We’ve featured the music of Eric Anders on our site multiple times over the past year. It only makes sense that we would invite him to join us for this in-depth, exclusive interview during our Mid Tenn Listens Podcast.
You can listen to the audio below or read through the transcript if you prefer text. You will also find multiple links and embeds included in the transcript.
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***A few changes since Eric and I did this interview. Eric’s next release will be called “True September Songs,” not “Home,” as he said in the interview. Also, True September Songs, Eric’s ninth release, will be produced by Jeff Peters. Since Mark O’Bitz did so much of the work on this 2018 full-length release, Eric and Mark decided to release it as a duo, so another big change. Eric and Mark expect it will be out in the spring of 2018.
Where are you from and what style of music do you create? (In your own words, not necessarily in marketing terms or by popular genre classifications.)
Hi Joshua and thanks to you and to Middle Tennessee Music for doing this interview and for your excellent past reviews.
With regard to where I am from, I am a third generation Californian but did most of my growing up elsewhere, particularly on the east coast in DC, upstate New York and Rhode Island.
My music is pretty traditionally American singer-songwriter. I grew up listening to Neil Young, CSNY, The Doors, Creedence, James Taylor and Paul Simon. Of course, since I was born in the sixties, I also listened to a lot of British music too: the Rolling Stones, Elton John, Cat Stevens, and, of course, the Beatles. A lot of Beatles. Pretty standard fare. Nothing very unique for my generation. I think you can hear these influences in my music.
What led you down this path of music and what motivates you to stay the course?
At the ripe age of 37, in 2002, I had earned a English PhD a couple years before and was training to be a psychoanalyst. Around that time I started getting into singing and was lucky enough to meet guitarist and songwriter Mark O’Bitz. Mark encouraged me to try to write some songs with him, and before we knew it we had almost twenty songs written together. More than twenty would follow and they keep coming, I am glad to say.
I don’t play a musical instrument. My job with all my collaborators is to come up with the melodies and write the lyrics. I have collaborated with several other guitar players, but I continue to work with Mark most successfully and probably 70% of the songs I have co-written on my eight releases were written with Mark.
In fact, Mark and I have been working together a lot lately. We collaborated on 100% of the songs on my upcoming ninth release, which will simply be called “Home.” I hope to release this full-length album in early 2018. Mark and I will be headed to Seattle soon to record this new project with Matt Emerson Brown, my producer since 2006. We will be using the same studio we used to record my most recent release, Eleven Nine. The studio is Electrokitty in Wallingford, and we hope to gather most of the same musicians we had on Eleven Nine, especially:
The violin and engineering skills of Garratt Reynolds,
Jeff Fielder on electric guitar,
Andrew Rudd on drums,
Stephen Baldock on bass,
Aaron Otheim on piano,
The backing vocals and banjo of Lydia Ramsey,
And the backing vocals and Anika Reichert.
Only four of the ten songs on Eleven Nine were written with Mark O’Bitz. My primary collabotor on Eleven Nine was Matt Brown:
My collaboration with Matt on Eleven Nine went way beyond the three songs we wrote together for that album. Matt guided that album from its very beginning starting from the date it was named after, the ninth of November, 2016 … a day that will live in infamy. Early on, Matt guided my work on the demos with my guitarist nephew, Tyler Nuffer. You can hear Tyler’s wonderful guitar playing on Eleven Nine too: acoustic, slide, and electric. Matt is doing the same now on Home as Mark and I write the songs and work up the demos.
Beyond the huge impact Matt has had on all of the albums of mine he has produced, he has also been a significant influence on me and my music in general. Matt is one of the founding members of the band Trespassers William (Nettwerk) with Anna-Lynne Williams:
I met Matt in 2005 at Sonikwire Recording Studios in Orange County. We ended up becoming close friends in addition to working on music together. Matt was my best man at my wedding in late 2005.
So, getting back to the original question, I owe a lot to Matt Brown and Mark O’Bitz for encouraging this music late bloomer to write and record the songs he helped create. Both Matt and Mark have become my close friends and primary music collaborators. I feel that we are essentially a band now at this point, though we still release music under my name.
For someone who had essentially done nothing in music prior to the ripe old age of 37, I really benefited from the kind of trusted support and encouragement that can only come from seasoned and gifted musicians and songwriters like Matt and Mark.
With regard to what motivates me to “stay the course,” as you asked, both Mark and Matt have been instrumental in that too: Mark since I got started in music in 2002, and Matt since we first started working together in 2005.
My life really changed when I got married and started raising kids in 2005. After releasing Tethered to the Ground in 2006, I had to take a break from making music. Up to that point I had been releasing one CD per year. The time demands of marriage, family, babies made 2006 a real year of transitions for me.
That year I followed Matt to Seattle with the hopes of starting a studio with him, but the realities of family life and a whole lot of rain and gray convinced me to move back to California after less than a year in that wonderful city. Matt would stay on for many more years.
I would not return to Seattle or music for five years. In 2011, Matt and I met up in Seattle to record my second political EP, Remains In Me, which was inspired by the Michael Apted documentary, Incident at Oglala. The songs are all about white American oppression of Native Americans. The title track is still one of my favorites and it is a great example of the Seattle sound Matt and I were going for after Tethered to the Ground, which had a unique sound all its own. The song “Remains In Me” highlights Matt’s artistry and the artistry of Jeff Fielder on electric guitar. The lyrics explain the title and I consider it to be one of my best political protest songs:
I spent the years between Tethered to the Ground in 2006 and Remains In Me in 2011 moving back to California, getting my day-job career as a psychoanalyst started in earnest, having and raising kids, and trying to be a good enough husband and father. I didn’t have enough time for music during those years, and it was difficult to find the time to work on Remains In Me in 2011.
After Remains In Me, Mark, Matt and I weren’t in regular contact that much for another five years. Again, for those years, I just couldn’t find the time to work on music. Matt moved to Germany and Mark continued to work in the music industry in southern California.
My sixth release would come after this second five-year wait. In 2016 I decided to release a “best of” compilation, Big World Abide, which you, Joshua, reviewed so kindly for Middle Tennessee Music back in 2016. I’m very grateful for that superb review and for your more recent and also excellent review of Eleven Nine:
Around September of 2016, just prior to the catastrophe that gave me reason for Eleven Nine, I started to talk to Matt about working on some old songs I had lying about. They were songs I had written with Mark that had never found an album to be released on.
Theses songs weren’t about politics or not being able to find love, as many of my songs were about on my first four releases. These songs were about married life, raising kids and, yes, getting older–a topic not often written about by singer-songwriters. Elton John’s “Sixty Years On” was released when he was twenty three. Paul McCartney was twenty five when The Beatles released “When I’m Sixty Four.” Paul Simon was twenty seven when recorded “Old Friends.” So many of our great singer-songwriter works are written by young adults and therefore the dominant themes of this genre, a genre that has a lot of power for artistic insight, are skewed toward younger themes, and younger perspectives.
I am fifty three and I feel I have ideas and passions I want to write about that fits this genre very well: and not just about aging and family. Also about politics. I think my experience has given me political insight. Also, my age and experience in a good marriage and as a father has given me a whole new perspective. How many songs can you think of that deal with what goes into a successful marriage? Or successful parenting?
I thought these songs about family, marriage and aging might make a nice EP called, Home. Matt agreed and decided to fly to California from Germany in October of 2016. He wanted to help me work on these songs for the Home project. We made some good progress, but then Trump happened, Eleven Nine.
I decided immediately to shelve the Home project, and Matt made another trip out from Germany that November to work on our new project, a full-length anti-Trump album, Eleven Nine, named after the date of the catastrophic event, November ninth, 2016–and also a reference to that other catastrophic date in American history, 9/11. We partnered up with the righteously cool people at Lambda Legal, and put out an album that we hoped could be a soundtrack for the resistance:
For Eleven Nine, I wrote two new songs with Matt–”Inside the Sacrifice Zone” and “Do You Feel.” Matt also helped me with an unfinished song I had started with Greg Gallardo (Random Parade), “This Fire Has Burned Too Long.” This song had been a sleeper for a long time, and was even a sleeper to me as we went into the studio. I was surprised when it became the obvious song to put as track one.
I just released this video for “This Fire Has Burned Too Long,” which we believe is rather topical given how soon after Charlottesville and Trump’s pardon of Arpaio are to now:
The filmmaker is a German friend of Matt’s, Bjorn Bahlmann, who also did the music video for my altered-lyric cover of “Blister in the Sun” by the Violent Femmes:
The topic of altered-lyric covers makes me want to switch gears a bit since altered-lyric covers were a huge part of the project for Matt and me initially.
Back in 2005, Mark and I presented our demo for this version of “Blister in the Sun” to Matt. Finding a frenetic song’s inner, slowed-down beauty was what I wanted to do with our version of “Blister In the Sun.” I think we succeeded, but none of us knew if we would be able to release our altered-lyric cover.
When Matt had finished his masterful production of it for Tethered to the Ground, which is what you hear in the music video, we sent it off to Gordon Gano for permission to release this altered-lyric version. Gano, the Violent Femme who wrote the song, loved our version and granted us permission.
Ten years later I had not forgotten Gano’s really positive response to our radical changes to his iconic masterpiece of a song. If people are able hear the original in our version, it usually happens well into the song. Maybe Gordon Gano was okay with my changing the lyrics because our version really asked for a very different mood and therefore a different lyric. Our success with this song, however, might have made me a little over-confident as I went into the recording sessions for Eleven Nine with plans for three altered-lyric anti-Trump versions of three other fantastic songs, one of them being truly iconic: Neil Young’s “After the Goldrush.”
Yes, there was quite a bit of hubris going on as I tried to convince the entertainment lawyer Lambda Legal provided me when I tried to explain to him that Neil Young, REM and Taylor Swift … Or maybe just Neil Young and REM were clearly disgusted by Trump so they may be open to my changing some of their lyrics to their mega songs. REM’s song was “Leave” from Adventures in Hi-Fi.
We also knew that Taylor Swift had played the GOP convention and so probably wasn’t willing to alienate her legions of Trump supporting fans by having me alter the lyrics to “Out of the Woods” to make it an anti-Trump song. We thought we might have a chance with Jack Antinoff, who had been dating very liberal Lena Dunham for a while. Mostly, we were blown away by Ryan Adams cover of “Out of the Woods,” and wanted to do an altered-lyric cover in something close to that style.
We were never able to even get a message to any of these mega artists, let alone get them to hear our altered-lyric covers (so not much hope of Gano-esque response). We were stopped by their publishers, who were either not willing to get political, or just knew that the artists in question didn’t want their lyrics messed with, which is actually very understandable to this lyricist.
So we released my eighth release, Recoveries: a three-song EP of straight covers. We decided to finish the production of the songs because we had already recorded the music during the recording sessions with the band. I love this EP and am proud of it, but I do wonder how the altered-lyric covers would have done, especially if we had gotten one of the mega artists to praise it, as Gano had our altered-lyric cover of “Blister In the Sun.”
Also, I thought it would be okay to do a Ryan-Adams-style take on “Out of the Woods” since the lyrics and therefore overall feel would be so different. But I was left with a choice of releasing what is essentially a cover of a cover, or not releasing anything at all. I love our version so I decided to release it anyway. I am grateful to Ryan Adams for finding the inner, slowed-down beauty of Taylor Swift and Jack Antinoff’s superb pop song.
So we weren’t able to use three of the songs we spent quite a bit of time on, but we did have two, or really three, straight covers we wanted to do: “Who’ll Stop the Rain” by CCR and “I Hear Them All,” which was written by Old Crow Medicine Show’s Ketch Secor and Dave Rawlings. I decided to do a cover of Dave Rawlings version of the song as performed by the Dave Rawlings Machine as part of the concert T Bone Burnett put together a few years ago. The concert was inspired by the music of the Coen Brothers’ film, ‘Inside Llewyn Davis.’
Dave Rawlings, Gillian Welch and Willie Watson shorten “I Hear them All” and than go right into Woodie Guthrie’s altered-lyric version of the Carter Family’s “When the World’s On Fire.” Guthrie called his altered-lyric protest song “This Land Is Your Land.”
Nowadays, the melodies we hear on the radio, much like “this land,” are not yours or my melodies for which to write protest lyrics. Gone are those days, and so the songwriting left has to write original songs–which is what I do most of the time. This land may not be your land. It may be someone’s property. And these melodies are not ours to protest songs to, as Guthrie did. These melodies are property, and left folk singers can go … themselves.
All this makes me think of the sign on Guthrie’s guitar that read “This Machine Kills Fascists.” Guthrie and thousands of patriotic Americans from the great generation–who died fighting the fascists in Germany and Italy, and the authoritarian regime of Japan–roll in their graves as this disgusting, Putin-loving proto-fascist sits in the Oval Office talking about how self-proclaimed Nazis are “fine people.” I ask again, “how low and why?”
Getting back to the original songs on Eleven Nine, two of the old Anders/O’Bitz songs from our Bush-bashing days worked perfectly for Trump and needed no changes: “A Man For No Season” and “So Wrong.” Two others, I believe, expressed well, without any changes, what I hope is a very common disgust for the right-turn, historical amnesia and just general cultural stupidity represented by the election of these two morons: the songs “How Low and Why” and “Big World Abide.”
“Looking Forward to Your Fall” was the only old Anders/O’Bitz song from the Bush era that needed a significant lyric change. Listen to the second chorus and bridge lyric from our original version to see how it changed. Here is the original, Bush-era version that was originally released on Tethered to the Ground:
You talked about freedom
Abu Ghraib prison
You didn’t care at all
Looking forward to your fall
So good I bet
Looking forward to your fall
So fond of fighting
As long as others called
Sixty thousand boomers down
Now you control the calling
Death toll mounting
You don’t care … at all
To this for Trump on Eleven Nine:
Talked about “great again”
Racist whistle call
Jim Crow all over again
You’re okay with it all
Ooo, you don’t care at all
Looking forward to your fall
So good I bet
Looking forward to your fall
So fond of Russia
It’s clever use of power
But what is owed to Putin now?
Is it a Russian Tea Party?
Are you and Vlad bonding?
Do you care … at all?
I think you can hear that we have been more intensely looking forward to Trump’s fall, even more than we were looking forward to Bush’s … which never came in a significant way. I don’t think Trump will disappoint us this time around.
As for the new songs on Eleven Nine–”This Fire Has Burned too Long,” “Inside the Sacrifice Zone” and “Do You Feel”–they are all very focused on Trump and Trumpism. My favorite is “Inside the Sacrifice Zone,” which was inspired by this essay I had read during the campaign:
I think the photo in the article shows how Trump knew he was conning all these sacrifice zone residents. I let the song say what I want to say about this topic.
I hope I am not going on too long.
How is your new release different than previous ones? Did you set out to accomplish anything specific?
Eleven Nine is my third political release. Actually, it is my fourth if you count the handful of political songs on my otherwise apolitcal album, Tethered to the Ground. It is my first full-length political release.
Eleven Nine contained the first straight covers I had released. The only cover prior to that was “Blister In the Sun” on Tethered to the Ground.
Eleven Nine was the fourth release of mine that was produced by Matt Brown, and the second time I was fortunate enough to work with Mark Lanegan’s guitarist, Jeff Fielder (Remains In Me was the first time).
Eleven Nine was also the third time I had worked with a full band recording at the same time. The first time was with producer Jeff Peters for my 2004 anti-Bush EP, Songs for Wayward Days. Hall-of-Fame drummer Pete Thomas (Elvis Costello) and bassist Davey Farragher (Cracker) graced that EP, in addition to Grammy-winning guitarist, Randy Mitchell. Randy would go on to write three songs with me and produce my third release, More Regrets. Jeff Peters mixed my first four releases.
What makes Eleven Nine truly unique from my other releases is mostly due to the incredible chemistry we were all able to achieve during the recording sessions at Electrokitty in Seattle. Matt Brown was responsible for this fantastic vibe. I hear that vibe, that energy, that sound that came out of that amazing chemistry when I listen to the album.
Our main goal for the album was to create a body of anti-Trump songs that would express our disgust, but express it in an artful way, a way that could be heard and might move people–even people who weren’t appropriately disgusted by Trump. I doubt anything along these lines could be heard by Trump supporters.
A hard disgust but a softer bewilderment, and a softer sadness with regard to the state of our disunion. I have been quite confident that we have in the Oval Office a rather moronic mafia boss type who is more than a criminal; he is a hard-core traitor who actually hates what has always made America great. Our diversity. He and his “fine people” don’t mind betraying our country by undermining its democracy because they hate our country, much like Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis hated our country and equal rights for all of its citizens. Much like Putin hates our country. He probably sees it as effeminate and way too diverse. He’s such a macho dude. And such a typical moronic murderous mafia boss. He’s a despot cliche.
How do you make that kind of disgust and sadness into artful music? That was my goal with Eleven Nine. My deep gratitude goes out to all the Seattle musicians, all the various collaborators and songwriters, and, especially, to Matt Brown for whatever success we achieved vis a vis this very difficult goal.
Do you face challenges as an indie musician in a digital age? How has technology helped you (assuming it helps)?
Because I have a good day-job career going, I am able to make music without the music really paying for itself. Frankly, indie music is an expensive hobby. Movie and TV placements have helped in the past, but don’t add up to much compared to the expense of making music the way I want to make it.
The technological changes that have impacted the music industry really got amped up around the time I started writing music with Mark O’Bitz, the early 2000s. So the music industry has changed significantly since I got started, as has the way music gets recorded and distributed.
Mark still uses the same ProTools rig he has had since, I think, 2004. I fumble on Garage Band as best I can. So recording is easier, in some ways, and that has been good for me. What has been really good for me have been the changes in distribution. Indie artists can get their music out there so much easier now.
But this has probably also made it more difficult for me to get my music heard by people who might like my music: those people who might become part of my audience. This is true simply because there is so much music for them to hear, because it is so easy to record at a high level, and because distribution is so easy.
This is where organizations like Middle Tennessee Music really help indie artists like me, and, again, I am very grateful to MTM for helping me get my music heard by people who might be into it.
Where can we connect with you online and discover more music?
At my website — EricAnders.com — you can hear all of my music, and of course you can listen to all of it for free on Youtube. I love how well Youtube disseminates my music, but not sure if it helps me out in the big picture. The music industry is still very difficult to figuire out as an unsigned artist. I’ve stopped trying to figure it out, but I’m still open to being signed. Cue cynical, defeated laughter.
If you want to hear my music, the easiest place to go is my website, EricAnders.com.
Eleven Nine and Recoveries are great examples of our recent sound:
For a good retrospective of my music from 2003 to 2011, check out Big World Abide:
Anything else before we sign off?
Please listen to Eleven Nine and PLEASE buy the album. All album proceeds go to the truly “fine people” at Lambda Legal. Lamda Legal is on the front lines of the resistance against Trump and his “fine people.”
Thank you, Joshua, for this opportunity to tell you more about myself and my music. And thanks again for your two kind reviews of Big World Abide and Eleven Nine. I am truly grateful to you for taking an interest in me and my music, and sharing this interest with your readers.
If I did go on for too long, feel free to edit at your will. Cheers.