I recently reviewed Eric Anders’ latest album, called Eleven Nine, which is an anti-Trump concept album. Intrigued by the sentiments expressed in the lyrics of the album, I decided to interview Anders. I wanted to know more about his motivation for the album, as well as his songwriting process.
How would you describe yourself?
First, as a family guy: I spend most of my time trying to be a good husband to my wife and a good dad to my three kids, who range in age from seven to fifteen. Second: a singer-songwriter. Third: I also spend a lot of time working at my day job as a psychoanalyst. I have a private practice in the Bay Area.
What is your songwriting process? Do the lyrics come first, or the music?
I started getting serious about music around 2001, when I was 37. I started getting into singing and was lucky enough to meet guitarist and songwriter Mark O’Bitz. Mark encouraged me to try to write some songs with him, and before we knew it we had almost 20 songs written together. More than 20 would follow and they keep coming, I am glad to say.
I don’t play a musical instrument. My job with all my collaborators is to come up with the melodies and write the lyrics. I have collaborated with several other musicians, but I continue to work with Mark most successfully. Probably 70% of the songs I have co-written on my eight releases were written with Mark. My two upcoming releases will be as a duo with Mark.
My songwriting process has been rather consistent with all my co-writers. I will sometimes come up with a melody to put over their music, or they will put music to my melody. I always write the lyrics last.
What musicians influenced you the most?
The musicians who have influenced me the most are the musicians I have worked with over the last sixteen or so years of making music: primarily guitarist and composer Mark O’Bitz, guitarist-producer-composer Randy Ray Mitchell, guitarist-producer-composer Matthew Emerson Brown (Trespassers William), and producer-engineer Jeff Peters.
I am grateful for the opportunity to work with all of my co-writers, especially Benny Bohm, Randy Ray Mitchell, Matthew Emerson Brown, and Mark O’Bitz.
Mark O’Bitz, as I mentioned before, was crucial for me when I started. He continues to be my most productive collaborator today.
With regard to the musicians I grew up listening to and their influence on me, I was born in 1964 and one of my earliest memories is rockin’ out to The Doors’ “Light My Fire” when I was five or so. My first albums were CCR’s Cosmos Factory and Neil Young’s Harvest. I would later get into Tom Petty, Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen, and R.E.M., among many others.
The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Cat Stevens, Elton John, and David Bowie were big influences from across the pond. Nick Drake would be another decades later. CCR, Dylan, The Eagles, and Fleetwood Mac would be others from this side of the pond. Pretty typical for my generation.
How, if at all, do your musical influences shape and impact your music?
I can hear these and more musical influences in all of my songs. Like you, I can hear Neil Young on Eleven Nine, especially with “Inside the Sacrifice Zone.” I hear Jackson Browne’s influence in many of my songs, for example. At times, R.E.M., and at other times Radiohead or early Peter Gabriel. I think how my musical influences shape and impact my music is ultimately very unconscious … said the psychoanalyst.
How would you describe your style of music?
I describe my style as Americana singer-songwriter, going in and out of folk and rock. You and many others hear Neil Young in my music, as have many other reviewers. I use to get Nick Drake comparisons with my early releases, which was a very welcome comparison.
You also suggested a “prog-rock flavor” in your review, which I don’t hear as much but it has been said before. It would make sense, though, because I grew up listening to Genesis, Peter Gabriel’s solo albums, and Pink Floyd.
Where do you find inspiration for your songs?
There are three general theme “areas” I think many of my songs could be classified into: relationships (or lack thereof, loneliness), psychological, and political. Except for Tethered to the Ground, which had songs that were in all three theme areas, my releases have been either all political or all relational-psychological. My two upcoming releases are both all relational-psychological.
I married my wife right as I was releasing my fourth release in four years, Tethered to the Ground, and you will definitely hear the difference between the relational-psychological songs I have written recently and the songs I wrote on my first four releases.
For example, songs like “Far Away Land,” “Leave You Doubtful,” “Icarus,” and “Remembering on My Own” are all about struggling psychologically to get to a place where I could relate to others in a more healthy way, whereas the new songs are about the struggles and joys of maintaining a long-term love relationship.
Part of the training for any psychoanalyst is going through an extensive analysis of your own. I think much of my music comes out of that process, and whatever progress I was able to make within that process … as the one on the couch, and as the one in the chair.
My two releases with new music since Tethered to the Ground (2006) – Remains in Me (2006) and Eleven Nine (2017) – are both purely political. I took a lot of time off after Tethered to the Ground to raise kids and try to get my day job secured. Remains in Me was inspired by Michael Apted’s brilliant documentary, Incident at Oglala. All the songs were about Native American rights and their history of oppression by European settlers.
What was the inspiration for the album you’re working on now, called Home?
I had to shelve the Home project when Trump got elected so I could get Eleven Nine written, recorded, produced, and mixed in a timely fashion. We started on Eleven Nine on … 11/9/16. We released it in April of 2017, so it took only five months to create, pull together, and release.
After releasing Eleven Nine, I called up my first and most productive songwriting partner, Mark O’Bitz, to see if he wanted to try to write some new songs for the Home project. The songs that inspired the Home project were written a while ago, and I felt like I wanted to write more non-political songs like the ones we had slated for Home. Mark and I were so productive that we decided to, once again, shelve many of the older songs of the Home project so we could focus on the new songs we were writing.
We decided to release this new project, True September Songs, as a duo since both of us were involved with writing all of the songs, and since Mark’s acoustic guitar will be featured on the album. We are about to go into mixing so the album should be out early this spring. Jeff Peters is producing and will be mixing the album too.
After we are done working on True September Songs, Mark O’Bitz and I will bring the Home project off the shelf again. We are planning to work with Jeff Peters on this project too, and to release it as a duo again. Right now, Mark, Jeff, and I are all focused on True September Songs, and we are all very excited and hopeful about this debut album for Mark and myself as a duo.
The album cover for True September Songs looks a lot like the cover of my debut release, Not At One, by design. Mark wrote most of the songs with me on Not At One, and we have since co-written 70 to 80 percent of the songs I have released on the following seven releases. Mark and I have co-written all of the songs on True September Songs, which will be my ninth release. We will also co-write all of the songs on the Home project.
The inspiration for the Home project was similar to the inspiration for True September Songs. The idea behind the Home project was to write about love, marriage, family and children. True September Songs is an extension of that, but focusing more on being firmly in middle-age and the difference being that age makes to one’s perspective. So much of popular music comes from the perspective of twenty-somethings. I feel I have more of value to say now in middle-age than I did when I was in my twenties.
The album cover for True September Songs looks like a vinyl album cover, and it looks worn, like it is old and has been listened to a lot. This aged album is intended to suggest that we have aged too, and that we are doing music that could have been released on vinyl back in the 70s.
There is also the fact that this is our first album as a duo. Not At One could have been released as a duo project since Mark had contributed a lot to that project too … and every project of my since. The resemblance between the two debut albums is intended to acknowledge these connections and to suggest the theme of aging, changing perspectives, and music we hope will not be considered dated someday.
Read here for Part 2 of my interview.