Review Fix chats with singer/songwriter Kasey Anderson, who discusses the creative process behind his upcoming album, “From a White Hotel” and more.
About Kasey Anderson:
When Kasey got out of prison, he was done with writing and performing, but friends encouraged him to think again. In March of 2016, Adam Duritz asked him to contribute something to Fierce, a benefit compilation for a friend undergoing treatment for Stage 4 cancer. With longtime cohort and producer-engineer-guitarist Jordan Richter, many-handed musician Ben Landsverk and Jesse Moffat, the four (who adopted the moniker Hawks & Doves) cut a cover of Tender Mercies’ “Wiseblood” and began a series of informal jam sessions at Richter’s newly constructed Room 13 Recordings in Portland.
Kasey remained hesitant but on the rare day when Richter’s studio wasn’t in use and everyone was free of other obligations, Hawks and Doves would convene at Room 13, and they’d spend a few hours laying down a basic track or adding layers to something they’d already started. The songs began to crystallize, and Kasey’s life was on the upswing, too. Already into his fifth year of sobriety, he began training to become a certified professional counselor for fellow sufferers of addiction and mental illness, and as the off-hours Hawks and Doves sessions picked up speed, Kasey and his girlfriend Caitlin got engaged.
From a White Hotel is an album years in the making — some would say 38 years in the making — and so it makes sense that the new Kasey Anderson album, due July 27 on Jullian Records (just six days after Kasey and Caitlin will hold their wedding ceremony), won’t bear Kasey’s name on the cover. It’s not the next anything. It’s the first Hawks and Doves record; the work of a revived man with a restored creative vision, surrounded by the people who helped revive and restore him.
Review Fix: How did the band get together?
Kasey Anderson: I’ve known Jordan Richter, who engineered the record and plays guitar in Hawks and Doves, for about ten years. He worked on Nowhere Nights (2009) and this album feels to me like what the logical next step from Nowhere Nights would have been had I been a little less insistent on ditching acoustic instruments for two records. Jordan brought Ben Landsverk (bass, keys, viola, backing vocals) and Jesse Moffat (drums, percussion) to the sessions and everything sort of just fell into place. The process was collaborative enough that it didn’t make a lot of sense for me to release this as a “solo” record because there was nothing really solo about it beyond my having written all the lyrics.
Review Fix: How did you get involved in music?
Anderson: My folks always had records on around the house when I was growing up, and I just happened to gravitate that way. I grew up in the Pacific Northwest in the ‘90s, at time when it felt like great records were almost ubiquitous, between Nirvana and Pearl Jam and Mudhoney to Dre, Snoop, Naughty By Nature, and Public Enemy. Petty’s Wildflowers record came out in 1994 and that was pretty much the only thing I listened to for a year. Maybe it was just the environment in which I was raised or my particular group of friends growing up but I don’t remember ever not being involved in music in one way or the other.
Review Fix: What’s your creative process like?
Anderson: Building a song is like building anything else from scratch. Inspiration plays a role, and certainly there’s some kind of magic to the process I suppose, but ultimately it comes down to being willing to put in the time and work to make sure everything fits together and you’ve made something useful.
Review Fix: What inspires you?
Anderson: Recently I’ve been most inspired by the writing of Eve Ewing and Hanif Abdurraqib. Ewing’s book, Electric Arches, was something I kept with me at the studio when we were making From a White Hotel and Abdurraqib’s book, They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us has gone with me just about everywhere since I picked it up last year. Beyond that, I’m always inspired by great writing and melodies. I don’t know anyone who’s not in awe of what Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires do, together and separately. Cory Branan’s album Adios blew me away. There’s a band here in Portland called Lenore that floors me every time I hear them. Recently I dug back into the Coup’s record, Pick a Bigger Weapon, and had that on repeat for about two weeks straight. Right now it seems like we’re seeing a lot of artists creating within the context of what’s happening socially and politically in this country, and responding to that, and I’ve been inspired by the fact that so much of what’s being made has been conversational and inviting, rather than just rhetorical. I think you get a lot further as an artist inviting people into a discussion than you would trying to dictate to them. I hope From a White Hotel fits into that.
Review Fix: How did prison affect you as a musician?
Anderson: Prison affected me as a person by removing me from my own life entirely, which was maybe the only way at that time I would have been able to sustain sobriety and treatment for Bipolar Disorder. The system of incarceration itself is not really geared to treat individuals but honestly I’m not sure I would still be alive had I not been institutionalized in some fashion at that time. So to that end it allowed me to continue living when I might not have otherwise done so. As a musician, it allowed me plenty of time to practice, I suppose.
Review Fix: What makes “From a White Hotel” a special album?
Anderson: That’s really up to whoever is listening to the record. For me this group of songs is special because they’re coming from a much healthier, more stable place than anything I’ve released before and I think that’s reflected in the quality of the writing. I didn’t really expect to ever make a record again so just the fact that this album even exists is pretty special for me, and I owe a great deal to the band, and my family, and Peter Ames Carlin and BJ Barham for encouraging me to get back into the studio and work when I was uncertain whether I’d ever do that again.
Review Fix: Why does rock still matter?
Anderson: I don’t know that Rock as a genre matters any more or less than any other genre or any more or less than it has at any point in the last 75 years but making art continues to matter as a form of expression and dialogue and protest. People need to have space to create and, if they want their voice to be heard, opportunities to raise their voice. Music is one outlet that is, at least to some degree, democratic. I’m a firm believer that an artist who works hard enough and learns their craft will find their audience, or vice-versa. That audience may not always take shape the way the artist expected or hoped but I do believe songs find listeners nearly as often as listeners find songs.
Review Fix: How would you describe your sound to someone who has never heard you?
Anderson: I probably wouldn’t because any time I read some description of a band or artist’s “sound” it inevitably calls upon a bunch of qualifiers, classifications, and comparisons because people feel like they need some kind of context, and the easiest way is to just listen to the records. If someone had never heard my songs and wanted to know what the band sounds like I’d put on the record and leave the room.
Review Fix: How are your live shows different from your studio work?
Anderson: More often than not over the last few years I’ve played solo shows where I’m stripping the songs back to the way I conceived of them originally and offering a lot of context for the work. That’s not really something you can do with a studio recording.
Review Fix: What are your goals for 2018?
Anderson: I’m getting married July 21, the record comes out July 27, I’ll be on tour this summer and I’m going to vote in November.
Review Fix: What’s next?
Anderson: Up next for me today is I’m going to take my dog to the park near our home and let him run around a while. Beyond that, it’s my sincere hope that this record finds its audience and I get to make another with this band.
Photo Credit: Jennie Baker. From left to right: Ben Landsverk, Capers Ogletree, Kasey Anderson, and Jordan Richter