Rock Era Magazine interviews Eric Anders regarding his summer 2023 release of "Answers Belie"
Viola Karmy for Rock Era Magazine: We are thrilled to have you! Before we dive into your latest mesmerizing creation, Answers Belie, can you tell us how this fortunate collaboration happened from the very beginning?
Eric Anders: I am thrilled to be here and I am grateful to you, Viola, for the opportunity ... and for your great review of Answers Belie.
You probably don't want me to go back to the "very beginning" in 2001 when Mark and I first met and started working together, so I will talk about the very beginning of this particular project, Answers Belie.
(I tell the "very beginning" story of our duo starting in 2001 in my blog post: "From Songwriting Partners to a Duo.")
Mark and I wrote the songs for Answers Belie in the spring of 2022, more than twenty years after we first started working together. At the time, the three Answers-Belie collaborators--myself, Mark, and our very talented producer, Mike Butler--were all involved with three other Anders/O'Bitz projects that started well before Answers Belie but were still ongoing.
For months prior to the writing of these songs--for all of 2021 and the first part of 2022--the three of us had been deep into experimentation with some different styles and genres. The Loss We’ve Won was our first full-length project dedicated to a more narrow and traditional interpretation of the Americana genre than we had done before. (See our "Concord Songs" playlist to hear our many Americana songs at "Hear the Music" on AndersObitz.com.)
So Far Gone was unique for us because we intentionally tried to go more bluesy and rock right from the start. (See our "Force of Old" playlist to hear our many rock songs at "Hear the Music" on AndersObitz.com.)
Bardo Hauntigs, the third project we were working on at the time, was a project inspired by filous’ remix of Damien Jurado’s “Ohio”. Bardo Hauntigs is our biggest departure to date from our usual genre-eluding mix of folk, blues, rock, singer-songwriter, indie, and Americana.
This remix project combined all of these genres and the remix styles of Mike Butler and Steven Jess Borth II, the two remix artists tasked with reimagining or "haunting" the twelve songs of American Bardo. The end result may be easier to classify than our usual unclassifiable mix of genres.
Even though Mark and I wrote almost all of the songs for all three projects, the style of the Answers Belie songs was really only influenced by So Far Gone, especially with regard to its rock and Americana stylings. Answers Belie is really a continuation of So Far Gone style-wise and thematically.
Viola Karmy: Working as a solo artist and working as a pair are totally different experiences. The chemistry is demonstrated in your music. Tell us about the advantages of working together.
Eric Anders: I released a lot of music as a solo artist (2003-2017) but most of that music was still done with Mark as my co-writer.
On those early releases, he would typically have a significant influence on the direction of the production in addition to playing a variety of instruments, but usually acoustic guitar. On Answers Belie, Mark plays a lot of electric guitar too (I particularly love his country western electric guitar on "Force of Old").
I’ve written a lot of songs with other composers but I’ve always felt the best chemistry with Mark as my co-writer. So I actually can’t say much about writing, producing, or releasing music as a solo artist. If I'm not working with Mark, I'm working with someone else.
I'm usually working with Mark. Probably ninety percent of my songs are Anders/O’Bitz songs. You can hear the playlist, "Eric's Best Non-A/O Songs,' at the "Hear the Music" page on our website if you want to hear some of the songs I wrote with other composers.
All of my projects--whether they were released as “Eric Anders” or as the Anders/O'Bitz duo--have been, in significant ways, Anders/O’Bitz collaborations–regardless of whatever producer or musicians we were working with at the time.
The producers that we choose to work with, however, have always had a huge influence on the particular sound of each project. For example, the very talented Matthew Emerson Brown did a lot to create the various sounds of Tethered to the Ground, Remains In Me, and Eleven Nine. These so-called "solo" releases were actually more trio releases: Anders/O’Bitz/Brown projects. All of the projects we have done with our current producer, Mike Butler, are trio releases too: Anders/O’Bitz/Butler projects.
Our music is ALL highly collaborative--even beyond our status as a duo.
Individual musicians have also had a big impact on the sound of each project. Grammy-winning guitarist and producer Randy Ray Mitchell (Warren Zevon) had a huge impact on More Regrets (2005, producer, multiple instruments), Ghosts to Ancestors (2019, producer, mix, multiple instruments), and So Far Gone (2022, pre-production, multiple instruments). Guitarist Jeff Fielder (Mark Lanegan) had a big impact on the sound we got on Remains In Me (2011) and Eleven Nine (2017). Drummer Matt Lynott (White Buffalo) had a big impact on our critically acclaimed 2020 album, American Bardo, and many of our other Anders/O’Bitz/Butler projects we've done since.
I’ve never considered myself a solo artist, and not because my only instrument is my voice. The transition from solo act to duo was really just about the names we put on the album cover more than anything else.
Mark is not only my primary collaborator; he also showed me that I could write songs back in 2001. I owe him a lot ... and I wish I could go back in time and release all of my releases as Anders/O'Bitz releases. It would better represent our work together over the years.
Mark is also a great friend ... which I think has a lot to do with why the chemistry continues to work for us.
Viola Karmy: Music speaks louder than words, but how would you describe your evolving sound over the years?
This is a great question and the answer really shows how much our producers or other collaborators have impacted the sound of each Anders/O'Bitz project.
The fact that there isn't much "style distance" between my debut release, Not At One (2003), and Answers Belie (2023) says a lot about how we haven't changed that much over the two decades Mark and I have been working together.
Since Jeff Peters (Beach Boys) mixed Not At One (2003) and produced and mixed Of All These Things (2018)--just one example of many--you could also argue that we have continued to work with the same collaborators, and/or we have consistently chosen very talented collaborators with styles and tastes that mesh well with our own.
My debut release, Not At One, actually has elements of all of the branches of our sound-evolution tree (except the folk-EDM mix of Bardo Hauntigs, which really was an uncharacteristic genre leap for us).
The songs “Struggle” and “Halcyon Days” from Not At One showed our early rock leanings. The song “We Went Down” revealed our nascent Americana leanings. And the songs “Never Enough,” “Say Goodbye Again,” and “Leaves Me Cold” all showed our more dominant indie/singer-songwriter leanings.
To hear examples of this more typical indie/singer-songwriter Anders/O'Bitz sound I would direct you to Of All These Things (2018), Ghosts to Ancestors (2019), Sirens Go By (2021), Variant Blues (2021), and our award-winning single "Searise":
All of these leanings--rock, Americana, blues, indie, folk, singer-songwriter--can be found throughout our work, and especially in Answers Belie. So I'm not sure if our work has "evolved" as much as it has gone through variations on a variety of themes and styles. You can hear several playlists dedicated to these themes and styles on our "Hear the Music" page.
Viola Karmy: Answers Belie is an intense and moving album. Was it a challenging or smooth process to make it?
It was an exceptionally smooth process for Mark and me ... because Mike Butler did almost all of the post-composition work. I'm not sure if Mike experienced this process as a smooth one. He did a lot of work on Anders/O'Bitz projects for the last five or so years, and Mark and I are very grateful to have had the opportunity to work with him so much.
While we were writing the songs in my Bay Area home studio, Mark and I tried our best to get recordings Mike could use for the final record. We were thrilled when Mike ended up using a lot of what we did during those early home studio sessions.
The intensity of the album comes from the intense thoughts and feelings Mark and I have on the subject matter dealt with in the lyrics and expressed through the music. I find it very satisfying when others hear the intensity we were trying to communicate with our songs.
Viola Karmy: Out of the seven songs, which one was the hardest to write and record?
Actually, none of the songs stood out this way. Mark and Mike would have to speak to the recording part. The vocals on all of them were pretty straightforward, and the lyrics poured out for each one too.
Viola Karmy: You lean towards writing about most aspects of life, from public matters to personal experiences and thoughts. What usually inspires you to write new music?
Mostly, my lyrics and melodies are inspired by the music Mark comes up with ... but Mark's music is inspired by the intense thoughts and feelings I am hoping to communicate with these songs. Mark knows me well enough to get a strong sense of what I am going through when we get together for writing sessions--what I want to communicate with whatever we are working on at the time--and he knows how to connect with me via the music he comes up with during these writing sessions.
This question reminds me of a story. I bought a new Martin M-36 for the writing sessions we did for American Bardo. It is hard for Mark to travel with his acoustic guitar so I bought one just like his so he would have a familiar guitar when he came up north to write music.
We will never forget when he first sat down to play that new Martin and how the full guitar part for "Bury Me" was the first thing he played. It just poured out. He accepted it as a gift from the guitar itself. We both consider this song to be among our best yet. I accepted Mark's gift to me and wrote the lyrics before our writing session ended ... something that rarely happens.
When I started writing songs in the early 2000s, I wrote a lot about being single and struggling to connect. After I got married and had children, I found myself writing more about politics, family matters, psychology, and philosophy--more recently, about getting older.
I am a therapist and I have a background in philosophy too, so the impact of my engagement with these fields shows up in my lyrics a lot. I’m also very engaged politically, as is evidenced by our many political songs (which can all be heard on the "The Morton's Pillory Plea" playlist found on our "Hear the Music" page).
Viola Karmy: We are eager to learn more about the writing process for the album. Could you please take us behind the scenes?
Mark and I have worked pretty much the same way since we started working together in 2001. What happened with "Bury Me" was unusual.
Mark and I usually spend a lot of time just talking about the music we are into at the time and we end up playing some covers of this music while we think and talk about where we want to go with the project we are working on. These conversations and thoughts usually don’t matter as much as what seems to just flow out of us and we invariably end up going wherever the music takes us.
Viola Karmy: It’s not every day that we find artists inspired by authors and their books. Can you introduce us to authors who inspire you?
I wouldn’t know where to start when it comes to favorite authors, thinkers, and writers. I referred to Yeats when I was asked once about the meaning of “Answers Belie” to me:
The title track is about how the answers we’ve had to life’s big questions often disguise/reveal our deepest uncertainties and fears. In his poem, “The Second Coming,” Yeats writes “The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity.” The “answers” that the worst hold so tight do not only belie their fear and insecurity; they are also the foundation for their passionately intense violence against those who are otherwise.
American Bardo was inspired by the George Saunders novel, Lincoln in the Bardo. This is one of the great American novels, in my opinion. While working on Ghosts To Ancestors, our producer at the time, Jeff Peters, recommended this book to me. Jeff probably recommended it because the main characters are ghosts, and Jeff knew I was 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.
A few of my songs have been inspired by Emily Dickinson over the past few years, but I am not at all a Dickinson or poetry scholar. I’m not sure I’m even a good reader of Dickinson’s extremely complex work. She is the “Closed-Eye Seer” I sing about on Stuck Inside (2021).
The idea for our next project, Bryter Now, was inspired by the music, style, and tragic life of Nick Drake. We will be doing more songs like our Nick-Drake-inspired song, “Twilight’s Last Gleaming” on Sirens Go By (2021). This is a song that displays Mark’s amazing versatility when it comes to playing the acoustic guitar.
I recommend “Twilight’s Last Gleaming” to all of your readers as a left-populist antidote to Oliver Anthony's right-populist "Rich Men North of Richmond," which went viral last month.
Viola Karmy: The entire album is amazing! I like the diversity of sound and themes. If you need to choose the most personal song for you out of the seven, which one will it be?
Thank you, again. We are truly grateful.
The most personal song for me on Answers Belie is “Eyes, A Child, Bedside,” for sure. It is about my maternal grandfather, Casey Hoard, who was a California Highway Patrolman before he was bedridden by MS in his forties. Some reviewers have talked about this song as the least dark song on the album, which surprises me. It was pretty dark growing up seeing my formerly strapping “Bapa” waste away in a hospital bed they had rigged up in my grandparents’ living room.
The album is meant to be intense, moving, and dark. These are dark times we live in. “Eyes, A Child, Bedside” is probably the most personally dark song on the album, but my favorite songs on Answers Belie are the political ones–tracks 1-3. They express best how I feel and what I think about these dark times we live in. They would all be good antidotes to Oliver Anthony's virus-of-a-song, "Rich Men North of Richmond."
Viola Karmy: Finally, thank you for your time! Do you have any final words to say for whoever is facing one of the situations you conveyed in the album?
You mentioned before that Answers Belie is an intense and moving album. Mark and I were in an intense mood when we wrote these songs because we are experiencing our current times intensely as very dark times.
Mark and I are both terrified by climate change and the rightward and crazy shift in American politics and culture.
We wrote "Searise" with my older daughter when she was eleven. She also sings on the record, starting about halfway through--as does her younger sister in the choruses. This song is about how crazy it must be to be a child growing up with the world being made unlivable by human-caused climate change--and how horrible to be a father who will leave such a dangerous, "sullied," and dysfunctional world to his kids.
These are dark times and it is important that artists engage with the forces that are making these times of ours so dark. I think "Rich Men North of Richmond" gets way wrong what these forces are ... the forces that are darkening our times. Instead of engaging the conspiracy-deluded MAGA crowd and "rich men" like Rupert Murdoch who make money by spreading the lies that undergird the MAGA worldview, he lashes out at obese welfare recipients and politicians in general.
His voice and music sound great, but they carry a confused and dangerous message--and I see it as very bad art because of this, despite his excellent voice and melody. The song and the artist come across to me as ultimately very smug, naive, and misguided.
If anyone out there is looking for a political anthem steeped in traditional American music, please check out our "Concord Songs" Americana songs playlist on our “Hear the Music” page on AndersObitz.com ... and then cross-check it with our “Morton’s Pillory Plea” political songs playlist to discover the many overlaps.
Eric Anders, 9/3/23