”It’s hard to think about what tomorrow’s gonna bring when you’re trying to make it through today/ ‘Cause the bells keep ringing and the birds keep singing but your worries don’t go away.”
The Impound talks a lot about rock fundamentals – dead solid songwriting, conviction and passion one can feel, clear natural talent, a healthy balance between broad appeal and unforced experimentation, and well-woodshedded, tour-won musicianship – and we couldn’t offer a better living example of these fundamentals in action than Edward David Anderson. A cursory listen to Anderson’s work – first in long running Illinois rockers Backyard Tire Fire and now as a solo artist and member of Magic Box and touring foil for Cracker’s Johnny Hickman – stirs echoes of primo Tom Petty, Steve Earle and The Doobie Brothers’ Tom Johnston, but dig deeper and one finds something more sui generis original in Anderson’s tunes, a powerful vibration with beat-ass blue-collar folks and indomitable dreamers living just a few miles out from where they’d like to be, strivers in life’s trenches who refuse to back down from a good fight and always seem to be able to unearth the belly fire to keep on keepin’ on despite all the briars and bull-pucky blocking the road ahead.
Anderson recently released his first solo EP, the jamming-on-the-front-porch dappled Low-Fi Goodness – about as fine a musical companion for these looking-for-work, messed-up-prospects American times as a person could want – and is currently polishing his full-length solo debut, Lies & Wishes, due April 2014 and produced by Los Lobos’ secret weapon Steve Berlin (watch album preview below – read DI’s 2010 interview with Berlin). After the Midwest ready meat-n-taters trio sound of Tire Fire, what’s emerging in Anderson’s solo work is a streetwise folkie that’s Americana savvy but still ready to plug in if the music demands some howl ‘n’ crackle. In its gentler turns, his solo work brings to mind the great Fred Neil at his “Dolphins” chasing best, and the heft of even the quiet moments shares a bond with early 70s John Martyn. Anderson has always successfully mined the richest, wisest nuggets from close-to-the-bone, vagabond living but he’s now also shown an acute nose for finding the true, lasting joys of home and rugged, workingman’s gospel that uplifts without feeling forced or false. And there’s loads more banjo on his solo stuff and that ain’t nothing but good.
Since first encountering Anderson’s music on Backyard Tire Fire’s Bar Room Semantics in 2005, he’s become one of this writer’s personal causes because I truly believe that if one only hears Ed’s songs, hears his beautifully burnished voice and sprightly pickin’, hears the tremendous heart and homegrown wisdom of his tunes that’ll they’ll fall for him too. Anderson is an infuriating case study in the changing landscape for working musicians in modern times, where talent, an unshakeable work ethic, hell-bent determination, and honest to God integrity and devotion to craft aren’t enough to guarantee success in the capitalist, fame senses. If the mark of chart success, public awareness and ticket/album sales were strictly being really good then Ed would already be sitting on top of the world. But the world sucks in all sorts of ways and this is one of them. So, it falls to real music lovers – those who’ve rejected taking what’s given them and seek sustenance and not just another lifestyle accessory – to get to know and support an artist like Edward David Anderson. Come along and get to know one of DI’s causes.
Even before I got to know you, just based on your music, I thought, “Oh man, this guy is stuck doing this. He’s a lifer to his bones.”
You’re right [laughs]. Lifer is it. It’s one of the reasons [Johnny] Hickman and I get each other. At the first gig we did together there was a buzz in the air and we had the room wrapped around our fingers, and he turned to me and said, “You’re a lifer aren’t you?” I was like, “You’re goddamn right! I love this shit!” I think my shtick hasn’t changed but I’ve gotten better at it. I think I’ve refined it a bit and learned a lot from the ups and downs, good times and bad times. When you have that to draw from it elevates what you can get at creatively. That’s the difference now.
The other thing you learn over time with most artistic crafts is how most work can be made better by winnowing back elements, carving out forms with the least amount of fat and flash possible. You learn how to do more with a single line than a whole paragraph or verse, and nothing can replace just hammering away at one’s craft year after year to learn this lesson.
That’s what always surprises me when I hear someone who’s 19 or 20 who gets this. How are they this good? How can they get to that place already? Some people get to it earlier and others take years and years. Some people have it out of the gate. For me, it took me a lot of years not just to figure things out from a lyrical and writing perspective but also getting better at my craft from a musical perspective. I needed all the experiences I’ve had to get to where I’m at today, which feels like a new start, a new chapter. Here we go!
My perspective as a fan and follower for about 9 years is this really is a new beginning for you, that I’m really hearing and seeing Ed Anderson unencumbered by the layers and baggage of the past. There’s something afoot between the new solo work and Magic Box that seems like something has freed up inside you. When did this process start?
Well, some folks told me I should maybe think about making money some other way and that just motivated me to try even harder, to reestablish myself and write even better songs.
There’s something about people telling you that kind of thing about your calling that makes you say, “That’s all fine and well but I’m going to have to give you a double dip scoop of ‘fuck you’ for that advice.” Either those comments break you or they firm up one’s resolve.
[Laughs] It was like a punch to the gut but it made me stronger.
The rise of the banjo in your music makes me think that the coffeehouse folk circuit that’s embraced and supported folks like John Gorka, Greg Brown and Patti Griffin is ripe to discover what you do.
I think so, too. There’s definitely something there for me. I’m trying hard to become a better storyteller. I’m not going to bore people with boring small talk but it’s important in that scene to be able to spin tales between the songs, and I’m working hard at getting better at that. I do hear myself moving more and more in the direction of Americana with a more banjo, mandolin and acoustic feel than rock ‘n’ roll.
Going on the road with Hickman was a confidence builder to make my own record. Do it as Edward David Anderson. Dedicate it to your mom. Don’t do it with people you really know. Just go do it and make a statement on my own. Fund it on Kickstarter and just go. I kind of dropped off there for a minute and I realized you have to stay on top of this shit if you want a career. I needed to become part of the conversation again and I have.
I’m going back and playing old, old songs lately. I’d avoided them because of how things turned out and such, which meant to me that I was still hanging onto shit. I’ve let it go and I’m re-familiarizing myself with some good tunes. It is what is. Time to move forward. I’m comfortable in my own skin right now. If all I do is make enough money to live comfortably, I’m more than happy. If my wife is happy and I’m happy then it’s fine by me. I don’t feel like I need to be on Letterman anymore. If that happened it’d be great but we were chasing that kind of thing for SO long in Tire Fire that it started not being fun. Now, I just want to play music as my primary income and have more fun, be it solo, with Hickman, with Magic Box, or whatever.
One thing I’ve long said about you is people just need to hear you to like what you do. With every passing year, I’m more and more impressed with someone like you that can just write a good song that doesn’t need all the layers and production and bells and whistles to stand on its own.
That’s what I love in my favorite writers. I don’t read that much about myself, and then I don’t buy into believing the good stuff and I don’t have to forget about the bad things. It’s such a personal thing. It’s so important to me and to have it dismissed with a stroke of a pen is just so painful. I just try and serve the music coming out of me, and that’s what I think my favorite writers do.
I think it’s both logical to be worried about the state of making music for a living right now and logical to think this could be a golden age for real music with the advances in technology, the internet, and so on.
I hope so. Ultimately, I want to get out there and whatever happens happens. If I can entertain 50 people and make their lives better with music that’s cool. If I sell a song to Nashville that does great that’s cool. If I get famous that’s cool. But if that stuff doesn’t happen it’s fine. Life is very short. Just fuckin’ enjoy what you’re doing.