Anders Osborne’s American Patchwork
LS: Have you ever written a song and thought, “This isn’t for me, this is for somebody else.”?
AO: Yes. Sometimes you write and they are not good songs. It’s like practicing your chops on the guitar or keyboards. Sometimes you just practice your writing chops. You have to write stuff that doesn’t become great songs, or even complete songs. The pressure I think a lot of writers have is from being frustrated that they can’t finish a song. Why do you keep trying to finish it? It doesn’t have to be finished. It’s just you sitting down practicing and honing your craft of writing. When they get finished, it means they get finished. It happens sometimes that I write and it doesn’t feel right, but somebody else might like it. I didn’t get the words right to connect with me and my life, and I wasn’t truthful to me for some reason. Again, that’s just me practicing songwriting.
LS: Because the inspiration isn’t right, or because it’s too derivative?
AO: Sometimes I hear an idea, like an Otis Redding thing, or an old blues tune. Somebody I heard the other day got me going- (sings), “When I was rich, I was filthy rich. I had a house full of friends.” I thought, ‘That’s bad-ass.’ The way he delivered it. So if I go home and write off of that, usually it will be several songs before I make it my own. The first few of those are not going to be mine. They are going to be a copy of what I just heard. Those lay around.
LS: Your material always sounds original to me, but rooted in the history of many genres of music. Do you consciously run away from influences and inspiration to avoid being derivative?
AO: I don’t try to cover it up if I take inspiration from somebody else. It gets weird if you take it from those classic records that we all have. Those are perfect moments in time. The obscure moments of friends that give me a demo or from a live gig, that can really trigger my inspiration. The classic stuff that represents our generation, I copied more when I was younger, just to learn how it worked.
LS: Do you demo during your writing process?
AO: I just write it and if it sticks with me, it means the song is there. Every once in a while, I decide to demo the stuff, send it to the publisher, that pitches it to other people. Sometimes I think, ‘This is a big song.’ This is not just me expressing myself. This might be a little more than that. So, I’ll try and figure out if it should go to this person or that person, because they will make it really beautiful and big. It would have a different purpose than just me doing it.
LS: If you demo a song for the publisher, are you trying to record it with a fully-realized arrangement, or just simple with voice/guitar or voice/piano?
AO: Voice/guitar. Very clean. Every once in a while, I like a little backbeat and some bass, maybe.
LS: When you’re cutting a record, are you making the choices with regards to amps, guitars, microphones?
AO: Not mic choices. Whoever is producing, I let them tell me what they are hearing. Pretty often, they will push me further than I will push myself. I will play it safe in the Anders world. The guy I bring in, like on this new record, will say, ‘It’s got to be heavier, man. Heavier.’ Stanton (Moore, drummer and producer on the album) would say that. You’d think it would be Pepper Keenan (guitarist for Down, who played on American Patchwork ). Stanton was the one who pushed for those really heavy sounds. So I played through six, seven amps at the same time. I would play with it, adjust it with the engineer until we said, ‘This is killer.’
LS: So the tones you’re getting on, ‘On the Road to Charlie Parker,’ or ‘Darkness at the Bottom,’ you’re hearing those live, in your headphones? They’re not dialed in later in the mix?
AO: Oh, yeah, it’s all live, absolutely.
LS: Any overdubs?
AO: Doubling, adding tonal textures to get a certain sound that was initially so distorted, that you couldn’t hear the tone. You take a clean tone with brand new strings and double a line to get the sound in the center of that fuzziness. Melodic lines, interwoven with each other.
LS: Tracking the vocal live, as well?
AO: Yes, and when it doesn’t work, like trying for a higher energy or a lower energy, we’d go back in and overdub.