Current Issue Details

Buy Current Issue

Features

Published: 2010/06/23
by Brandon Findlay

Rusty Anderson: Still Undressing Underwater

[Author’s note- this is the first of two interviews with Rusty Anderson. This interview, unpublished until now, focuses on his initial work with Paul McCartney and Anderson’s Undressing Underwater album. In part two our conversation turns to Anderson’s second record, 2009’s Born on Earth.]

If Music be the personal liberator to the world at large, then rock & roll is the dream of the eternally young at heart. It certainly was for the unique and brilliant Rusty Anderson.

As a session guitarist, Rusty Anderson would get calls to make the dreams of others come true. A blessing and a curse so tragically interwoven, life as a hired gun can bring good money, steady work, and even prestige; yet many studio cats yearn for opportunities to find deeper musical empathy in far more original directions. Years into a serious career of session work with the likes of Santana, Elton John, and Sinead O’Connor, Anderson caught the late 90’s zeitgeist via the spicy fretwork and impassioned flavor he gave Ricky Martin’s “Livin’ La Vida Loca.” Yet he remained at the daily crossroads of maintaining a career in the studio world versus charting a new course. A legendary icon would aid in that decision.

Getting called to track guitar parts on Paul McCartney’s 2001 offering, Driving Rain, was one serious rock and roll dream come true for Anderson. A life-long Beatles fanatic, Anderson often fancied as a child that the Beatles would come to his door and ask him to play with them. Surreal or not, this was his chance to satisfy both sides of his musical dichotomy. He finally had all the benefits of session stardom, while digging deep into the artistic trenches with a man who defined the very idea of originality in pop music. His Kansas was about to go Technicolor.

Perhaps it is only now though, after four years at Sir Paul’s right hand, that Rusty Anderson’s greatest vision may finally have come to life. A case study in the last 40 years of pop music, Undressing Underwater gives ample proof that Macca made the right choice. Anderson’s debut record is a soundgarden full of the fruits born from hard labor and good fortune, and it serves notice that melodic rock and roll is far from dead. Thankfully, it seems there will always be a contingent that never gives up on the dream.

The album opens with the massive hook of ‘Hurt Myself,’ a loving recall of both the 60’s and the 90’s. And with a flugelhorn solo two minutes in and McCartney himself manning the bass line, that’s pleasantly unaverted. But ‘Devil’s Spaceship’ follows with a melodic summation of hard rock history. Picture Robert Fripp conducting a lucid Scott Weiland and a freewheeling STP as they cover The White Album. Even though influential traces of past rock greatness are strewn across its ten very strong tracks, it most surprisingly feels like the work of a burgeoning artist- one with a deft ear for production and a curious sense of adventure. Whether it’s the backwards guitar of ‘Coming Down To Earth,’ the psychedelic twang and lush harmonies of ‘Damaged Goods’ or the massive grooves of ‘Ishmael’ and ‘Everyone Deserves An A In This Country,’ “Underwater” is full of soundscapes that blend tastefully into a déjà vu-doo soup.

The lyrics bear this fruit as well. Esoteric then visceral, Rusty’s words find sympathy with the melodies and harmonies, speaking from the album’s true inspiration. Often the hardest trait to nail down, the defining spirit of an artist and his art shine brightly here, and frankly, today’s rock and roll needs a lot more of such spirit.

When I tracked Anderson down, he was in the middle of a sold-out tour, barnstorming across America with Sir Paul McCartney. And though Underwater was his primary focus, his experience and brilliance on many subjects poured forth graciously. And today’s rock and roll needs a lot more of that, too.

BF: Like most great pop music, Undressing Underwater has a veneer of simplicity, with complex orchestration and production underneath. How does complexity become accessible to the listener in your experience?

RA: What I’ve gravitated towards over the years are hooks and melodies that work on their own and in the context of the music. If you have an arrangement for a whole band, they would work linearly through the horizontal and vertical at the same time. And a lot of people don’t think that way. And sometimes “rubs” are really cool, where you have dissonance within the music and it works. Sometimes they’re just rubs that don’t really need to be there.

BF: Like avoiding the avant garde done for its own sake.

RA. Yeah. But I’m into avant garde music too. I go back and forth between thinking that the most important thing is for something to be new and unique versus if it’s just good and it resonates and speaks to me. I suppose it’s like the devil and the angel. I think they’re both really important.

BF: So how would you then describe yourself as an artist?

RA: Basically, that’s why I put a record out. I think it speaks for itself. It’s definitely a melody and lyric-based record. I’m a singer-songwriter-guitar player with an emphasis on guitar. It’s what my chops are developed on. I think the guitar is the best instrument in the world, and I can’t help it. It’s such an expressive, beautiful instrument. It can be angry, innocent, melodic, and be flowing and yet so aggressive and obliterating and punky and soft. It has so much to say.

BF: The lyrics on Undressing Underwater speak of suffering losses and facing personal demons. Do you find it hard to express things of that nature minus the clichés?

RA: Yeah! (laughs) I think that’s definitely true, because as recorded music keeps progressing, there becomes more things that will be plagiaristic to do. And the more you listen, the more you have to worry about that. Having said that, there’s always new stuff out there that hasn’t been done, and that’s what interests me the most.

« Previous 1 2 Next »

Comments

There is 1 comment associated with this post

Note: It may take a moment for your post to appear

(required) (required, not public)