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Jason Anderson: The Angelica Interview

By John Powell

Getting a crowd to close-in, clap, and chant, “Oh, Jason, are you still waiting?” is no easy feat, not when you consider an audience’s inclination to stand and watch, to feel self-conscious, and to look the other way when a musician so charismatically asks for such a thing. Brooklyn-based rocker Jason Anderson, however, has mastered the art of performance, and the craft of songwriting. His songs, so personal and gripping, have brought college girls to tears and groups to yell in glee. With such incredible songs as “July 4th, 2004” and “El Paso”, Jason takes you into his history, weaving tales of growing up, growing wise, and getting on. Touring this summer with a full band, Jason hopes to bring his unique sound to Burlington, VT area, and he touched base with Angelica-Music to explain a bit about his cause.

Word of the “Jason Anderson Experience” has already reached Burlington, VT and surrounding states, although you’ve never played Burlington at a real venue. Were you aware you were already so popular?

Wow, I had no idea. That rules! All I do know is that I've been touring since 1999 and I honestly try to make every show I play the best show I've ever played, whether there are 5 people there or 50 people there. Because it doesn't matter how many people are there at all! The only thing that matters is the feeling in your heart. And I have a great one, every time I pick up a guitar. And I hope that the feeling is contagious! I love it! Life rules. Music rules!

You disregard the boundaries between performer and audience. Tell me about that.

From very early on I was just not comfortable--or content--with the strange (really strange when you stop to observe and think about it) divide between the people "making" the music and the people "watching" the music. There is so much more possible when everybody gets involved, you know? Often, I feel that those attending a show feel pretty deeply disconnected from what is happening, as they simply stand and observe the band on stage playing AT them, as opposed to WITH them. Obviously there is more than one way to enjoy a concert--and I don't begrudge anyone who simply wants to sit and quietly bob their head; heck, I've been that person before, too--but my favorite performers (and audiences) are those who are excited to reach out and try to include everyone; at that point the possibility for transcendence becomes very real and very, very exciting. Does that make sense?

Lately you’ve been touring with a full band. Who’s in it, what do they play, and how have they added to your sound?

I play with a bunch of buddies. Good friends. I'm lucky to have met a lot of nice people and great musicians. Friends are awesome. The full band usually consists of drums, bass, guitar, piano and saxophone. I really love playing by myself for the complete raw intimacy, but also love the dynamic a band can bring, especially a great drummer. It's so fun!

How long have you been writing music?

Ever since I was a kid, I guess. I used to make up songs and plays for my parents and siblings.

What was the first song you wrote that you were extremely proud of?

That's a great question. I remember going to Elliott Smith in January of 1996, in a small coffee shop in Portland, Oregon. It was totally awesome and totally life changing. Mind blowing, really, just to see this sort of, I don't know, punk-looking dude playing acoustic guitar. It was amazing. After that show I wrote a bunch of songs, and two of them really meant a lot to me at the time. 'At the Mall' and 'I Swear I Am'. That second one I still play from time to time at shows.

Where have you been playing, or where have you played that’s memorable, and why?

Well, I've been touring since 1999, and in those eleven years spent a straight five of them doing nothing BUT touring, so I've been extremely lucky to see a lot of places and play a lot of places. Once I hit Kentucky, Alaska and Hawaii I'll have played in every state! I've had the chance to go to Europe a few times, and Canada as well. It's nice to be able to use music as a catalyst to travel and make new friends. Tour is the ultimate road trip! For the past three years I've been living in New York City. It's been great to do a lot of shows in the city, and meet new people here, too. Thanks for asking, awesome question!

Your songs, often narrative, touch on life experiences, conversations, and interactions. Tell me about your writing process, where you write, what inspires you most, and how long it usually takes a song to be fully realized.

Basically I write super specific, personal songs about things that happened to me, that I hope touch on much grander, more universal emotions and situations everyone can relate to. So maybe the details and references in the lyrics are not specific to someone else's life, but I hope that the feeling (happiness, sadness, longing, hope) is. Usually, it all just comes out, the melody, chords, words. I'm sure every person who has ever written a song would have a different answer, but for me I just sit down, thinking about an experience, and it kind of...flows? I don't know; it's awesome and fun and I feel so lucky just to get to do it. But it's not a special talent or anything. Anyone can write poems and songs. Do it! It rules! It's fun and important, I think, to process and communicate what you're feeling.

How do you remember all the lyrics to your songs?

Haha. I don't know! I guess the more you sing them, the more they just become a part of your heart and brain. Sometimes if I want to play a really, really old song I have to listen to a recording of it and practice, too! Great question!

You clearly have a deep connection with your Jersey, New York City roots. Where does that loyalty come from?

Well, I'm a deep New Englander at heart. Born and raised in gorgeous central New Hampshire. I think my emotional loyalty (haha, is that a real thing??) is to the northeast in general, and especially northern New England. It's a magical place, especially in autumn. But, yeah, for the past three years I have been living and breathing NYC, and have a lot of friends in New Jersey, too. I think NJ gets a bad rap, but all the people who slight it, I don't know, maybe they've only been to the Newark airport? It's such a beautiful state. From the Delaware Water Gap area down to Cape May, there's a ton of amazing parts of New Jersey, and everyone I've met from there is just wonderful.

Would you consider posting your lyrics online? Some of us (ahem) want to sing along, but need help with some of the words.

That's a great idea!

Your daytime alter ego teaches music to elementary schoolers. Are you content with this dual life, or would you give up teaching for a chance to be a rocker full-time?

I really, really love the balance. I get to teach music and work with children. It's incredible. It's inspiring. I feel very lucky. I'm also living in New York City, which is an amazing place to be "stuck." On top of that I get summers off, and vacations throughout the school year to travel and tour. It's a pretty amazing set-up. I suppose if things ever really took off (whatever that means!) with my music stuff I would cross that bridge if/when it happened, but for right now I am very, very happy with my life! It rules! I'm lucky! I mean, just this past year we put on a zombie musical with the kids, called NIGHT OF THE SINGING DEAD. They were amazing!!

Where do you hope to tour in the near future?

Really want to keep rocking the northeast. NYC, Boston...and VERMONT. So far, I've played in Bennington, Brattleboro and Burlington. The three Bs!!! Would love to do more of that and ESPECIALLY want to bring the band to Burlington.

Angelica-Music believes that all artists have a responsibility to look out for one another, and to promote art in general. We hope that people, upon reading this interview and hearing your music, speak up with ideas and help for your tour in Burlington and everywhere in the future. What’s your take on this concept? What would you ask of your fellow artists?

I think that's such a great concept/goal. Especially with email--and now, heck, the dreaded Facebook--it's so easy to share contacts, ideas, information back and forth. It's simple and fun to help others out. Thanks so much for this interview, John. I don't do a ton of these and it's always nice to get to think about the process a little bit. Usually I'm just wrapped up in doing it. Thank you!!!!

If you have any ideas where Jason can bring his full band, (including weddings, birthday parties, and bar Mitzvahs), please contact This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it and let us know.

Also, be sure to check out JasonAndersonsWebsite.com


 

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