Andrew Combs doesn’t know for sure where the next turn will take him.
The singer-songwriter, who appears Sunday night on “Mountain Stage” at the Culture Center in Charleston, was headed east from Colorado last Friday. He was driving across Missouri, vaguely bound for Tennessee, but looking more immediately for a Starbucks.
“Somebody gave us a gift card,” he said over the phone. “Which is pretty sweet.”
Combs said some very kind fan gave him a full care package, which included the gift card, some Sharpies, a T-shirt and some socks.
“I wouldn’t call it normal, but I appreciated it,” he said with a laugh.
Free coffee on a cool, autumn morning in the Midwest was just the latest (and probably the least) in a series of unexpected turns.
His biggest turn might have been 13 years ago, when he moved to Nashville.
The Texas native was a freshman at Loyola University in New Orleans, but then Hurricane Katrina slammed into the coast, destroying lives and property and upending plans.
“So, I moved back home to Dallas,” Combs said.
Then he transferred to Belmont University in Nashville. “I kind of always wanted to be in Nashville,” he said. “I kind of took what happened as an omen.”
After he graduated, Combs jumped feet-first into the music world.
“Since then, I’ve just been figuring out how to make a living, how to tour, how to keep alive,” he said.
The singer hasn’t done bad. He’s on his fourth record release since 2012. “Ideal Man” came out in September and represents another unexpected turn. The record has a more electronic texture, which owes itself to a couple of new directions.
First, Combs left Nashville to record. “The previous two records were done with the same two guys and it lent itself to a very Nashville, lush production,” Combs said.
Instead, the singer went to New York City with his road drummer and someone who could play whatever else he needed.
“It was just the three of us in this room in Brooklyn,” he said. “There were no other players — and a lot of it was done on the floor.”
Rather than focus on building a collection of songs, Combs said they were trying to capture a moment.
“I was just trying to keep it interesting to myself,” he said. “Honestly, it was out of boredom and wanting to change things up.”
The second change for Combs was in the way he wrote songs and even approached art.
While his wife was pregnant about three years ago, Combs said he started painting.
“I had a lot of time on my hands,” he said.
Painting was something he’d always appreciated, but not something he’d ever done much with. Combs wasn’t particularly serious about it in the beginning, but as he went through a period of struggling with songwriting, he dove into painting.
The painting became another tool.
“It’s sort of back and forth,” he said. “They’re starting to inform each other.”
Combs said his songwriting felt very Nashville to him –working from the title of the song and building around that idea. Now, he said his songwriting feels more abstract.
“It’s like a painting,” he said. “You throw something at the canvas and then scrape it away until some sort of form takes shape.”
Combs didn’t know where the painting or the music would take him; just that he thought he’d continue on and see where it led.