‘”This Land is Your Land” should be sung next to the national anthem at baseball games’ A pre-Twangfest interview with Kasey Anderson

kaseyanderson.com / Hilary Harris

Kasey Anderson‘s a wiry guy in both stature and intellect, a quick wit with an old soul. He’s also one hell of a songwriter.

The Seattle-based musician has performed solo and with his band, the Honkies, for the better part of the last decade, releasing three studio albums and a live set. He’s drawn well-deserved comparisons to Steve Earle, Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan, but for Anderson those names are kindred spirits more than they are molds to follow. His songs carry the indelible mark of a writer that’s seen, felt and ruminated on everything he’s ever put to paper. They’re truths pulled from a young life honestly lived, and if you let them, they’ll point you toward some of your own, as-of-yet-unseen truths.

I chatted with Anderson recently via phone, just after he wrapped a practice session with the Honkies. Topics ranged from his friendship with Counting Crows lead singer Adam Duritz to his prolific usage of Twitter to the legacy of Woody Guthrie.

Kasey Anderson and the Honkies performed at the Twangfest SXSW day parties in 2011, but their set at Twangfest on June 8, with Ha Ha Tonka and Langhorne Slim, will be the band’s first St. Louis appearance to date.

Chris Bay: Something that’s been mentioned quite a bit lately regarding your band has been the Counting Crows situation. They covered your song “Like Teenage Gravity” for their new covers record, “Underwater Sunshine (Or What We Did On Our Summer Vacation),” and they’re also going to take you and your band out on tour this summer. Can you talk a little bit about that relationship?

Kasey Anderson: I’m not sure exactly how Adam [Duritz] came across my songs. He and I started interacting, oddly enough, via Twitter a couple of years ago. I think that someone just turned him on to my record. I was in L.A. off and on for a while last year and he hit me up, saying that they were making a covers record and they were covering one of my songs. I happened to be in town while they were doing that so I swung by the studio and listened to them. And we’ve just stayed in touch and become really good friends since then. The last time I talked to them, they were getting ready to set up their tour for the summer and he asked if we’d come along. And of course that’s an easy question to answer.

That’s very cool. So the relationship started because of his admiration of your music.

Yeah. Someone must’ve just turned him on to my record, and he evidently liked it quite a bit. He also saw us play at SXSW, I guess that same year that we did the Twangfest party, not this year, but the year before. He saw the band play and he saw me play a solo show. In the liner notes for the Counting Crows record he cites that as the moment that he really became a fan.

You’re an avid Twitter user, and most of your tweets are extremely funny.

[Laughs] Thanks.

When the Twangfest lineup was announced, I had a couple of friends say, “Yeah, I know that Kasey Anderson guy, I follow him on Twitter. I didn’t know he was a musician, but he’s really funny.” Have you had that reaction before?

I have heard that before. In fact, over the last year or so when I’ve done solo shows there have been several occurrences where people have showed up, and after the show they’ve come up and said, “Man, that was really good, but I thought it was going to be a comedy show.” So that’s probably in stark contrast to what they expect.

Twitter has been really strange and really fun. It’s a good way to display the way in which you view the world, in the same way that songs are. Everybody’s got a unique way that they view the world or one or two things [they see] about the world that other people don’t, and I think that’s what’s cool about Twitter. It just made more sense to me, when I started using it, to use it as an outlet for those kinds of thoughts and observations and not hammer away [with things like] my band will be here or this record’s out. I think if you pepper some of that stuff in people are more inclined to follow the links and follow up and be curious than if you just make it a steady stream of self-advertisement.

Most of your commentary is fairly humorous, but sometimes the humor is also biting. One of the examples recently that struck me was the tweet about Barack Obama. It’s funny, but it’s also fairly apt commentary on what’s going on in our country. How do you see the usage of Twitter differing from something that you would do in a song, in terms of the message you’re putting out there?

I think that you have to condense everything. You have to say in 140 characters what you could say in 250 words in a song. And that sort of commentary, or the thing that I’m commenting on in that particular thought, does bother me, because it seems to be that people will get really, really upset when their favorite television show is going to be cancelled. There seems to be this strange grassroots Internet uprising every time anyone thinks “Community” is going off the air. And that’s fine, and that’s cool, but you don’t really see people being that vocal or that active about what’s going on in the country. You see people openly critical or openly supportive, but you don’t see people really doing anything to change the things that they’re not happy with and that sort of confuses me, because it’s just as easy.

You’ve recently finished a new record, “Let the Bloody Moon Rise.” Can you give an overview of what we might expect from that?

The record probably won’t be out until fall. It’s sort of an extension of “Heart of a Dog” in that it stops being a situation in which I was writing songs, or I was writing an entire record, and then bringing a band in or bringing session players in to record. This record was written and recorded as a band with the rest of the Honkies, specifically with guitar player Andrew McKeag. That’s truly the first time that Andrew and I have written songs together, in terms of me sending him words and him coming up with a riff. It’s the first time that the band has arranged songs in the studio, rather than me having the record finished and bringing it to the studio. I mean, all the songs were done. The lyrics were written and the songs were written [by then], but it was a far more organic process, I guess.

Did that result in any significant difference in the feel of the arrangements, since it was more of a group process?

It resulted in a record that’s broader in scope, and isn’t as one-handed. When it’s up to me and all of the songs are mine, and most of the arrangements are mine, then the record tends to sound a certain way, because I think about music a certain way. But when you involve Andrew, Mike Musburger, the drummer or Eric Corson, the bass player who also sort of engineered the record, then it’s a lot easier to get a broader spectrum of sounds and of arrangement ideas in the songs.

When we made “Heart of a Dog,” I was so tired of touring by myself and tired of playing acoustic guitar and tired of playing solo shows, that the rule was there would be no acoustic instruments anywhere on that record, with the exception of horns and such. It would be all electric guitars and keyboards. For this record, I backed off of that a little bit, and there’s dobro and banjo and there are a few quieter songs that call for acoustic instrumentation. So I guess it’s sort of a marriage of the way that I used to write and the way that I’m trying to write now.

I noticed a picture recently that showed a tattoo on your forearm that is an image of Woody Guthrie’s guitar. This year will mark the centennial of his birth, July 14, I believe. So there’s a lot going on in terms of media coverage and general discussion in the music community about the relevance of Woody Guthrie. I don’t have anything specific to ask, other than has any of that been going on up in the Northwest? Have you seen an increase in dialog about Woody Guthrie, and what are some of your thoughts on the conversation?

He did write the Columbia River song ["Roll on Columbia"], so he’s as prevalent in the Northwest as he is everywhere else. But [the idea behind] that tattoo came from my mom. When I was young, she used to sing me “I Ain’t Got No Home” when I would go to sleep. So I sort of grew up loving Woody’s music and thinking he was really important, and that Joe Klein-penned biography ["Woody Guthrie: A Life"] was one of the first books I ever bought. So he’s always been kind of important to me.

I didn’t understand the significance of him until I was much older, but it came up last night when Andrew McKeag gave me a book by Robert Santelli, about “This Land is Your Land.” I just saw Steve Earle the other night and he closed the show with “This Land is Your Land,” and he said that he’s going to try to close every show with “This Land is Your Land” for the year.

Everybody knows how important Woody is and you certainly hear it from the musicians and songwriters how important he is, but I think as the year goes on you’re going to start to see more of the cultural significance and more of the literary significance of Woody because he was a really great writer and a cultural figure and someone who was supportive of ideas that even then were called Socialist or Communist. He’s going to become an even more important figure. Just as a songwriter, I think it’s pretty hard to get away from “This Land is Your Land” or some of those other really great, enduring songs. I do think “This Land is Your Land” should be sung next to the national anthem at baseball games.

88.1 KDHX welcomes Kasey Anderson and the Honkies to Twangfest 16 at the Blueberry Hill Duck Room on Friday, June 8.