Jill Andrews, Peter Groenwald Quietly Sound Off on Arrival of Beautiful 'Hush Kids'
The alchemy developed between artists paired to create tunes for other people could be hit-and-mysterious, but this duo of Nashville-based musicians (Hush Kids) finally saw the writing on the wall to deliver a welcoming, relaxing respite.
26 October 2018
The competitive combination of two or more songwriters put together in one room to churn out music has often resulted in successful hit singles, but not necessarily the start of a beautiful friendship. Hush Kids are hoping to accomplish both. How much noise the duo make is up to them.
The new collaboration of Nashville-based musicians Jill Andrews and Peter Groenwald has resulted in their self-titled Hush Kids, a simply beautiful 10-song debut album that's my favorite of the year so far and will be released on 26 October (Tone Tree Music).
During an almost hourlong phone interview from their separate residences outside Nashville, Andrews (in Madison, Tennessee) and Groenwald (in Greenbrier), discussed the sometimes strange but practical magic that takes over during cowriting sessions, balancing time between personal and collaborative careers and why getting ahead in this business often involves more than writing a few hit songs.
Both transplants from Illinois (Andrews was born in Normal, where her dad worked at Illinois State University; Groenwald learned the piano while growing up in La Grange) have made their mark as artists in different ways before getting paired up and earning spots on the Concord Music publishing roster.
A co-founder of the Everybodyfields, an alt-country group she was with from 2004-09, Andrews started writing songs at the age of 19 and moved to the Nashville area about seven years ago as her solo career began to gain momentum. The outstanding singer has released one EP and two full-length albums (most recently 2015's The War Inside), and has been featured on tracks by a number of notable artists, including a Seth Avett duet and Humming House's delicious cover of Paul McCartney's "Maybe I'm Amazed". This summer she opened for the Avett Brothers on a tour that included the "most exciting moment" of her career — playing at Red Rocks in July. Andrews has a nine-year-old son (Nico) and a two-year-old daughter (Falcon).
Having spent almost 16 years in the Nashville area, Groenwald self-produced and released Sweet Science, a 2011 EP, and has played keyboards for artists from Landon Pigg to Ruston Kelly, making appearances on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Late Night with Conan O'Brien, and Late Night with Seth Meyers. Some of his previous cowriters have included Mindy Smith, Amy Stroup, K.S. Rhoads and Matthew Perryman Jones. He has a four-year-old daughter (Amelia) and another child on the way with his wife Isaaca, who has her own band called Myzica.
Photo courtesy of artist
Dream teaming up
As is the case with most blind dates, Andrews and Groenwald weren't exactly sure what to think about each other the first time they met for a random session to write for other artists. They can't quite pin down the date, either, but are fairly confident it took place in January 2015. "We had a lot of mutual friends," Andrews recalled. "So it wasn't scary going into it. I remember just feeling like, 'This is probably gonna be cool.' "
Working then for separate publishing companies (Big Yellow Dog Music for Andrews; Groenwald was just starting out with Razor & Tie, which became Concord), their meeting resulted in writing and recording one song — the swoon tune "Wake Up" — that ended up on the Hush Kids album.
Asked what the initial impression of her cowriter was, "Andrews said, "I don't know if I remember, honestly."
Added Groenwald: "I don't either. I think, kind of going back, the impression that it left was easy-breezy."
They both described the song as "special," but neither seemed too struck by the experience to describe it as memorable, intense or overwhelming — finally settling on "natural." Yet there were no immediate plans to start a band, almost categorizing it as another day at the office.
"It was just a song that we wrote," said Andrews, who compares some cowriting sessions to a form of therapy. "And we both really liked it. And I didn't really think too much about any of it."
When they ran into each other at a party thrown by mutual friend-musician-songwriter K.S. Rhoads, Andrews said, "We talked a bunch, and I was like, 'Oh, yeah, Peter, and we wrote an awesome song.' And then we got another writing date, and this was quite a while after we wrote 'Wake Up'."
The next session is impossible to forget, even if the song — "Love Don't Disappear" — failed to make the cut for the Hush Kids album.
"Peter had a boat parked in his backyard, and we wrote our next song sitting in the back of the boat, drinking some beer on a sunny day," Andrews said. "It sounds like it should have been like a bro-country song."
Without anyone rocking the boat, Groenwald was convinced it was clear sailing ahead for them. "Wanting to write one or two more and they kind of go the same way, you realize that, I think that was the kind of motivation to start a band," he said. "It's like, 'Well, this doesn't happen with everybody.' "
Andrews thoroughly agreed, pointing out the many variables — often mysterious ones — involved that can make or break a cowriting dynamic. "Some people in a room being in a bad mood or being, like, tired or having a lot on their mind that isn't about writing the song," she said, citing the negative examples. "Or being hung over. (laughs) I mean, there's a million things."
So, almost like finding the perfect match in a romantic relationship, how does one know when they've chosen the right professional partner?
"There's so much of it that has to do with being comfortable," Andrews said. "Being comfortable with the person that you're with. Being comfortable enough to be vulnerable. It's very vulnerable to throw out lyrical ideas that may or may not be terrible. And to throw out melodic ideas. Just to throw out any creative ideas is … you're putting yourself in a vulnerable position to have to be with someone that you're comfortable with. And I think that was one thing that Peter and I had pretty immediately. At least for me. I felt comfortable."
The mutual give-and-take between the pair, even before they reached that "comfortable" stage, sent Groenwald a clear signal.
"I feel like I know Jill well now because we've had more time to kind of have a relationship happen, but we were still sharing things that I really wouldn't have told anybody else because it was being reciprocated," he said of the open path they took together. "I think that kind of became our thing. Like songs that we were going to write were going to be personal. They were going to be either about what we were going through or what we saw other people going through. But that's kind of the litmus test."
Having passed that test with flying colors, Andrews also realized there was a reason for their classic chemistry: "The more you listen to somebody, the more they'll talk to you. The more questions you ask, the more they'll talk to you."
A few months after the boat excursion, they teamed up again, and though the session wasn't as adventurous ("We wrote the next one on a jet ski," Andrews joked), it did yield more than another song.
In July 2016, six weeks after Andrews gave birth on June 10 to Falcon, she suggested they start a band.
"And that was the furthest from where my head was at," said Groenwald, whose previous full-time participation with a band was fairly limited. "I'm kind of comfortable in the background of helping other people with their music. … Jill was nursing her six-week-old baby when she said this in the studio. And I was like, 'OK, well, shit, if you want to start a band, I guess we've got to.' " (laughs)
Hush Kids finally arrive
So Hush Kids were born, though it took Andrews and Groenwald about six months to come up with the name after deciding that July to make an album. They were initially billed as Peter & Jill on the two-song holiday EP Jingle Your Bells, named after the song they wrote that summer ahead of its November release.
"We kept coming across the word 'hush' and felt like that was a good word for our band," Andrews said. "Because, I don't know, a lot of our songs just feel like that word to me. And a lot of our songs have a lot of natural elements in them. Like trees and birds and the sky and so, when I think about Hush Kids, I think about us walking through the woods and feeling the hush of nature."
Hush Kids the album is certainly tranquil, the lovely serenity worth experiencing in its 35-minute placid-pop entirety after a long day at work or another exasperating glance at the news headlines.
While all the songs are gorgeous, drenched in Andrews' exquisite lead vocals, Groenwald's lush harmonizing and his valuable keyboard contributions among primarily acoustic instruments, there are jolts of electricity that will grab your attention.
On "What's Your Hurry," one of four songs cowritten with their Nashville producer Ian Fitchuk (who also plays several instruments on the album), Andrews startles from the start, and not only because of her precious voice:
We've all got distractions our heads up our asses
Andrews thinks she wrote the opening line, and laughed when asked about it. Groenwald agreed, adding his immediate thought was: "Wait, can we say that?" before concluding, "We can say whatever we want."
Adam Lester, one of four electric guitarists on the album along with Fitchuk, Todd Lombardo (both on "Talking to Myself") and Joe Pisapia ("Love Is a Made Up Word," another highlight; and "Talking To Myself"), plays on "What's Your Hurry," the riveting cut that cautions listeners to ease their worries and "Slow down your mind to the pulse of a heartbeat."
"What's Your Hurry" is probably the best song on the album, with Andrews' mother and Groenwald's daughter providing the family seal of approval. Of course, Amelia, who pretends to be Jill when she's singing in the car alongside Daddy, may be their biggest fan.
"She's obsessed with the music I'm working on, and so I have to listen to it over and over," Groenwald said. "I've listened to the Hush Kids record probably like a thousand times and normally that would not be the case. (laughs) Normally, I don't spin my own stuff quite that much. But, yeah, it's funny to hear somebody that's just kind of compiling their own vocabulary, singing along to that."
Dividing their time
While they both expect Hush Kids to be more than a side project (and tour beyond the scheduled November 15 date at the Basement in Nashville), Andrews and Groenwald still have their respective careers to consider and families to raise while cowriting for themselves and others in Nashville's deep pool of talent.
Andrews, who will bring a solo holiday show to a few Southern cities in December, has Barry Dean (hit songs for Little Big Town, Jason Aldean, Alison Krauss, et al.) on her wish list of collaborators ("He writes very beautiful songs," she said). Meanwhile, Natalie Hemby (Little Big Town, Miranda Lambert, Kacey Musgraves) is the latest to team up with the Hush Kids duo.
The three have written together several times over the past couple of months, and Andrews plans to include one of the songs on her next solo album that she expects to release next spring or summer.
If the people you work with are a measure of success, Andrews and Groenwald must be doing quite well.
"It's just hard to know sometimes," Groenwald admitted. "I think we're all kind of emotional and sensitive people, and I had another friend, Amy Stroup, I was writing with her last time, and she's like, 'Hey, man, if you're still here and still putting out music, then you're winning.' "
Maybe so, but Andrews eventually found out there was more to the music business than writing, recording and performing songs. While her earlier stint in the Everybodyfields included modest success on the road and in record sales, Andrews confessed she knew nothing about placements and the synch world then. After discovering it, she said to herself, "What the hell have I been doing this whole time?"
Dealing with the devil
Andrews has now had her share of success in placements of songs on TV shows such as Grey's Anatomy, Nashville and The Good Wife. With her "Tell That Devil" already the opening theme song of each episode of Wynonna Earp, the Western series on Syfy that enters the paranormal world, a "slow, melancholy" version was added for a funeral scene on this season's finale. "The fans of that show are, like, they love that song," Andrews said.
Producing "a snowball effect," such placements have had a nice financial impact on her career, but Andrews aims to please in other areas, too.
"When you have all the cylinders working in conjunction with each other, like the placement world and the people streaming your songs, people buying your songs and the touring, if all those are working well, then you have a real chance at making money and having success," she said. "If you just have a few of those going, it's better than just having one."
Entering the sync world with a song you write, then perform might be financially fulfilling, but will the artistic argument of "selling out" prove to be bothersome, especially if an unexpected hit doesn't provide personal satisfaction?
It's a writer's lament that probably has been altered with the transformation of the industry.
"If you have a song that you're not particularly proud of that does really well in the sync world, it can kind of change the whole trajectory of your career because there's … you don't really get to pick if that's one of your favorite songs anymore because that's gonna be a lot of people's favorite songs," Groenwald noted.
Sounding somewhat more content, Andrews added: "I have songs on Spotify right now that are only up there because I had a placement. And they're not songs that were on my record, they're not songs that I play live but, you know, it's also bringing people to my music. So it's a really positive thing."
As musicians almost always in sync with each other, Andrews was in tune with Groenwald's final words about the subject:
"If you don't like it, then don't write it."