Thursday, May 19, 2011

Interview: Kasey Anderson

Kasey Anderson and his band (The Honkies) recently released their new album, “Heart Of A Dog” (see review here). Kasey Anderson was kind enough to sit down and answer some of our questions. In the interview, he discussed how the band came together, the perils of labeling an artist, and how failures in math led him to a career in music.

Bill: So Kasey Anderson and The Honkies is made up of some stellar talents…you got members who worked with the Presidents of the United States of America, The Long Winters, Posies, and more. How did fate put you guys together into a band?

Kasey: It wasn’t fate, it was Andrew McKeag. Andrew was the first person I reached out to when I knew I wanted to make a record that couldn’t be described as “twangy.” Andrew has been one of my favorite guitar players in the world for the last fifteen years, so, once I knew I wanted to make a real, live, Rock ‘n’ Roll record, that phone call was a pretty easy decision. When we talked about putting a band together, he said he had “some ideas.” He called Muzz [Mike Musburger, drums] and Eric [Corson, bass], and that was that. About a month after the record came out, we roped Ty [Bailie, keys] in. I spend a lot of time at rehearsals laying back and watching those four guys play together; it never gets old.

Bill: You’ve mentioned that your latest record, “Heart Of A Dog”, was written as a straight-up rock and roll record. What do you have against the label “roots rock”?

Kasey: It is an incredibly restrictive and reductive label, and it’s not really a label I’ve ever been comfortable with, no matter how my records sound. Any time you label an artist, you’re limiting their audience and limiting your own perception of what they can and should do. I don’t find there to be anything especially appealing about that equation.

Bill: Tell us a little about your songwriting process and what types of things provide you with inspiration.

Kasey: Inspiration is everywhere. Newspapers, films, overheard conversations, life, whatever. I’ve found that I write more when my life is, for better or worse, in a state of upheaval, as is currently the case. So for me, there’s an element of either escapism or catharsis to the process, a lot of the time. I’m trying to stay away from writing autobiographically, because I already made that record [Nowhere Nights] and it took too much out of me to write, record, and tour behind it. It ended up being two-and-a-half years of staring at myself in the mirror without blinking, and I’m not sure that’s healthy. It certainly wasn’t healthy for me. I’m not sure what this next record will be, but what’s coming out right now is fiction. It seems like, with my records, there’s always at least one love song and at least one kiss-off song so I’m sure that stuff will find its way in eventually, too.

Bill: Have your tastes in music changed over the years? What sort of styles led to your sound?

Kasey: My taste in music hasn’t really changed that much since I was 11 or 12. My parents had a great record collection and most of what I gravitate towards was informed by that. What has changed over the years is my understanding of the music I like. My parents had Blonde on Blonde but they didn’t have Street Legal, so when I found that, it was like opening up a new door but knowing that my folks had unlocked it for me. I suppose the exception to that is hip-hop. My folks don’t own any Mos Def records, y’know? But they probably would. I bet they’d buy a Mos Def record if they heard it. I oughta test that theory.

Bill: Was there a single episode in your life when it dawned on you that making music was what you had to do?

Kasey: Every failed math exam and lost service industry job made it exceptionally clear to me that I’m not good at anything else. I’m not sure there was one “lightning strikes” moment. Once I started playing guitar, I arrived pretty quickly at the conclusion that it was the one thing I loved more than anything else. From there, it was just a matter of figuring out whether I was a good enough writer to do this, and that took a while to figure out. On the rare occasion I go back and listen to those first couple of records, it is very clear that I was just a kid trying to figure out how to write, while tape was rolling.

Bill: What is your take on the music business today? Do you think major labels are walking in the footsteps of dinosaurs? In your mind, is that a good or bad thing?

Kasey: I think instead of complaining about how the “machine is broken,” artists should make themselves aware of the ways in which the playing field has been leveled, and work to take advantage of them. Money is much tighter, but advertising budgets don’t buy what they used to. I’m pretty tired of hearing people bitch about “the system.”

Bill: What is the craziest moment you’ve had on tour so far?

Kasey: I’m not sure those are fit to print. I think most of the “crazy moments” are pretty run-of-the-mill stuff for any band. We’re not snorting lines of ants or setting hotel rooms on fire. I’d love to tell you some story about my band cutting a drug-addled swath of destruction across North America but, we’re not that band. After the gig, we hang out and watch CNN, and fall asleep. I don’t have the energy for the other shit anymore.

Bill: What band or artist would you most like to tour with?

Kasey: You Am I.

Bill: What can fans expect in the near and distant future from Kasey Anderson and the Honkies?

Kasey: We’ll tour in fits and starts throughout the summer, and probably make a record in the fall. From there, I’m not sure. It’ll be a long time before I make another solo record, though, I can tell you that much. This band is way too good, and way too much fun, for me to walk away from.

Bill: Now, just for fun, let us know the first thoughts that come to mind when you hear the following:

Steven Tyler on American Idol:
Kasey: Shoulda been David Lee Roth.

President Obama’s birth certificate:
Kasey: It is disgraceful to me as an American that our president was put in a position where he felt it necessary to produce proof of his citizenship.

Charlie Sheen:
Kasey: Who?

The GOP:
Kasey: Greedy Old Protestants. Gang-raping Oppressed People.

Steve Jobs:
Kasey: I use Apple products but I don’t think a lot about Jobs. I hope he’s able to recover from his disease, though.

Kasey: It has always seemed like a pretty good idea but lately, I’m not so sure. I know people who put the effort into making it work, and I admire them a great deal. It’s a hard thing to say but, after my last couple of relationships, I’m not positive that I’m in a place where it makes sense for me to think about that. Odd way to end an interview, but there it is.

Bill: On behalf of BMF, thanks again for your time and best of luck with the new release!

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Catch Kasey Anderson and The Honkies on tour!

May 19 – San Francisco, CA | Great American Music Hall (with The Knitters)
May 20 – Petaluma, CA | Mystic Theatre (with The Knitters)
June 11 – Seattle, WA | Tractor Tavern (with Lazy Susan)
June 18 – Seattle, WA | King Cat Theater (with Soul Asylum)