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INTERVIEW: ANDERS OSBORNE, September 2016

| 19 September 2016 | Reply

New Orleans rocker Anders Osborne has been extremely busy in the studio with three releases in less than two years: NMO’s (North Mississippi Allstars / Anders Osborne collaboration) Freedom and Dreams, as well as his own Spacedust and Ocean Views and, most recently, Flower Box.  Each release has its own unique feel, seemingly drawing from the full spectrum of Anders’ musical influences.  At the same time, Anders’ lyrics continue to be forever introspective, real and raw, allowing listeners to feel a certain type of closeness to the artist, which seems to be lacking as of late in the Jam Band Scene.  This Bayou rocker can’t be tied solely to the Jam Band genre… he transcends, reaching far and beyond with his latest releases.  Supporting these releases, Anders is hot off the heels of his 2016 summer tour which included appearances at the LOCKN’ Festival in Arrington, VA.  His Fall Tour starts September 17th and will include two NMO shows, along with a very special visit to Phil Lesh’s Terrapin Crossroads.  Our own Kevin Alfredo caught up with him relaxing in between tours in New Orleans, Louisiana.

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Kevin: How is the tour going?

Anders: It’s good. Right now I’m home. I leave on Thursday. I’ve been home for about a week now after the tour, and I’ve got a week off. Not off, but at home.

Kevin: Right on.  So, I want to really talk about the last couple of years here.  You’ve recorded three albums in the past two years.  What do you attribute the latest spat of creativity to?

Anders: I’m not sure exactly. There is probably a few different things that are affecting it. I’m guessing part of it is a little bit more meditation. A little bit more focus.  And then sometimes I think it’s just the way things go, and, if you stay focused, you can tune in, and you can try to pay attention to what the creativity is trying to tell you. Then I think there is also a base desire for me personally… that I want to produce a lot of music, so it might start there. It’s not that I ride around on my bike and all of sudden there is the record. There’s a little bit of an effort to it. You know what I’m saying? So I started off wanting to make 5 records in a year and then I thought 3 is a little bit more realistic. I wrote down a couple of things… actually, I wrote down 50 things for my New Year’s resolution, and one was to write a song every week and try to write daily and stuff like that.  So you set up a few goals like a list. Then you just got to pay attention and then not get too stressed out if you don’t achieve those. You just got to stay on target a little bit.

Kevin: On your latest release Flower Box, all your lyrics seem to draw pretty close to your personal life, but it sounds like Flower Box goes back pretty far… more towards your life before coming to America. Is there any reason for that?

Anders: Probably it’s just that’s the cycle I’m in, and that’s what I am processing. It’s not that I walk around and think about the topics so much. The song will write itself a little bit or help me write.  Like maybe there is a line, or there is a feeling in the chorus, you know…the atmosphere, or the chord progression, or the melody that I came up with. Then that leads to a couple of lines, a couple of phrases or something.  And then I scratch at those, and then that’s usually where I get a hold of something.  So it’s a little bit of mystery.  Actually, it’s a big mystery every time, to be honest with you. I don’t really know where it’s going to go.  And, then once it starts to reveal itself you get a little bit of a – I don’t know – you get like a thread. You can see that you’re supposed to write about a certain thing, or the record is supposed to be about a thing. I think part of it for me was the song “Flower Box” and “Old Country”, and there were a few other ones, that we are kind of based on me wrapping up some old demons and things from my childhood and I basically just closed that chapter in those songs. Then I just stayed with that. A little bit about temperance.  If we speak of Flower Box, I wanted it to stay a little bit irritating. Like, really present cool melodies, personal lyrics, but I wanted it to have something sprawly and irritating about it. It’s just nagging at you and hacking at you. So, I thought it came out pretty adequate.

Kevin: I love it. On this album, there are a lot of different influences that you seem to pull on.  Specifically, I really enjoy listening to “Born to Die Together”.  It obviously has that reggae kick to it and then it segues into something a little bit mellower.  Is reggae something that you really enjoy playing with your band right now?

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Anders: I think it’s always been there. I was a huge, well, I am a huge fan.  But as a teenager, Bob Marley was an enormous influence on me. It was kind of one of the first soundtracks of my puberty. That was like the whole thing… J.J. Cale and Bob Marley…Neil Young was a big part of my beginnings as well…Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan.  But I think to answer your question, I’ve always been into Toots and the Maytall’s. I’ve been into Bob and especially Bob Marley when I was younger, so I think it just pokes its heads up every once in a while, and it wants to be heard.  And of course, it feels really good.  It’s easy to feel good when you hear that little beat, you know.

Kevin: Absolutely! I want to talk about this tour, and, more specifically, I want to talk about LOCKN’. This is your second consecutive year playing there.  Are there any reasons that it is one of your favorites to play at?

Anders: It seems very well designed… in a sense that it’s really made for the audience. A lot of festivals, and Jam Cruise, and these types of things, and the jam bands scene…they’re really focused on the audience experience… not just to present great bands.  Which is really cool, and that’s really a big part of the whole scene with Grateful Dead and Phish and all these scenes. The jam bands scene… where the audience has, like, a family vibe and so forth. I think LOCKN’ combines that stuff where it’s a family amongst the bands.  Like, we are all hanging out in the back. It’s like a little village that you hang out, and you talk to everybody; people you don’t know and you get to meet them and people you’ve seen the past 20 years and you get to catch up a little bit. That design…its well done and it looks like it’s the same for the audience.  And I also got to say I did a couple of other things, but the backstage experience was amazing. Then I think the setting….it’s really…I don’t know…it feels like an open field, at the same time as it feels like you’re definitely in the beautiful mountains of Virginia. You know what I mean?

Kevin: For sure… you definitely get that family feel emanating from the stage. A lot of great collaborations.  But to talk specifically about the Phil and Friends set with yourself, The Infamous Stringdusters, Page McConnell and Jon Fishman… could tell me how you guys decided that “Shakedown Street” would be the song that you would front?

Anders: That’s all Phil. He emails you the song that you’re supposed to front! [laughter] I don’t think there is a lot discussion about that. I mean, when I write my own set lists, I sit with my little pad, I go through my catalog, or whatever cover tunes I want to do, and you create a vision of how you want the audience to perceive the night and get a feeling for it and then you send it out. I think I probably learned a lot of that from Phil, but if you think about it a little bit in advance, you can design, not just that day, but you actually think about it way in advance, you can design pretty cool things. That’s all him.

Kevin: I really enjoyed the way that you vocally addressed Shakedown. There were certain nuances that just made it your own but kept it original.  Obviously, it’s been getting a lot of airtime on SiriusXM Jam On, so, I’ve had a lot of opportunities to hear it again.  Every time I listen to it, I hear more things I like about it!  It was phenomenal seeing everyone on stage like that.

Anders: Thank you, Kevin. Thank you very much.

Kevin: Speaking of Phil, you played at his Terrapin Crossroads quite a bit. Can you tell me about the time and the place where you guys first met and is there anything memorable about that meeting for you?

Anders: Yeah, there are many things… but the first time was, I think, 2013, and he was inviting me to come out for a week. We had 3 days of rehearsals and then we’re playing 3 or 4 gigs… I can’t remember how many it was.  But, yeah, basically you start out…he’s asking about what songs I do, and I was not that familiar with the whole catalog. I just knew maybe a handful of tunes.  So I rambled off a bunch of songs that were not Grateful Dead, but I knew a few Grateful Dead, and then in that respect, I realized “Maybe he meant Grateful Dead tunes”, [laughter] so it was kind of my first little blunder. The second thing I did – but he is very courteous, and he is extremely kind, and he is a very experienced man. He is a guy who is there from the very beginning, so he’s seen it all.  But, the first Grateful Dead tune that we rehearsed was “Sugaree” because I knew that.  And, then he basically stopped the song a little before the end of it, and he is like “Okay that’s great. Now, in the Grateful Dead, we used to play it like this.” [Laughter]  I was like…okay, so I screwed it up.  Apparently, I had 2 to 3 chord changes completely wrong.  He filled me in…”We go to this chord here and then we do…”  I’m like…dude, I can’t even get a simple “Sugaree” straight.  But, yeah, we laughed it out like, “I got you, I got you.” He was like, “Yes, just you know…but, if you want to do it that other way, that’s fine.”  I’m like, “No, no, no, let’s do it the Grateful Dead way.” [Laughter]

Kevin: For sure… it’s his house, right?

Anders: Yeah, yeah… that was my first rehearsal and my first Grateful Dead performance in front of him, and it was quite embarrassing, but there it is.

Kevin: That’s an awesome story… it sounds like you guys hit it off nonetheless.

Anders: Yeah, he’s great. He’s really amazing.

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Kevin: So, lets talk about the Grateful Dead as one of your influencing bands. Was that always one of your base influences…perhaps the way that the band plays or the way that Jerry plays, or is it something that’s more of a newer influence for you?

Anders: I think it’s a newer influence. I think what happened was…when I lived in California back in 1986 for a while. I can’t remember how long…but, probably 10 months or something.  I was out there, and my neighbor, he was totally into the Grateful Dead and we would cruise around in an old beat-up Cadillac, a 1971…a huge big cargo ship of a car. [Laughter]

Kevin: I know that Detroit steel well!

Anders: Yeah, it had a like a puke green metallic flake on it… it was just crazy, and, anyway, he would just play it, and then, one day, he got this brand new Grateful Dead record, and he played me “Touch of Grey”, and he played a bunch of stuff and I was like, “This is great.” Then he got to “Black Muddy River”, and I was like, “Dude, this is amazing. What is this?”  So, that was my first real understanding that there was something very deep going on. And then American Beauty, I think, was my next experience and then I got a Jerry Garcia and Grisman acoustic record that they made. Do you know that one?

Kevin: Yeah, there are a couple of them, yeah.

Anders: There was one with “Friend of the Devil” on it and, what else was on there? “Russian Lullaby” and a couple of things.  And, man, wore that record out!  I just couldn’t get enough of that record. This is in the late 90’s I think – ‘96 to ‘99 or maybe later… ’98, ‘99. I don’t know when it came out, but it was big record for me. So, I was kind of acquainted with it, but it wasn’t like a huge influence, that I was aware of.  But, then once I started getting more connected with Phil and the whole scene, I realized that a lot of what I had done – the New Orleans approach of improvising and trying different instrumentation’s and old traditional songs – things that I’ve been doing for a long time, was very, very similar to what they do and what they’ve always done, and they were one of the first to do all that in the rock business. I’ve been digging into the catalog and try to learn.  It’s just a wealth of just gems and knowledge.  It’s very valuable to how I do things today as an artist.

Kevin: Let’s talk about a couple of the shows that you have coming up here. They’re with the North Mississippi Allstars, so, NMO, if you will.  Can you tell me what makes the sound that each of you have so compatible? It just seems like throughout the whole Freedom and Dreams album, you guys are just in lock step.  It’s truly a great, great collaboration.

Anders: That’s wonderful. First of all, thank you very much, but I think a part of what we have is, again, tradition. It goes back to the roots of what we like as musicians.  I came from a lot of jazz and a lot of free improv and stuff like that, but my songwriting and my love of the style that I do, that came a lot through, what would you call it? It’s like the Bob Dylan, but it’s also Little Feat, Ry Cooder, Mississippi John Hurt. There is a lot of Robert Johnson. There is a lot of just, like, folk blues influences. There is Tex-Mex, Flaco Jimenez, all these things…that’s very similar to what Luther and Cody grew up with…also, through their dad Jim, because Jim worked on a lot of those records. He was part of that, and I was friends with their dad Jim, and it’s just that there is a connection there that it runs a little deeper than what we like. I think it’s what we grew up listening to, so it’s in our blood a little bit.

Kevin: You don’t have to dig deep for it…

Anders: No, it’s just when we get together, we kind of go there. It’s like a folky psychedelic blues or something. I don’t know. That’s kind of where we end up.

Kevin: I think it really comes out in “Away Way Too Long”.  It really sets the stage for the whole Freedom and Dreams album. I just absolutely love that song.

Anders: That’s awesome. Thank you.

Kevin: Do you have any plans on doing any further touring outside of those 2 shows with the NMO crew?

Anders: Yeah, me and Luther are discussing. We’re trying to figure it out because we’d like to get into the studio and we’d like to do some more recording stuff so that we have some more material that’s uniquely ours. On the last record, all the writing was done by me, so what we’re trying to do this time; I’d like to split it up. So that there is more influence coming from their writing and that would be intriguing I think to hear where that goes.  And I think if we do that, and if we can find some time next year, I’m pretty certain we’ll go out and spend a couple of months on the road.

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Kevin: That would be awesome. I think that would be very well received.  I think you’ve already sold out 1 of your 2 shows, if I’m not mistaken, so, I think you’ll have a lot of further success with that.  But, talking about collaboration, on your last album Spacedust and Ocean Views, there’s a song “Move Back to Mississippi”. I love your collaboration with Ivan Neville on this song.  Can you tell me about performing with Ivan? I know you probably do it quite a bit.

Anders: Me and Ivan have been friends for a very long time. We have, you know, the New Orleans background. He was born and raised here, and I moved here when I was a young teenager, and I basically grew up here as well, so we just always have been hip to hip. We’ve been hanging out, and we’ve gone through a lot of the same personal issues. We have cleaned up…so we have that in common, and then we have a lot of fun getting together. It may seem like a lot of musicians should just find time to get together and make great music, but, really, it’s not something that always clicks with everybody. You can play with everybody, but, with certain people, there is that magic where there is a brotherly or a sisterly type of feeling, and I definitely feel it – I don’t know about Ivan – but that’s how I definitely feel.

Kevin: I see it too when you play with John Gros. I really enjoy seeing you guys on stage together, as well. You guys obviously have a pretty tight relationship.

Anders: Yeah, absolutely.  Gros and I have been friends for over 30 years. He’s one of my teenage friends. I’ve known him for a long time.

Kevin: So, New Orleans. This is obviously your home. I want to talk a little bit about New Orleans, and some of the recent shows that you have had. This year I saw you at the Howlin’ Wolf for your only late night of the entire second weekend of Jazz Fest and it was absolutely packed. Does the Howlin’ Wolf hold a special place in your heart? Was that place integral to getting some of your bigger crowds and becoming more comfortable as a musician?

Anders: I think there has been a few of them, to be honest. Howlin’ Wolf is one of them.  It used to be at another place called The Republic, and that was called The Howlin’ Wolf back in the days, and that was probably one of the first places where I really sold a lot of tickets at that old place.  Then Tipitina’s has a really…I mean, that was my first big gig in New Orleans. There wasn’t like a little a private thing or a small thing. That was at Tipitina’s…I was opening for Earl King back in the later 80’s.  Tipitina’s has been there for me for a long time. There is also a place called the Rock ‘n’ Bowl which is at the mid-city.

Kevin: Yep, I’ve seen a few of shows there!

Anders: It’s a different scene but me and John… John [Blancher, owner of Rock ‘n’ Bowl] was extremely helpful for a long, long time; he supported me and gave me gigs when nobody else would.  Honestly, he was a big part of my success.  John Blancher and Rock ‘n’ Bowl, they put in a lot of time and money trying to help me out and get me going. Then before that, if we go way back, I think Carrollton Station and Checkpoint Charlie’s those were the 2 places where, literally, I started out. We started music at a place called Checkpoint Charlie’s.  It’s in the French Quarter, and we were the first music there. Jack Quigley and me and Kenny Holiday, who’s passed away. A lot of those guys have passed away. It was a pretty rough life we lived but… Irene and the Mikes. There was a lot of good people there.  Those are the venues that got me started. All of those.

Kevin: The ones that you mentioned first, Howlin Wolf, the Republic, the Rock ‘n’ Bowl, those are definitely the out of town’ers favorites and really present musicians in a special light. As an unfortunate as it is, when you guys go on tour, it just doesn’t seem to be same.  But that’s why we go to New Orleans Jazz Fest, right?

Anders: Yep, yep, there is something magical about Jazz Fest. Everybody looks good (laughing).

Kevin: But, tell me about that feeling. You’re now a favorite son there. You’re recognized across the jam band genre, amongst others. Did you ever think you’d make it to this height of success in making music and performing?

Anders: I’m going to be honest with you. I never thought about it much at all. Now, I definitely have a big competitive bone, so once I got a bloodied tooth, once I got going, I definitely see myself or saw myself as someone that could play with anybody. I think you have to feel that way in order to get there.  But, I got to say, I’ve had meetings, I’ve played with some of my childhood heroes and, still, it tickles me to death. I still have to pinch myself every time I’m on a stage. Really, there is no doubt.  When I play with Phil sometimes, even though we’ve done it for 3 years now, I still can’t believe that I’m up there with him.  Or I write songs with Paul Barrere from Little Feat and… he’s in my house. My wife comes in “Fucking Paul Barrere is in my fucking house… it’s unbelievable.” Even though we’ve been friends for 10 years or more, it’s still remarkable that that’s what has happened. I feel really, really grateful that I get to be around such amazing inspiration, and a lot of my heroes are part of my friends now.

Kevin: Kind of pinching yourself after the fact.

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Anders: Yeah, but to answer your question, at some point I saw myself able to be as big as anybody I was inspired by. That’s the drive you have.  But I think the main goal is to try to improve the music. To listen well. Make sure that I always stretch myself into a territory where I feel like I’m in little bit of deep water.  And I have a lot to learn, and I think that’s when you’re growing. I think the main quest is to make the greatest music I can possibly make and then where that ends up that’s not really up to me. That’s up to the audience to decide if it’s good or not.

Kevin: It sounds like you’re continuing to challenging yourself, and that’s what make it exciting?

Anders: Yeah. I try my best. You don’t want to get stagnant.  You want to change up and try new things and see where it goes.

Kevin: So, one last thing here before I let you go. We would love to see you guys come through Detroit sometime.  So, whenever you guys start booking your next tour, think about us, because we’d love to see you up here.

Anders: I would love it. What is the good venue I should go to?

Kevin: There is a couple. I think you’d quite enjoy St. Andrews. That’s a pretty good venue.  We have too much love for good music in Detroit!

Anders: I love it. I love it.

ANDERS OSBORNE LINKS:

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Category: Interviews

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ToddStar - that's me... just a rocking accountant who had dreams of being a rock star. I get to do the next best thing to rocking the globe - I get to take pictures of the lucky ones that do. I love to shoot all genres of music and different types of performers. If it is related to music, I love to photograph it. I get to shoot and hang with not only some of my friends and idols, but some of the coolest people around today.

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