“How do you like your latte?” Andrew Love asks from across the kitchen island as I settle into a plush couch just a few feet away in the living room of his home in South Boulder. “We really only have one option, so I hope you like almond milk.”
Amber Lily, his partner in life and often in music, laughs from the living room floor where she’s quietly picking through scales on an acoustic guitar. The house — a split level with lots of natural light but not a lot of furniture — is the pair’s new homebase. It’s a big change for the roots-and-reggae blending musicians, who, up until three weeks ago, had called the Hawaiian island of Kauai home for the past seven years.
Kauai is a mother of sorts to both Andrew and Amber, a place that nurtured them and taught them and, when they were ready, sent them out into the world feeling loved and supported. Kauai gave them a musical family, a strongly rooted value system and a deeper connection to the earth — a progenitress in every sense of the word.
Amber called the Big Island home through part of her childhood, and Andrew traveled to the smaller island of Kauai during a time of deep personal exploration as a young man right out of Berklee College of Music.
For Andrew — borned and raised in Savannah, Georgia — living in Hawaii was a part of rewriting his story, as he puts it. In 2012, a musician friend invited Andrew to come to the island and record his first album in a small studio on his friend’s cacao farm. Andrew jumped at the chance.
“I flew out there and spent all my money, did a crowdfunding campaign and flew some of my favorite musicians out there, and we made a record called The Real Thing,” he says. “I actually made three records off of that crowdfunding campaign.”
“Which is one of the themes of his whole story,” Amber adds. “Use what you have, make it work, trust the process, use your last dollar, put it into your art, make good music from one microphone in a garage. That’s how we’ve made most of our records.”
For more than a decade, Andrew has performed and recorded music under the pseudonym Tubby Love, a high school nickname that doesn’t reflect the lean man sitting in the living room today.
But back then, Tubby Love — Tubs to friends — was 100 pounds heavier.
“I just took [the nickname] and I made it my shield and it became a part of my story,” Andrew says. The first step in rewriting that story “was shedding that layer [and losing 100 pounds]. Now I’m ready to shed another layer of that, which is the actual name, Tubby.”
His upcoming studio album, The Deep South Sessions, will be released as Andrew Love.
“It’s [about] letting go of old stories that have shaped me,” he says of the transition. “I will always be Tubs to a lot of people, a lot of people who love me dearly, and I have expressed a lot of authenticity with [that name]. But [the transition to Andrew is] for me to return to my authentic center and to get to be something more than a character that I’ve created.”
Hawaii, like any good mother, helped Andrew find himself. Hawaii guided him to his musical family — people like Nahko Bear, Dustin Thomas, Trevor Hall and Paul Izak — and toward the socially and spiritually conscious messages that would become the cornerstone of Andrew’s music.
But most importantly, Hawaii guided Andrew to Amber.
“Her entire family, they changed my life,” Andrew says. “They helped me get in touch with real food, with growing food. That helped me step into more of my actual self, physically, spiritually, mentally, all of it.”
Amber lovingly describes her parents as “dream chasers” who fled East Coast suburbia in search of something beyond “traditional mother/father roles.”
“They jumped around looking for the spot,” Amber says. “They were looking for community, for a place that felt right. And eventually my mom birthed her community. She felt like she didn’t find her people until she had her children. We grounded in Kauai. We found a place where we could live the values that we believe in.”
It was actually one of Amber’s brothers who met Andrew first, while Amber was still studying at Pitzer College in East Los Angeles.
“I fell in love with her brother first,” Andrew says with a grin.
“My brother told me, ‘You have to meet this guy, Tubby Love; he’s the best musician I’ve ever met,” Amber says.
The two finally met in 2012.
“I’d always thought of what it would be like to harmonize with a man, to fall in love that way,” Amber says. “And we sang together and it was… wow. I’d never felt anything like that. Just two literal vibrations coming together. It was ecstatic. Fast forward a year or so in and out of seeing each other, and finally we were both on Kauai. I moved there after I graduated, and we had a moment of openness in our lives and again, it happened through a night on a porch singing together and at the end of a song we were like, ‘We just made love.’ We didn’t touch each other. It wasn’t even about each other, but it was through music, through sharing our most vulnerable instrument, the voice, which has the power to share the depth of our soul that we are aware and unaware of. That kind of sent everything catapulting forward. When you experience something that real, that profound, it’s hard to forget it. So we oriented our lives toward growing that feeling, wanting to share it.”
Their lives were simple on Kauai, but not in the mainland way. Amber’s family had just gotten some land to farm on, but there was nothing there yet but a shipping container that Amber used as a house. She worked on a nearby farm, and Andrew would come and visit.
“I loved it so much that I stayed and unpacked suitcases for the first time in eight years or so,” Andrew says, smiling down at Amber, who’s still sitting in the living room floor strumming the guitar. “I remember that. I remember getting a dresser for the first time.”
They lived small, Andrew says, and it changed the way he saw the world. Amber’s belief that the personal is political, a byproduct of her education at Pitzer, rubbed off on Andrew and found its way into the music they began to make together.
Andrew’s most recent album, 2017’s Waves, takes a direct shot at the overreaching power of the global fossil fuel industry on “Keep the Oil in the Ground,” and asks listeners to practice what they preach on the spoken word track “Walking Each Other Home.” Amber’s most recent album, last year’s Wild, tackles some of the same ideas with a personal touch, using her experience as a young woman to frame topics like social responsibility and environmental stewardship.
“Everything is political — that’s just the way it is,” Amber says. “If we lived in a truly free world where greed and hate and insecurity and the need for power wasn’t ruling things, maybe we could choose to sing about things as we want. But it’s a privilege to not be involved. People who are trans, people of color, women in certain situations, they live in anxiety on the daily. So to not think about that is irresponsible. I feel like it’s absolutely our responsibility as musicians to talk about that.”
“With knowledge comes great responsibility,” Andrew adds. “Some say with power, but I think knowledge is power. It is a big responsibility when you start to uncover that and realize that a lot of what’s wrong with the world comes from a lack of awareness.”
Together with musicians like Nahko and Trevor Hall, Amber and Andrew have contributed to a soundtrack of sorts for the growing movement centered on social consciousness and environmental sustainability. They spent years making names for themselves — together and separately — at like-minded festivals such as Colorado’s homegrown ARISE Festival, where the pair found themselves overwhelmed by the support that greeted them at Sunrise Ranch in Loveland.
“I feel [ARISE] really plugged us in here with the community,” Andrew says. “At the end of our second set at ARISE, it was the most insanely loud encore I’ve ever experienced in my life.”
It caught the attention of Colorado-based New Age composer and producer Dik Darnell, who eventually convinced the young musicians to move away from the middle of the Pacific Ocean to the middle of the contiguous United States.
“I don’t see Dik Darnell as the key to our success or even as someone that holds all the answers for us or is going to make us the greatest record of all time and then we’re going to break into the mainstream,” Andrew says. “But he does give me a drive to dream bigger and to allow myself to envision that for myself and take responsibility for that.”
Success in a capitalist system is complicated for any artist interested in maintaining the integrity of their art, and Andrew and Amber are no different. But of course they want to grow successful and — dare we say it? — go mainstream.
“I think that the mainstream is just looking for the next thing, and so we’re here to be the Trojan horse and really infiltrate and reach the largest amount of people possible,” Andrew says. “I don’t think that is selling out. I think that is a great service to the world. I feel like there are a lot of hungry people out there who have been fed food that’s been devoid of nutrients.”
“In every sense of the word,” Amber adds.
“I want to be that food sonically for the world,” Andrew says.
Catch Amber Lily on tour with Ayla Nereo and Elijah Ray on Saturday, March 30 at Fox Theatre in Boulder. Andrew Love’s new album, The Deep South Sessions, will be out later this year.
ON THE BILL: Andrew “Tubby” Love and Amber Lily — with Bridget Law and Tierro Lee. 8:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 16, Boulder Theater, 2032 14th St., Boulder. Tickets are $20-$25.