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Interview with Anders Osborne

I recently had the opportunity to speak with the Swedish-born, New Orleans-based guitarist, singer/songwriter, producer, force-of-nature -- Anders Osborne, who was recently named by OFFBEAT magazine as the Crescent City’s Best Guitarist for the second straight year, and was also awarded with the magazine’s Best Roots Rock Artist title. I caught up with Osborne just before he was set to go back on the road in support of his recently released album, “Black Eye Galaxy” -- his second for the Alligator label and 11th overall. He will be playing at The Independent in San Francisco on Thursday, Oct. 11th, supported by perennial local favorite, Robert Walters 20th Congress.

Interview with Anders Osborne, 10/08/12
by BISS Contributing Editor Josh Danson

Thanks for taking some time out to speak with me. Where you at right now -- are you out on tour, or in the studio?
I’m in the studio in Uptown New Orleans right now. It’s a friend of mine’s studio. It’s a little house, and we’re doing an EP, like 5 or 6 songs, and it started out as an acoustic thing -- just kind of giving the fans something different. But then of course as you get in here and you start adding more and more and now it’s sounding like a big fat record! [Laughs].

And then you’re heading out our way, heading out to California, in a couple days?
Yep, this is the last day in the studio. I got a couple friends coming into the studio to help me out with a couple of vocal parts. Got Maggie Koerner singing and Johnny Sansone’s going to play a little harmonica and accordion. And that’s it.

Well, thanks again. So I was thinking about your status as an outsider. I know you’ve lived in the States for years now, but how do you think your outsider status, having immigrated to America in your late teens, has helped you as an observer and chronicler of American culture?
I don’t know, I guess possibly. But the country itself, the nation, has been based on immigrants for hundreds of years. So there’s a certain openness here. People are always interested and very accepting of foreigners and people from all kinds of places. Different places, different cultures, different languages… all that stuff. So I think, especially New Orleans, it’s so accepting of everybody. Everything from weekend tourists to sixth or eighth generation New Orleanians, we all just kind of mesh and make one thing out of it. So really the quintessential American city, in a way, is New Orleans to me.

Black Eye Galaxy, your second album with Alligator Records [released in May 2012], contains some pretty heavy moments and powerful statements. The opener, “Send me a Friend,” has an almost Black Sabbath sound to it and expresses some equally powerful emotions. Then you switch to a beautiful melodic ballad on “Mind of a Junkie,” and follow that up with a very tender acoustic profession of love and faith on, “Lean on Me/Believe in You.” The album continues on in this same vein, covering a lot of turbulent emotional and sonic territory. It seems like you really put yourself out there and stripped yourself pretty bare on some of these tracks. How cathartic was it recording this album and were there times where you were hesitant to get that deep and personal?
There are moments when you think about it… but in the process of creating something and trying to really be true and manifest something that’s useful, not just to myself but to other people, I think it’s important that you’re really honest -- it is for me anyway. I like to put it out there pretty nice and raw and exposed. It helps me a lot and it seems to work for me.
Do you think it helped you, almost like a form of therapy, to get that stuff out there and get it off your chest?
Absolutely, absolutely -- it does every time. I mean every record is a processing of poems and melodic ideas and all that stuff and once you compile and start recording it. You change lyrics, you add lyrics, you set the tone and change the instrumentation to fit. And after you’re done you’ve definitely processed a big chunk of something.
You definitely seem to flourish as a collaborator and you obviously enjoy making others around you sound even better.  What is about playing and recording with guys like Stanton Moore and Robert Walters that seems to have given you the space and encouragement to take your music to the next level?
I think they’re wonderful. First of all, they’ve got big ears… they listen really well. Robert is an amazing musician overall. And Stanton and I have been friends since he was seventeen years old, when he was in high school. We have so much personal history -- just been really close friends for a long, long time -- so this is just a natural evolution on that point as well, not just musically.
Speaking of collaborations, how’d you get involved with Tab Benoit and the Voice of the Wetlands Allstars?
Me and Tab we started out, we came around the scene about the same time, give or take. He’s a couple years younger than me, but we both came out on the scene at around 20 years old and we were playing this joint called the Rock N’ Bowl. It was a place where they had blues contests and John Blanchard [owner of the famed Rock N’ Bowl/Mid-City Lanes] was really great and he let a lot of up-and-coming, newcomers and stuff, get a chance on his secondary stage. They had a smaller stage and he let us play there. So we both got thrown into the mix, into the New Orleans scene about the same time. We had careers, but we always kept in touch and then we shared managers for a while. The manager we both shared is still with Tab, Reuben Williams, and he was really instrumental in putting together the whole concept of a band to represent the wetlands. So I think it was a real credit to Reuben that all that got put together.
Well that’s a great collaboration and you guys are doing great work bringing some attention to the issues impacting the area down there.
Yeah, I’m really excited that we can get together to do stuff like that.
Another guy that I think you’ve collaborated with once or twice is Luther Dickinson [founding guitarist lead vocalist of The North Mississippi Allstars and guitarist of the Black Crowes]. I was just out in Golden Gate Park yesterday and was listening to Luther Dickinson play some acoustic. Man, that guy is awesome and I know he’s said some nice things about you in the past -- I was wondering if you guys have any plans for future collaborations and what that’s like playing with Luther?
I love Luther man. Luther is one of my favorite cats in the whole world. I love him, everything about him. His character, his professionalism, musicality… he’s just an overall perfect package of a human being, I tell you what. That’s a great guy right there. [I chuckle] No, he really is! He’s amazing, I love him.
That comes across in his music and the way he carries himself on the stage. I can definitely see it.
Yeah, he’s so laid back. He’s just an inspiring cat to be around.
That’s cool. You guys ever talk about collaborating on an album or anything?
Absolutely, absolutely… it’s all in the works!
Alright! You sure you don’t want to break the story here??
Hah! [Laughs] You’re breaking up man. I can’t hear you. [Laughs]
Alright, alright, moving on… What can people who may not have seen you live expect if they come out to the show at The Independent this coming Thursday night? How would you describe the show you’re putting on these days?
We play it nice and happy, it’s big and fat… old school Rock and Roll. We play guitars, big… you know, dark lyrics. And then we brighten it up with some beautiful acoustic ballads, harmonicas… it’s just, I’m trying to give the audience as much of all the different songs that I’ve written and recorded over the years that I can. To where it’s going to be stompin’ and danceable, and it’s going to be happy and dark and with long guitar solos that go on for fifteen minutes… you know we do everything. And then we break it down and sing beautiful harmonies, three-part harmonies, and do it acoustic and just try to make it a very enjoyable evening and go through all the emotions of all the different things that I’ve done. And I love my band right now, it’s just a tough band. Carl Dufresne on Bass and Eric Bolivar on drums, they kick ass.
I definitely heard some Dead-style jamming and influences on the title track of your new album and I gather you’ve sprinkled some Dead covers into your live act in recent years. Should the San Francisco crowd be ready for some Grateful Dead covers when you’re out here?
Absolutely. If they want it, we’ll play it!
How do you react to the crowd from show to show? Is it a big part of how you play a show, are you open to changing it up and doing something totally different from show to show depending on the crowd, or do you pretty much stick to a similar script from show to show?
I try to make it different as much as I can. We might repeat a few songs here and there, from night to night, but we try and really mix it up and keep it fresh for ourselves and the audience, and try to read the audience and the night itself and see what it needs and what seems inspiring for that evening.
Well I think you’ll get some great feedback when you come and play out here on Thursday night.
I can’t wait buddy!
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