Interview: Anders Osborne Discusses New Music, Touring & More
Anders Osborne has as many as three new records in the pipeline, which for many musicians would be a painstaking years-long process, but for Osborne these days is par for the course. New music, new songs and new experiences all keep Osborne — by his own admission, easily bored and wanting to prevent getting stale or automatic — aggressively moving forward.
That includes live shows, and as usual, Osborne will be appearing in a variety of contexts over the next few months: solo, leading trios, quartets and other combos, and playing with friends old and new, from Cris Jacobs to Joan Osborne. Some of his traditional fall and winter stops are on the books — he’ll be in his usual two-night Brooklyn Bowl slot December 7 and 8, for example, and mounting his 7th Annual Holiday Spectacular in New Orleans December 14 – 15 — and others come in formats we’ve not yet seen from the protean guitarist and singer.
Here’s Anders on keeping up a torrid pace of music and continuing to shake things up.
JAMBASE: You’ve been prolific with releasing new music in the last few years, even by your standards.
ANDERS OSBORNE: Yeah, I’ve been writing a lot — and really enjoying the writing process. It’s my favorite thing. That’s what I enjoy doing.
JAMBASE: How have you changed over time as a songwriter?
AO: Every year you learn a few things, and you expand your experiences. I like to write about a lot of my internal situation and then kind of externalize that, put it into music and words. For me, it’s about my own experience, so over time, there’s always a little more to draw from.
JAMBASE: What do you look for when you’re doing that “drawing from”? I imagine that years ago as a less mature songwriter you went for emotions, feelings, quick observations. Is that different now? Is the process different?
AO: Well, first, now I discipline myself to get to the writing process every day. That’s very important, not waiting for anything to happen. You just kind of get to it. And then I usually look for melody and atmosphere, first via the instrument. If that leads me somewhere, I look lyrically, and I think it’s sort of an unconscious or underlying thing, but I go with a question about what I’m doing, or why I’m doing something a certain way, or why people behave in certain ways toward me or I behave in certain ways toward them. I’m usually not political but these can have a political undertone, too. But maybe it’s as simple as I enjoy being in nature, so I want to explain that in a way that is relatable. What I go back to is: “Why would people want to hear something from me about this?” I search for my own language, in my own tone. Maybe that’s battling with motivation or a mid-life crisis. So I try to figure out how to make it relatable. I want to feel something when I sing it or I write it, and I want other people to feel that too.
JAMBASE: Do new songs come quickly to you? It seemed like, for example, that a lot of the material on [2016’s] Flower Box arrived quickly and fully formed. That was a surprise release so soon after Spacedust & Ocean Views that same year.
AO: It’s always moving. I have two records in the can and am working on the third one right now. I don’t worry so much about it; what keeps the speed up on it is not worrying whether it’s good or not, it’s not really for me to judge that. For me, it’s about finding joy in my life, doing different things musically and making sure I have some output. If I feel like it’s good, I want to make a record, and when it’s done I feel ready to move on.
They don’t all come fully formed as I write them, though. I have one song (“Can You Still Hear Me” from Spacedust & Ocean Views) for example that took me 15 or 16 years. I started it after my mother died and I couldn’t finish that. Another friend of mine, Tim Green, died and I put what I had together with another song and it became this whole other song.
JAMBASE: Will you be releasing these new records close together?
AO: I’m not sure. One of them is a whole record about depression. It’s a very topical record. The reason why I haven’t released it is because I didn’t feel like I wanted to promote it and commercialize something that was … I don’t know quite how to explain it, but I want to maybe have it go to a different cause — maybe have the proceeds go to mental health or something.
The other one is just a really beautiful record, it’s all West Coast sounds and goes to a lot of my old teenage influences. It’s good feeling. So these are two different things. The third record I haven’t really shaped much yet. So yeah I’m still thinking about how to release these. The West Coast record is called Buddha And The Blues, and that should come out first. The other one is called Deep Impressions, and I’m waiting on that. I don’t think it’s a time-sensitive record.
JAMBASE: Are you working in tunes from both records in your current live shows?
AO: Yeah, I have put them in.
JAMBASE: Turning to your live shows and the bands you’re playing with. It seems like the band we came to know as the Flower Box band, the quartet that included Eric McFadden on guitar has finished up and that you’ve changed the lineups a bit of the bands you’re going to be out with. What’s coming?
AO: Yeah, so I’m going to start with a trio, it’s Ron Johnson on bass and Chad Cromwell on drums. We will do some quartet performances, too, and for those I add David Torkanowsky on keyboards. It’s been great, though — I’ve done a couple of gigs with this trio and there’s something about all that empty space. It’s kind of a combo of my solo gigs and the louder, heavier performances, but not that full-on guitar based Flower Box situation. I get bored easily, you know, so I keep it fresh.
JAMBASE: You’ve always kept your lineups fluid but Carl Dufresne was a constant on bass for a long time. Seems like he’s moved on?
AO: Yes, we parted ways. I think he had a gig with me in March and that was the last for now. Pretty much last year, I knew it was time to stop. What we were doing was sounding the same, and I wanted to do a bunch of solo stuff to explore my songwriting. I felt like I had forgotten about that, like we’d gotten to a point where it was all loud guitars for a minute, and that was kind of getting old. So I took that break, and he needed to work so it made sense. I think he is with North Mississippi Allstars, which is great. We did a thing [NMO] with Luther [Dickinson] and Cody [Dickinson] so they were all familiar with each other.
JAMBASE: The Flower Box band was heavy and I’m curious what determines how full you like to keep a lineup. I guess it depends on context, but it seemed like Eric in particular really got what you were looking to do and accented things nicely.
AO: He’s an amazing player, definitely.
JAMBASE: But getting back to the space a trio creates and less of an emphasis on monster guitar jams. I love hearing you guys blaze away like that as much as the next Anders Osborne fan, but this trio format also has a lot of appeal for you.
AO: It leaves more room for the lyrics I think. We have a couple of bigger rooms on the tour this fall, but I’m also trying to play rooms that are maybe not too large and maybe even a little smaller than people are used to. I want to make sure it’s a listening experience and not just a late night party atmosphere.
Really I don’t really know what I’m looking for at the moment, and I don’t have a big vision or anything like that, I just want to try to open up stuff. When I make a big change, I pay more attention to what I’m doing, and I learn more. You can do the same thing for a while and it kind of feels automatic up there, and when you work as much as I do, everybody loses interest after a while and it can get a little stale, just going through the motions. I also don’t play a lot of cover tunes so I can’t just become a jukebox — I play my songs. So I’m looking for ways to keep it fresh and interesting. A trio gives me an opportunity to idle a bit at the traffic light and think about things, you know?
Phil Lesh & Friends – Scarlet Begonias – 2016 Lockn’
JAMBASE: Definitely. You’ve had many interesting collaborations over the years, from Phil Lesh & Friends to Southern Soul Assembly. Is there anything you’re itching to return to — any spot on that map you want to revisit?
AO: Well, Phil is always on the map — I just got an offer for something later this fall, actually. But I’m also looking for new things. The collaborations can be great; that’s when a lot of growth happens for me. It helps me freshen stuff up, and I like having a little bit less responsibility — it can be gratifying to hang on stage and back someone else up a little bit. But I got a few things in the works. I’ve been working with Samantha Fish a little bit, we’ll see if we can make something happen. Me and Steve Earle have talked a little bit about starting a band too. We’ll see; I’m just trying to keep the rocking going.
Tour Dates for
- Rio Bueno, Jamaica
- 5 days • Mar 26 - 30, 2019
Anders Osborne at Ramble On The IslandLittle FeatLucinda WilliamsThe Midnight Ramble Band
Exact performance date not yet confirmed.