Song Premiere: Andy C. Jenkins’ “Hazel Woods”

You might not know Andy C. Jenkins, but if you’re a fan of Matthew E. White, you’re sure to have heard some of his songs. The 31-year-old singer-songwriter from the coast of Virginia, birthplace of country music, collaborated with White on each of his solo records, including the much-lauded Big Inner and the latest, Fresh Blood.

Now, for the first time, Jenkins is releasing his own deep melodies with the two-song single, "Hazel Woods," that—thanks to its charming country-soul, well-worn phrases and carefree attitude—is the perfect soundtrack to spring.

As a writer, Jenkins is a romantic at heart, taking inspiration from “girls and crushes,” and the love lives of those around him. His voice is ragged but gentle on the ears, with a bit of cosmic heaviness that guarantees you’ll be left humming his tunes long after you’ve stopped listening to them.

How did you come to co-write Matthew E. White’s song? We went to high school together, so we’ve been friends and working together for a long time, both informally and formally. After a stint in Japan, I worked with Matt’s Spacebomb record label and creative collective, kind of a modern day effort to revive the spirit of a Muscle Shoals-type situation. It’s pretty seamless. He comes from more of a musical background, while I’m a lot more prolific in producing lyrics. It’s hard to tell who’s written what, which is a good thing. We’re on the same page.

How long have you been writing lyrics? Since 8th or 9th grade. I broke my back so I had to stop playing sports; and I picked up the guitar. I never really played The Rolling Stones or whatever kids were learning at the time, I just taught myself chords and played my own songs.

Where do find inspiration for your songs? It has always been the same, girls and crushes [Laughs]. But hopefully the lyrics have matured over time! I don’t really get inspiration from specific girls, it’s more from a general romantic impulse. And I often write about the absurdity of love, how we build these crushes up in our minds, and how we become so obsessed with them. It’s a theme. You can write about personal, romantic things in a non-specific way, but still in a true and genuine way. It’s definitely cathartic, but not in a relationship sense—It just feels very natural and good.

So your first single Hazel Woods, what is that about? Hazel Woods was written from a prompt from my friend who was doing a radio show about books. It’s literally just about reading books. The chorus, “Man, I would love to finish that book, but I still have pages and pages of lines," is about being overwhelmed about reading.

So basically, you can make anything sound profound? I’ve listened to Hazel Woods on repeat and I never really ‘clicked’ that it was about books! [Laughs]. It’s pretty common to not fully pay attention to lyrics nowadays. Especially with pop songs; it’s not just about the lyrics, it’s about all the elements coming together.

Does it make you sad that people don’t really listen to these really beautiful prose? No, not really. It’s the sign of a good song, because the lyrics become kind of like background poetry.

You live in Richmond, Virginia. Does that help or hinder your music-making ability? In Richmond there’s a nice community of musicians, there’s a music school here, cheap rent, there’s a little jazz scene. It’s really laid back, and there are a lot of inspiring people here. There’s a lot of energy. But I wouldn’t mind moving. Soon!

Tell me about the music on the single, did you play all the instruments yourself? Yea, I played everything myself except for the electric guitar, which was done by my friend Ashley. Fun fact! There’s a weird sound effect in the song, a weird bell sound, which is actually a recording from Storm King in Upstate New York. There's a sculpture there you can hit with a hammer, you can hear the ringing from over the whole park. It’s that sculpture recorded with my old Samsung flip phone [Laughs].

Really! Who knew they had such great recording ability. Do you have any other secrets? Um, I was really into juggling in middle school! [Laughs]. I was a member of the International Jugglers Association, and I subscribed to Jugglers Magazine. But I haven’t really been involved for a while. I almost wanted to go to the International Juggling Convention, but I was too young. It’s a weird subculture. I quickly learned that there’s major competition between magicians and jugglers. Magicians are seen as being just about tricks, whereas juggling takes ‘real’ skill [Laughs].

So you’re telling me if you didn’t become a songwriter, you’d be a juggler? Is writing lyrics your main source of income? It was never really any source of income until the last few years, with Matt’s records. So now I’m now able to say I’m a songwriter, with confidence.

You’re no longer a struggling artist? No, I still am [Laughs]. My ‘day jobs’ have been a pretty classic odd job scene. I’ve delivered flowers, baked bread, taught English in Japan, given guitar lessons...

Those are such romantic-sounding jobs… you know, instead of the musician-working-in-a-bar cliche. Well, now I work in a bar, so there you go! [Laughs].

Text by Olivia Fleming