The Rumpus Interview with Jason Anderson(!)

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Jason Anderson is a prolific singer/songwriter from New England who has now settled in Brooklyn. He runs around, wild-eyed, singing at the top of his lungs about not giving up, and life’s best moments, and being in love.

Jason Anderson, as mentioned above, is a prolific singer/songwriter from New England who has now settled in Brooklyn. He’s recorded several albums for K Records and toured around the world, sometimes by himself, sometimes playing with Kimya Dawson, Tilly and the Wall, Mount Eerie, and others. Before I saw him I expected his live show to be tender and wistful (like the records of his I had heard) and, while it was those things at times, it was a lot more; high-energy, loud, life-affirming, sweaty–dare I say it– downright Springsteen-y. It’s difficult to feel anything less than inspired during a Jason Anderson show. He runs around, wild-eyed, singing at the top of his lungs about not giving up, and life’s best moments, and being in love. More than that, he gets everyone to sing along.

The Rumpus: Hey Jason, I don’t know how to write or how speak to people, so this might not go so well. How was your most recent tour?

Jason Anderson: It was awesome! I had an amazing time. I really love the south. A few new cities that I totally fell in love with (Atlanta! Richmond!), and so many friends, new ones that I was excited to meet and hang out with, and old ones whom I cherished seeing after a while apart. Wonderful, incredible vegan food everywhere! One of my (many, many) favorite parts of touring is discovering the awesome local restaurants; that being said, you gotta check out Soul Veg in Atlanta, Rosetta’s in Asheville, Panda Veg in Richmond. So good. I also really like looking at old, historic houses. I got to do a lot of that in Charleston, South Carolina and in Richmond, too. So pretty and interesting. Touring is so great. The shows are so fun and important to the experience but there is so much else that is fun and important to the experience, too. Friends, conversations, food, walks, small daily adventures.

Rumpus: Can you talk a little bit about your early shows? I’ve been wondering about how you arrived at your current inspirational, we’re-all-in-this-together kind of performing style. Was it like that from the beginning? Or was there a person/event/thing that helped to shape it?

Anderson: Shows were always pretty non-traditional; some of the earliest ones, I would just invite people over to my dorm room and sing songs, with everyone sitting about, on the floor, on the bed, on the windowsill. Those were great. I always wanted to put on an amazing show. With the solo performances, early on, a bunch of friends were touring and recording together and I think being mutually inspired by each other. I know I was. So different things were always experimented with, like playing off the stage, not using microphones and encouraging sing-alongs and other forms of participation from the audience. I think those three things are maybe what you could call the groundwork for where I ended up being inspired to ultimately adapt the way i want to put on a show (which, of course, is still developing, with every show and every tour). I have just always wanted to make fun stuff happen. Life is too short not to enjoy as much of it as possible!

Rumpus: Before you started teaching–is that still true? Are you still working as a kids’ music teacher?–how many months did you spend on the road?

Anderson: Yes, I am halfway through my third school year in Brooklyn. It’s awesome being a teacher. I can’t tour year-round anymore, but it’s nice to have school breaks. We have a february vacation, which I just used for this recent tour. There’s a spring break, too and of course summers off. I’m playing quite often around NYC, too. It’s great.

I toured non-stop for five years. Of course, I wasn’t playing shows every night for five years, though. It was about 7-8 months a year, in that period.

Rumpus: And a lot of that touring was done by sort of unconventional modes of transportation, right? Do you have a preferred method? Jonathan Richman was–or maybe still is–a big fan of touring by bus.

Anderson: I really like touring solo because you have a balance of alone time and group time. Usually the driving is alone, which is a nice way to be with your thoughts, listen to music, make little stops, think about life. But then when you arrive, you are met with friends–old and new–and get to hang out, get to make food, and have a really fun show. Then you can stay up late and talk about life, then wake up and have that alone driving time again to process it all. It’s a truly awesome routine. But, then again, touring with a bunch of friends is fun, too. In terms of nontraditional stuff, the bike tour was amazing. Some friends and I biked something like 200 miles in five days–throughout Massachusetts, Vermont and New Hampshire–and I would play a show everywhere we went on a borrowed guitar. All the shows were booked in advance; it was essentially a “normal” tour except instead of using a car, I used a bike. Seriously, the only pitfall was that one day it rained a little. Other than that, it was amazing!

Rumpus: How often do you write new songs, and how often are they introduced introduced into your live set?

Anderson: I write pretty often, sometimes in extreme cases. I did a song-a-day project for a few months that was really fun; it was so inspiring that I often wrote several songs a day. Usually when I write something I’m really excited to play it live, so it will end up coming out at one point or another.

I’ve found that some songs really have seemed to connect with other people in an awesome way, and I love playing them. I also just love trying to put on the best show ever. The ultimate expression of one moment. Life happening in the present tense. Rejoicing in that. I very rarely make setlists when I play solo, so each show is different in its own way.

Rumpus: I was just about to ask how much of your show is mapped out and how much of it is reaction to the feeling of that particular show/audience? Do you plan ahead of time “here is where I will segue into a Paula Abdul song“?

Anderson: It’s all based on feeling and dynamics. I have been touring since 1999, and no two shows have ever been exactly the same. Sure, there are elements that might pop up from show to show, but there is always at least one crazy, magical, unique little thing that happens at every show, and those are the moments that drive me wild. It’s such a living, organic thing, and I truly believe these shows are only as fun as every single person’s involvement. We really make these nights whatever we want them to be, so the sky’s the limit. If we really give it 110%–all of is–well, man, there’s absolutely nothing like it. it’s transcendent. The feeling is so incredible!

Rumpus: I’ve sort of been ignoring your recorded output, and that’s dumb because there is so much of it. I’m not going to phrase this as a question: almost all of your great albums are available to download for free at your website.

Anderson: My idea with this website is to make as much music available as possible, and have as much of it instantly downloadable for free. A small handful of the releases–those put out originally with labels–will require purchase, but this is great, too, as i’ve supplied links that go directly to each label’s online store, so you can support an independent business; these imprints (K, States Rights, ECA) are all run by awesome friends who are only putting out music because they love it. These albums are, of course, also available on iTunes, but I encourage anyone and everyone who is interested to eliminate the middle man and go directly to the source!

Rumpus: Finally, I feel like you have a wide breadth of knowledge regarding matters of the heart, and a… friend of mine wanted me to ask you this: what’s the best way to get over a break-up?

Anderson: Keep busy and hang out with friends a lot. Don’t feel like you have to go through it alone, like that’s noble or something. Lean on the people who love you, whether that means talking about the break up or just a fun social distraction, go for it. Oh, and remember all the things in your life that ARE working, even if the romantic side (temporarily) isn’t. Don’t forget that maybe you have a great job, or a great apartment, or great roommates, or great friends. Don’t let having (or not having) a romantic partner define you. All of us have made that mistake at one point. You have to be happy being solo, too. Some would say you HAVE to be able to do that before you can even be with someone else, period.

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Jason Anderson will be playing at Pete’s Candy Store in Brooklyn every Thursday this March, and all of his albums are available for purchase or download at his website.