andersen" with a handful of other San Diego blues performers and started playing gigs around that city. Before long, the show had taken on a life of its own, and the group found itself in high demand.
Nevertheless, she doesn't regard it a significant change in career direction.
"Soul, blues, R&B — to me, it's all connected," she said. "I've been doing all that since I stood in the back row of the church choir when I was just a nerdy kid."
In those days, it wasn't unusual for the young Andersen — petrified of performing in front of anyone — to simply mouth the words to the songs her fellow choir members were belting out. Now, as a professional singer who is ranked as one of the top artists in contemporary blues, she's managed to come out on top of her fears, but only to a degree.
"I still get jitters," she said. "I still have to remind myself sometimes, 'I'm OK. I can do this.'"
Andersen's ability to put aside her stage fright has been made more difficult over the past year as she and her husband play more gigs as a duo, rather than as members of a full blues band, as they did for so many years. Andersen said she likes the flexibility of that configuration, but she said it makes it even more challenging for her to get up on stage every night and entertain people.
"When you're standing in front of a crowd with just one other instrument, there's not a lot to cover up your stuff," she said.
She's tried to become a percussionist as well as a singer, but has found only limited success. When she's concentrating on singing, she said, she finds it almost impossible to maintain a rhythm with her hands.
"Heine wants to fire me every day," she said, giggling. "We have rehearsals just so I can clap."
Nor is playing another instrument an option, apparently.
"I only play enough piano to make somebody mad," she said.
The Andersens' reshaping of their brand into a duo didn't come without some risks. Their full group had enjoyed a rapid rise up the contemporary blues pecking order, with the band growing from a modest local act into a tight, nationally touring outfit over the past several years. But it was primarily the recognition coming Missy's way — she is a two-time Blues Music Awards nominee for best soul blues female artist — that drove the Andersens' increased popularity and allowed them to emerge from a crowded San Diego blues scene that includes such well-known artists as Sugarray Rayford, Earl Thomas and Candye Kane.
Missy Andersen sometimes still falls into the habit of referring to herself as the "baby sister" of that group of artists, but her steady maturation as a performer and her relaxed on-stage chemistry with her musical and life partner make those kinds of comments feel more and more off target, regardless of how many self-doubts she may still carry around inside.
In addition to making the rounds this summer at blues festivals around the country, the Andersens are planning on mounting their first substantial tour of the Midwest in late summer and early fall. They also feel a sense of urgency to get back in the studio and record a follow-up to their last album, 2014's "In the Moment."
That project has been in the works for at least two years now and hasn't yet become a reality. That's partly because the Andersens have spent so much time on the road but also because they were recasting their identity as a duo. It now sounds as if that's largely where their future lies.
"We've changed our focus," Missy said. "We want to do a duo CD. We want to promote that part since we're going out (on the road as a duo) as often as a band. We like our little duo. I think if we could do that all the time, we would."
Songwriting remains somewhat of a struggle for Andersen, who said she has only penned seven of her own tunes over the years. She wishes that number were higher, but understands that writing isn't her strength.
"I don't claim to be a songwriter," she said. "We do it out of necessity. … On our last CD, we did a few of our own, but more so, we're trying to find people who write good songs. We've stuck more to what we know."
The Andersens are receptive to trying material by emerging writers. Missy said they recorded two tunes by San Diego psychologist and budding artist Cathy Hammond on "In the Moment," as well as others by songwriters they had been previously unacquainted with from Las Vegas and Georgia. The story of how they came to use Hammond's material is serendipitous in nature.
Recalling that Hammond came to her for advice on her singing, Andersen grudgingly agreed to listen to her perform, but only after protesting that she didn't consider herself much of a vocal coach. Hammond sat down with her guitar and began singing, and Andersen quickly stopped her.
"That's a great song," Andersen said. "I never heard that before. Who wrote it?"
When Hammond replied it was one of hers, Andersen asked her if she had any others. In fact, she did, Hammond said, and that's how the doctor found herself added to the Andersens' roster of go-to writers.
Being fortified with quality material by unknown writers makes the recording experience a less-stressful one, Andersen said, whose demons of self-doubt apparently follow her from the stage into the recording studio.
"I find it a little traumatic because you know it's forever," she said of the experience of recording an album. "It's hard to be objective, too. I'm my own worst critic."
Andersen had a quick answer when she was asked what she's learned from her two previous excursions into the studio.
"That it's hard," she said, laughing. "It's hard to prepare for it. It just happens so fast. And a lot of times, you've got to go into the studio before you're really ready. … But if people had to wait for that (to happen), you'd never record."
Of course, once she sets foot in a studio, the self-critical Andersen finds it hard to leave, always believing she could get a song better in just one more take. But she's quickly learned how expensive that approach can be.
"The only reason you get out of the studio is because they're charging you," she said.
Mike Easterling is the A&E editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4610.
If you go
What: Missy and Heine Andersen concert
When: 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 11
Where: Crash Music at the Aztec Theater, 104 N. Main Ave. in Aztec
Tickets: $15 at crashmusicaztec.com or 505-427-6748
For more information: Visit missyandersen.com