“I was just coming out of my depression, so that was fun,” country singer-songwriter Abby Anderson tells Billboard of writing her latest single, “Bad Posture,” which released in October. “My hair was black. I was going through it, man.”
It was a different image than country music fans had come to know of Anderson—a gregarious, charming singer-songwriter. Since her debut in 2018, Anderson released the ballad “Make Him Wait,” and collaborated with Jimmie Allen on a cover of the A Star Is Born hit “Shallow,” with their collaboration reaching No. 21 on Billboard‘s Country Digital Song Sales chart in 2019. That same year, she opened shows for Rob Thomas on his Chip Tooth Tour.
But in March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic forced artists away from the road. That extended time away from touring gave Anderson the space to ponder deep-seated emotions that she’d pushed away to focus on her career.
“I think 2020 was the first time that I was truly still, and that’s scary sitting with your thoughts,” Anderson says. “Before, I didn’t have time to ever ask myself, ‘Abby, what do you want? Do you like this music?’ I had a hard talk with myself. I asked myself, ‘What’s the point of making music and being in the spotlight if I’m not even being honest? I was making music I liked, but I didn’t love it. There’s a big difference.”
She took that swirl of emotions to friend and fellow artist-writer Anna Vaus, who had the title “Bad Posture” written in her phone. From there the lyrics spilled out: “Burden on my shoulders, All of your words that you put on me like a weight/ Yeah, I used to have bad posture/ But since you’ve been gone I stand up straight.”
Though at first glance, the lyrics seem to tell a straightforward journey toward healing after a romantic breakup, the song captures both the personal and professional evolution Anderson has been through.
“We were talking about everything we learned in 2020,” Anderson says of that writing session with Vaus. “I said, ‘I don’t understand why I felt for so long that I had to shrink myself emotionally for people to feel comfortable around me.’ Where do we learn that as young women we have to be quiet and mysterious, but also be bubbly—to be all these things except fully yourself? She had the title ‘Bad Posture’ and we wrote it in like 20 minutes. Every single line just poured out—everything we’d felt the past few years.”
In 2017, at age 19, Anderson inked a label and publishing deal with Black River Entertainment, and soon released tracks including “This Feeling,” “Good Lord,” and the ballad “Make Him Wait,” which drew upon her Mormon raising, as well as the expectations of chastity sometimes placed on young women. The song reached No. 59 on Billboard‘s Country Airplay chart in 2018, the same year her debut EP, I’m Good, came out.
Anderson says, in an attempt to please her label, she stopped fully standing up for her own creative vision of her music.
“In the old stuff I think I was just trying to please everybody. I was trying to chase the radio game. I felt like, ‘Okay, I can put half of me aside, if it means I’m going to be a big star.’ And that’s bullsh-t. And I’m so happy those songs didn’t work because I’d be stuck singing that the rest of my life.”
To cope with what she felt was a lack of control over her creative direction, Anderson says she developed an eating disorder.
“I was really confused because I’d never felt that way about food,” she recalls. “And I do find it interesting that it was when I started touring, when I started being on the road more, that it started rearing its head. I started getting more attention, the thinner I got. So I thought, ‘People like me like this, so I just need to maintain it.’ Looking back now, people were worried about me. I thought I was trying to stay thin and be healthy, but I was so unhealthy.”
Eventually, Anderson’s internal struggle reached a breaking point. Anderson says she parted ways with Black River Entertainment in mid-2020.
“It was scary as hell,” Anderson recalls. “But it was the first time I truly listened to my intuition and honored it. I got to this point where I was so sick, emotionally and physically. I hit a breaking point of like, ‘Enough’s enough. You’re 23 years old, and it’s time to put your big girl panties on and do what you want to do. And no one’s going to do that for you.’”
She gives the label credit saying, “They could have made that way harder and uglier for me. We had creative differences every single day and I was tired of pissing them off, honestly. I was tired of being too this, or too that. I’m thankful they showed me a lot of grace and understanding. I had a lot of anger and resentment for a minute. But having a year to sit back and think, I’m thankful for the three years of time they poured into my work.” Black River Entertainment declined to comment.
Anderson says as soon as she made the decision to leave the label and focus on new music, her eating disorder went away. She began writing songs and playing local songwriters shows. Near the end of 2020, she met producer Marshall Altman (Rob Thomas, Aaron Watson, Will Hoge) at one of those shows.
“He brought me to the studio and said, ‘You’re a piano player. Let’s build the record around that.’ We wrote this whole record, top to bottom, in two weeks at his studio space in Berry Hill,” Anderson said.
Those sessions led to “Insecure” and “Bad Posture,” both to be included on her untitled full-length album, set to release in 2022 via Stem.
“It’s very much self-love and a coming-of-age album,” Anderson says of the project. “There’s a lot of songs on here that are breakup songs, but really [those songs] are about me leaving my label because that was a breakup. I feel so much more confident now. I feel so much more grace for myself. That’s what this whole record is about to me: freedom, self-acceptance, self-growth. You can accept the way you are and want to better yourself at the same time.”
In October, she wed Tyler Graham, who she says has been a constant support. Though she says she’s not opposed to entering into another label deal, Anderson is also enjoying being an independent artist.
“This is the first time I’ve been able to truly take creative control from what everything looks like, to how much content we put out there, to how often we release music. At the same time, I absolutely see the pros of being with a major label. If the right deal comes along and the right people, then yes. But for the time being, I’ve got a really, really great team around me, and I think we’re doing all right.
The Texan says her new album has a country sound, but also includes elements of other musical influences, including Linda Ronstadt, Tina Turner, ABBA and The Doobie Brothers.
“Every single song, I love,” Anderson says. “I feel like I’m 17 again—that 17-year-old Abby who moved to Nashville to make music. Then as soon as I signed my deal, for some reason I lost that. I feel like I’ve found that girl again.”
She adds, “Genre-wise, I have no idea what genre it is, but it feels like me. It’s Abby music.”