Like many a confident musician, Ryan Joseph Anderson isn’t too concerned how people define him. With so many genres and sub-genres floating around, categorization these days is far from an exact science. But if there ever was an artist that earns the Americana tag solely and squarely it’s Anderson’s sophomore solo release City of Vines, premiering in full on Glide (below).
City of Vines sees a release date of June 30th, but this is not the first go around for Anderson. The Chicago-based twangy frontman’s solo career began in April 2014 with the release of his debut album, The Weaver’s Broom. The album, engineered and co-produced by Andrija Tokic (Alabama Shakes, Hooray for the Riff Raff), was hailed as one of the best Americana records of the year by various respected publications. Before going solo, Anderson was known as the bandleader and songwriter for the beloved Chicago roots outfit Go Long Mule, as a guitar slinger for garage-rockers Rambos, and as a producer, sessions man and sideman for numerous artists.
With warm earnest singing that moves from well worn to gritty, Anderson has created a compelling full album listen that covers the Americana landscape with joy and a true rustic electricity. Glide also had the chance to talk with Anderson about the new release, where he gives the low-down on City of Vines...
City of Vines is the follow up to your debut, The Weaver’s Broom. Creatively, was this new album a more challenging effort or would you say the songs came easy?
I wouldn’t say it was more or less challenging, but it was definitely different. I’d been stockpiling songs for The Weaver’s Broom while I was in Go Long Mule and it was made up of tunes that didn’t quite fit what the band was doing at the time. I wanted to make a very stripped down/acoustic album. I went the opposite direction on this one. I was looking for a much bigger sound on this one…literally: The Weaver’s Broom band was made up four people; on City of Vines there are ten people.
What songs do you feel are most defining of where you are now as an artist?
I think “16 Lovers” is a pretty good example of where I’m at. Musically, there are a lot of layers…I don’t feel like it’s too derivative of any one genre/style. Also, the lyrics are pretty surreal.
“The Ragged Kind” reminds of bands like Deer Tick, then you have other tunes like “16 Lovers” which have a Sturgill Simpson feel – kind of a nice way to cross the spectrum of Americana. Where do you get your ability to cover different grounds within your realm? Seems like your music is more than (for lack of a better term) a one trick pony.
My favorite musicians have always had the ability to create in a lot of different spaces while still sounding like themselves. Paul Simon is a really great example of this…his records are all unique (even song to song), but they always sound like Paul Simon. I want my songs to be unique: album to album and song to song. I think a big part of that is being able to process and explore a variety of different influences. The other is being surrounded by great musicians.
“16 Lovers” has a timeless barroom quality to it – what is the background of that song?
I wrote that one while living in Nashville. It’s about coming to terms with the past…a lot of this record is. Originally it was a pretty synth heavy song. When we were in the studio, Brian Morrissey came up with a really great counter-part to my guitar and the guitars won out. He also had the idea of extending the instrumental break from what I had originally written. It’s one of my favorite moments on the album now.
I’m sure people define your sound as Americana, Alt-country and even Country- how do you best describe it?
“Americana” is fine by me, but I think it’s one of those genres that encapsulates a lot of vastly different musical styles. I’m not too hung up on how people define me.
What makes a good live performance for you these days?
It depends. If I’m with the band I want to play an old-fashioned loud and sweaty rock show. If I’m solo I want to play in a nice quiet room where I can tell people are listening. Either way, it’s about connecting with people.
How has your experience of being a band leader helped in becoming a solo artist? For you, what is the definitive difference? Do you miss being in a band and the camaraderie or was that hard to come by?
Being in a band is like being a pirate…or a Goonie. It’s hard not to miss the camaraderie. That being said, I really like the creative freedom that being a solo artist provides. When I wanted to record my first solo record in Nashville with great studio musicians, I did. Then I wanted to come back to Chicago and record with my favorite Chicago players. I like being able to change what I’m doing and who I’m working with. I get a lot out of how those changes affect my music. That being said, I have a really great band backing me right now and am really excited to be playing with them. I think we’re just starting to scratch the surface of what we can do.
Most people might want to know why you go by Mr. Ryan Joseph Anderson. I think it’s unique. I can’t actually think of anyone else with a Mr. in front – What’s the story behind that?
That’s just my SoundCloud handle.
What is your hometown these days and what venues and rooms are you most familiar with?
I’m back in Chicago. My favorite venues around here are The Hideout and FitzGerald’s…both legendary clubs and hard to beat.