Jason Anderson: "Someone Described Me As 'The Andrew WK of Folk Music'"
I feel like a typical singer-songwriter set involves opening with two or three high energy numbers before mellowing out a little bit, so as to not over-exert oneself or the audience. This isn't exactly Jason Anderson's pace. Watching him is like witnessing an indie Bruce Springsteen whose speed is always locked at "Thunder Road" or "No Surrender."
Even his quiet jams are pretty intense. Through constant touring and writing, the folk singer has developed a reputation for creating engaging and emotionally resonant music that has a tendency to drag people in and make them want to sing, scream, and shout along with it. I recently talked with Jason ahead of his upcoming shows in Phoenix.
You are doing two nights at the Trunk Space, one "plugged in" with amplification and a full band, and another just acoustic. You record in a similar way, with some tracks being full band and electric, and others being acoustic. What do you like about performing each way?
That's a great question. I love both set-ups equally and believe that each informs the other. It's fun to play with the contrasting dynamics; during my solo shows, the group sing-alongs will often go so big it almost feels like a full band (in fact, at a recent acoustic gig, someone ((other than myself)) actually crowd surfed (((side note: one of the greatest compliments I have ever received was when someone described me as "the Andrew WK of folk music")))), and sometimes with the band it's magical to bring the levels down to near silence, go off mic, and jump from the stage into the audience.
Regardless of configuration, though, my goal is always to create the most intimate, cathartic, and shared experience possible.
What is your relationship with the Trunk Space like?
I have always had a very special relationship with Phoenix, going back to Leslie and shows at Modified. I've been lucky enough to visit lots of neat places and meet lots of inspiring people; that said, I've seldom encountered folks as open-hearted and supportive as those in Arizona. Some of my favorite show memories (opening for Atom and His Package, opening for Xiu Xiu) and favorite songwriters to share bills with (Asleep in the Sea, Andrew Jackson Jihad, French Quarter) have been centered in and around Modified.
It came to feel like a home away from home--a head-and-shoulders-above-the-rest-except-for-maybe-Kilby-Court-in-Salt-Lake-City highlight of my tours--and I was pretty fiercely loyal. When shows started slowing down there, however, my sadness (re: something lost) was displaced by the wonderful warmth of befriending Steph and JRC, and discovering the wonderful world of Trunk Space (re: something gained).
When I've seen you perform before, people get really into it, sometimes in a cathartic way where they come out purged of a lot of things that were stressing them out that week. Did you ever expect to be a kind of motivational figure as well as a performer?
That's another great question. (And thanks for doing this interview, by the way, it means a lot.) I know two things about why I tour so much. Aside from the in-the-moment adventure of life on the road (National Parks, old friends, mom and pop vegan restaurants ((so stoked to hit up Green and Nami))) performing every night is important to me because a.) I love music and b.) it is a space for me to give in to the present tense and just exist for a few hours. I go all in for that experience, and when it's contagious - when I can act as a catalyst for realizing a fuller, group release--well, those are the moments that keep me getting out of bed every morning, despite the isolating and often terrifying world we live in.
Have you actually ridden your bike from New York to New Hampshire before? The song you wrote about it mentioning friends' backyards along the way made it sound feasible.
That song came out of a bicycle tour I undertook with some friends around New England. We didn't do the New York route, though. We covered 200 miles or so in five days, from western Massachusetts up through Vermont and over to my home, New Hampshire. It was phenomenal.
Following up on the bike question, what are some of the most interesting journeys, either strictly geographical or more figurative, that you have undertaken?
Last fall I toured the country for two-and-a-half months in my 1987 Toyota pickup truck. I had a bed in the back and no radio up front. Inspired by John Steinbeck's Travels with Charley, I endeavored to discover America, not simply as a touring musician, but as an explorer of sorts. It was fabulous. I visited many beautiful places (camping, hiking, biking), had countless enlightening conversations with new friends, and, more than anything, just relished the diversity and wild topography of our country. Briefly, another fascinating trip was a tour of eastern Europe I took, playing shows in places like Serbia, Croatia, Hungary, Poland, and Slovenia.
Look up your name on Wikipedia, if you had to be one of those Jason Andersons, which one would you be?
I'll tweak your question slightly and say I would love to live a day in the life of Jason Alexander, more famously known as George Costanza. That would be a true Festivus.
Jason Anderson is scheduled to perform Thursday, May 30 and Friday, May 31st at Trunk Space.
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