Northern Californian singer-songwriter Eric Anders and southern Californian guitarist-composer Mark O'Bitz have been working on music together since Eric's 2003 debut release, Not At One, which, like all of Eric's six solo releases, was mostly made up of Anders/O'Bitz songs. The guys started releasing music as a duo in 2018 with Of All These Things. They followed that up with Ghosts to Ancestors in 2019. Their 2020 album, American Bardo, was listed in Popmatters' top 50 Americana albums for 2020.
While working on Ghosts To Ancestors, our producer, Jeff Peters, recommended a book to Eric: George Saunders' Lincoln in the Bardo. He probably recommended this novel because the main characters are ghosts and Jeff knew Eric is interested in Buddhism, ghosts, and hauntings--especially the philosophical take on hauntings called "hauntology" and the Japanese version of the ghost story called the "yurei" story. Lincoln in the Bardo is an American Buddhist's yurei story that explores many hauntological themes.
This book so moved Eric he wrote the song "Matterbloomlight" with Mark back in October of 2018. The two then decided to do a whole album of songs inspired by the novel and its characters. In the spring of 2019, before they had finished Ghosts To Ancestors, Mark and Eric got together for a few days of writing songs and they experienced a creative explosion that surprised both of them.
Eric wanted this album to be darker and bluesier than their prior duo releases so he searched for a producer who might be able to provide them with this change in direction. Eric and Mark felt fortunate they found Mike Butler of San Diego, Eric's former home and where his family goes back three generations. They worked on American Bardo with Mike for the remainder of 2019 and released it in the summer of 2020.
A few months after American Bardo, Eric and Mark released their critically-acclaimed EP, This Mortal Farce. The four songs on this EP were all written and recorded at the same time as the songs on American Bardo. Eric decided to separate out these four songs because sixteen songs seemed too much for one album, and the twelve songs on American Bardo were all directly related to characters in the novel--whereas the four EP songs were only indirectly connected to the novel, if at all.
The pandemic started as Mike Butler started to mix American Bardo and This Mortal Farce. While Mike worked hard on finishing up American Bardo, Eric and Mark started working on their project which they call "music in the time of coronavirus," which has become a multl-release collection.
Everything for their "music in the time of coronavirus" collection--from songwriting to recording to mastering--was done remotely during shelter in place (Eric in NorCal; Mark and Mike in SoCal). Most of the songs have been inspired by the isolation, anxiety, and cultural upheaval of the pandemic.
Eric and Mark released the first installment of "music in the time of coronavirus," the single "Careful Now My Son," in December 2020. Eric decided to have four separate installments for this collection so that each release would be more consistent style-wise.
"Careful Now My Son" is the only song that was done in a truly Americana style, so we decided to release it as a single. We also thought that its foreboding feel and lyrics worked well to represent how we were feeling during this pandemic--so it would make a good kick-off song.
The song is about both the pandemic and the authoritarian and cultish politics of Trumpism. We were deeply afraid of both infectious diseases during 2020--and now that we are well into 2021. With regard to Trumpism, "Careful Now My Son" can be understood as an Americana companion song to our song, "Wounded Son," which is on our 2019 album, Ghosts To Ancestors.
The second installment of "music in the time of coronavirus," Sirens Go By was released February 11, 2021. It will be our fourth album as a duo and the songs are all in the usual singer-songwriter style of Anders/O'Bitz.
The third installment of the "music in the time of coronavirus" collection will be a six-song EP, Stuck Inside (out in spring of 2021). All six songs will be a bit edgier, a bit more rockin'.
Eric and Mark are currently busy writing songs for the fourth installment for the "music in the time of coronavirus" collection, Variant Blues, which should be out early this summer.
The three boys are hoping to get back into their favorite studio, The Singing Serpent in San Diego, to record the songs for Variant Blues. Since "the boys" are all middle-aged men, they hope to get their vaccines in time to safely get back into the studio together.
Mark and Eric currently have a climate change music video in the works for our song, "SeaRise," a climate change song Eric wrote with his daughter, Evelyn, when she was eleven. We are thrilled that we will be working with Basque artist Joseba Elorza (Greenday, National Geographic) on this climate change music video. The video should be completed in soon so the song should be the old boys' next release.
The old boys' pre-pandemic history:
Sirens Go By is Eric’s ninth full-length album and the duo’s fourth full-length album. Eric got into writing and recording songs in the early 2000s when he met Mark at one of Mark’s shows and the two decided to collaborate on music.
At the time, Eric was in his late thirties and he tried to make up for lost time by releasing three critically-acclaimed solo releases in four years: Not At One (2003), Songs for Wayward Days (2004), More Regrets (2005), and Tethered to the Ground (2006).
The cover art of their first release as a duo, Of All These Things (2018), harkens back to the cover of Not At One, Eric's debut album fifteen years before. Mark contributed so much to Not At One that, in hindsight, Eric wishes they had released it as a duo back then. In fact, Eric wishes all of his solo releases had been released as a duo with Mark.
For more on the story of Eric's first four releases, see Eric's blog post, "From Songwriting Partners to a Duo." Please check out the other posts and subscribe if you like what you hear and read.
In 2007, the duo’s song "So Wrong" from Tethered to the Ground was used in the Michael Schroeder film, Man in the Chair, starring Academy-Award-winner Christopher Plummer (who recently passed away). The song "Big World Abide" from Tethered to the Ground was used in two TV shows: the Dutch soap opera Goede Tijden, Slechte Tijden, and the Courtney Cox TV show, Dirt.
From our producer, Mike Butler, San Diego:
"I got my start as an assistant engineer at the legendary Record Plant Studios where I had an opportunity to learn from some of the biggest and best names in recording. Later as an independent engineer and mixer in L.A., I was lucky enough to work with some amazing artists including Ray LaMontagne, The Pretenders, Five For Fighting, The Shins, Fanfarlo, Reba McEntire, LeAnn Rimes, Colbie Callat, Death Cab For Cutie, Norah Jones, and many more. I also did extensive mixing work for famed Japanese producer Tetsuya Komuro that earned several number one spots in Japan. Since relocating to San Diego in 2010, I have mixed and/or engineered for hundreds of independent and national artists including tracks for Phoebe Bridgers, Jessca Hoop, Night Beds, Diet Cig, Brent Knopf (El Vy, Ramona Falls), Katrina Parker (The Voice), Radio Moscow and Active Bird Community."
Jonathan Frahm Interviews Eric Anders in For Folk's Sake 5
"Eric Anders and Mark O’Bitz’s American Bardo begins with ‘Matterbloomlight (Revisited)’. Earlier this year, For Folk’s Sake premiered and praised the single for its complex, cyclical themes and the profundity of its arrangement. Now, much of the same can be said of the duo’s full album—out now, each track on the album is a “reading” to one of the characters in the Mann-Booker Prize-winning novel, Lincoln in the Bardo. An individualistic conception in and of itself, the album incorporates synthetic and organic musical elements alike to form its cerebral folk and Americana.
One half of the inimitable collaboration, Eric Anders, is the latest to take on our ‘FFS 5’ interview series. Within, Anders offers morsels on his background as a Californian artist, the academia that informs his songwriting, and what his perception of artistic success is."
Indie Music Discovery Interview with Eric Anders & Mark O’Bitz – Comes And Goes:
"In this interview spotlight, Indie Music Discovery chats with Eric Anders & Mark O’Bitz about their collaborative music project, the latest releases, challenges and more."