In 2013, I was buying records for Reckless Records in Chicago and came across The Golden Hour LP. It was released two years prior but transported me to other decades all together. Marisa Anderson's gritty slide guitar and the sound of the room was actual and tangible. She wasn't fussy about minor imperfections and I enjoyed her honesty. When I noticed Mercury was to be released, I wrote Anderson to have her perform an in-store performance which she agreed to.
After these introductory records and experiences, I followed her music. In addition to her unique instrumental guitar sound, new notes have emerged. Saharan guitar scales and styles, drone, and minimalism play as much a roll in Anderson's music as traditional Americana and gospel tunes. In our interview, she reveals some of her past experiences scoring short films and participating in 2018s Debra Granik directed feature "Leave No Trace."
I am also happy to report after over five years of chat and correspondence, I had the pleasure of seeing her perform live. Better late than never!
Q How did you land with the independent Chicago label Thrill Jockey for your latest album?
Bettina Richards, who runs the label, approached me in the spring of 2017 after seeing me play a couple of times and hearing my previous records. At the time, I wasn't ready to commit. I had only just started working on the ideas that became Cloud Corner and I didn't want to give it a home that early in the process. She followed up with me a couple of times over the course of 2017 and her enthusiasm and support made it clear that working with Thrill Jockey would be a good idea for this record.
Q Location of the album cover? Was it your intention to conjure Fleetwood Mac's Bare Trees in addition to what is written "the album was created as a refuge, an ode to stillness in an era of ceaseless noise?"
The photo was taken by my friend Caroline Dossche. She lives in Belgium and I'm guessing that the photo is from there, too. There was no intention to conjure Bare Trees and I'm glad I didn't realize the similarities until the cover was already a done deal. I would've probably chosen a different image but, in fact, I think Caroline's photo is perfect.
Q How much would you say was composed versus improvised? Do you enjoy one more than the other or are they both present in your process?
The record is mostly improvised. The only composed song is "Sant Feliu De Guixols;" the rest of them are on the spectrum of improvisation/spontaneous composition. A few songs are themes that I had been working with for awhile ("LIft," "Cloud Corner") and a few are first takes ("Angel's Rest," "Lament"). When I'm recording I'm much happier improvising. In performance, most songs consist of composed parts, usually the beginning and ending, and a few touch points as a song unfolds connected by improvisatory tissue. A few songs are composed fully meaning they change very little from one performance to the next.
Q With the varied instrumentation on CC (ie keys/Wurlitzer on "Surfacing") did you have guest players?
Nope, it's all me! I did the engineering as well.
Q Most probably know you as a solo artist but you have worked with Sharon Van Etten, Haley and Circuit des Yeux, J̶a̶n̶a̶ ̶H̶u̶n̶t̶e̶r̶. What other contemporaries have you enjoyed playing with?
I haven't played with Jana Hunter... other folks I've played with [are] Tara Jane O'Neil, Cynthia Nelson, Beth Ditto, Mirah, Michael Hurley, Jim White, Tisdass, Ahmadou Madassane, the Devil Makes Three - mostly friends or folks I've toured with or worked on a movie with. I like working with all kinds of people and welcome opportunities to collaborate.
Q I've always enjoyed Elizabeth Cotton. How did the split for KBOO Community Radio come about? What is the station?
KBOO is a community radio station in Portland, Oregon, which is where I live. In the 1970's KBOO did a live broadcast of an Elizabeth Cotten concert. The engineer made a tape of the show for himself unbeknownst to anyone else. Fast forward 40 years and he showed back up at the station one day with his tapes. KBOO was in the process of celebrating 45 years on the air, and they thought it would be a good idea to make a 45 rpm record. They used a couple of live tracks from that show for the A side and asked me to contribute a song for the B side. It was an incredible honor to be on that record with Elizabeth Cotten!
Q What did you do with the Music for Saharan Cellphones compilation on Sahel Sounds?
The Music for Saharan Cellphones compilation was released by Sahel Sounds and Boomarm Nation. It was a response to an earlier Sahel Sounds record called Music From Saharan Cellphones. The music on the original compilation was collected from cellphones in the Northern Malian town of Kidal. In much of West Africa, cellphones are used as all-purpose multimedia devices. Personal computers and high speed internet are largely inaccessible so people use cellphones to store, play, and share music through SIM card swapping and Bluetooth file transfers. After Music for Saharan Cellphones was released, Chris [Kirkley] from Sahel Sounds asked a handful of musicians to re-interpret or respond to the songs which he then loaded on to SIM cards and shipped back to Kidal where they were redistributed and uploaded into cell phones to be shared throughout the region. Brilliant! I did a variation of a song called "Tinariwen" by Group Anmataff.
Q Could you tell me more about the short films and soundtracks you've contributed to? Do you enjoy setting your music to film/visual accompaniment?
A few times a year I get asked to contribute music for short films. I've worked with Vanessa Renwick, Julie Perini, Jodi Darby, among others - mostly Portland based experimental filmmakers. It's really fun for me to make music that is meant to accompany rather than stand alone. I usually don't work closely with visuals but rather ask the filmmakers more about the emotional content of the piece they are looking for. I want to know things about cadence, arc, tone color, general mood, etc. I don't usually like to work directly to image. For what I do it's usually more effective to cut film to music than the other way around.
One exception to that was the soundtrack to Zerzura which is the first Taureg acid western. I worked with Chris Kirkely and Ahmadou Madassane on that one. We projected the film onto the wall of Type Foundry, the studio we were working in, and played live to the images. Recently I was asked to be in a film called Leave No Trace with Michael Hurley, singing a couple of songs, which was pretty fun.
Q Are there future projects or tour dates you'd like to share or preview?
I'm going to be on tour in the UK and Europe throughout the month of September... not much else to share at the moment.
08/02 Pendarvis Farm, Happy Valley, OR
08/29 Bello Bar, Dublin, IE
08/30 Black Box, Belfast, UK
08/31 Glad Cafe, Glasgow, UK
09/02 The Golden Lion, Todmorden, UK
09/04 Arts Centre, Colchester, UK
09/05 Rose Hill, Brighton, UK
09/06 NCI Sports & Social Club, Cambridge, UK
09/07 Cube, Bristol, UK
09/08 Cafe Oto, London, UK
09/10 Sonic Lyon, Lyon, FR
09/12 Les Ateliers Claus, Brussels, BE
09/13 Le Bourg, Lausanne, CH
09/14 Bad Bonn, Dudingen, CH
09/19 ALICE, Copenhagen, DK
09/21 TAPE, Aarhus, DK
09/23 In Musica Veritas, Novara, IT
09/24 Black Market, Rome, IT
09/25 T-Trane Record Store, Umbria, IT
09/26 Fuga, Bratislava, Slovakia