Very few musicians can match the pure joy that emanates from Jason Anderson. If you are unfamiliar, you probably should watch this video before you read the following interview. The prolific (and incredibly gracious) singer-songwriter took some time out of his day to chat with obviate.
obviate media: First off, how are you doing?
Jason Anderson: Feeling great right now, thanks. How is Chicago? I miss that place. The Chicago Diner and Veggie Bite are two of my favorite restaurants in the USA. Oh, also, thanks for taking the time to ask me some questions.
Chicago’s pretty good. I’ve never been to either restaurant, but I’ve heard good things. Also, No problem. Thank you! So – Jason Anderson is a fairly common name. Have you ever felt like you had a hard time because of it? Has there ever been any mix-ups?
Not so far. Oh! Once at a show I was announced as Jason Alexander aka George Costanza on Seinfeld. That was very, very awesome. People started booing when I came out because they wanted the Seinfeld dude (just joking about this last part). That also would have been very, very awesome, though.
How old are you, and what’s your day job?
31. I am a music teacher at both a pre-school and a wonderful afterschool center. To give you a sense of how amazing this afterschool center is, we are working with 4th and 5th graders on an original play called JAWS: THE MUSICAL. i am very, very lucky. The center is part of The Children’s Aid Society, which has been around since 1853 in NYC.
And Where do you currently reside?
What would you consider your influences (musical or not)?
Lots of stuff. Friends, travel, politics, food, bikes.
Your website shows you recorded an extraordinary amount of material. How do you write so many songs? Where do you draw your inspiration for most of material?
I’m really not sure. Good question, though! I just love music. Also, I have no life. Kidding. Sort of.
I’m curious what the songwriting process is like for you. Are you the type of musician who I could give a person’s name and a few details to and say ‘write a song’, or just the opposite?
I am the first type. It’s funny how specific your example was, too, because check this out: Once my friend and I went to a crowded waterfront on a sunny day, and made a sign that said “Will Write a Song About You for $1.” It was great! I think we made about eighty bucks, and took our friends out to dinner. It was a great day.
You use a lot of sing-alongs in your music, and in your recordings. How did you start doing this? Who comprises the chorus in your recordings?
I just thought it would be more fun to have everyone involved, instead of the strangely skewed, standard orientation of a bunch of people (often) paying to stare at one person or group of people. My goal is connection, not disconnection. And I don’t need a bunch of people standing still looking at me, because I’m really not anything special. The point is that we’re ALL special, and when we ALL sing the music is only better for it.
I am not that good of a singer. All the voices help not only the music, but the feeling, and the sense that this night is a unique moment in our lives that will truly NEVER HAPPEN AGAIN, and if it’s our last night here–our last chance–then we better make it count.
As to recording, on the TONIGHT thing I invited whomever wanted to come to this big wooden gymnasium and we taped the group parts. It was so fun.
The ‘Ghosts and Goblins’ video implied that you used to teach music for kids. What is your background – teaching? Playing? etc…
Yes, I am a teacher. I am almost done with my second year of teaching at two wonderful places in New York City. I work every day. And before I toured for 5 years straight I was a music teacher for 2 years at a private studio. So I did have some background. I also worked at a middle school for one year with special ed kids. That was wonderful.
What have you been listening to as of late?
Phish, Sun Kil Moon, Propagandhi, My Morning Jacket.
Do you have plans to record a new album anytime soon?
Yes, I have one that needs to be mixed and then it will be done. I also have songs for a new one.
How do you choose where you play shows? Do you have a manager or do you do it yourself? I know you played here in Chicago in January at an unlikely location and apparently invited everyone out to eat beforehand? Do you have any plans to tour soon?
I spent five years simply touring and the deal was that anyone who emailed me about playing their town, their house, etc. I would go and play there. Now I have more of a set schedule because I teach, but I still have summers off and a couple other holiday breaks throughout the year. I can also play a bunch in New York City, which is what I’ve currently been doing. I am still really excited to email back and forth with people about show ideas, especially non-traditional ones.
For example, I am talking with my friend Mike about playing a bowling alley show soon. He set up a great show last summer at an outdoor basketball court. I’m also hoping to play some more islands this summer. So far I have played Block Island, Martha’s Vineyard, Star Island and Monhegan Island. Anyone can email me here: firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ll write back.
Watching some of your live videos, it seems like you use the audience as an instrument, or do as much as you can to get them to participate. How important is this for your music? Do you find the audience is generally receptive to it or not? Are there any really good crowd participation stories? Or not so good ones, for that matter?
It’s important to me sort of personally and politically in terms of wanting to involve everyone and try to break down that weird dumb (to me, anyway) wall between “performer” and “audience.” The person being looked at and those doing the looking. So much of that seems like ego stuff and creating these divides, these perpetually reinforced levels of social or, maybe worse yet, “artistic importance.” That might sound too much like fancy talk, though.
Mostly I just want people to have a blast, and remember that music (I think anyway) is about singing and dancing and sweating and connecting and thinking and feeling and being ALIVE. Not just dressing up “hip” (like everyone else) and trying to be cool (which is apparently accomplished by standing still and looking bored) and then going home and blogging or twittering (is that how you say it?) about “just another indie show.”
But at the same time I don’t want to give the impression that I’m super hardline about it or anything. I totally understand that people enjoy music in different ways. If you don’t want to sing along or stand up, that is okay with me, too. There are other powerful ways to connect that are often removed from tradtional shows, like eye contact, smiles, etc. I really just want to feel like something positive is happening and that everyone in room acknowledges that we are together and we are experiencing something and it is our present tense.
And seriously, isn’t it time to remember the catharsis and release and simple JOY that can be found in a show and how this can maybe be an important catalyst in thinking about looking for beautiful, perfect, exciting moments in our day to day lives, and how they are actually everywhere, if we are open minded and open hearted???
Besides your solo work, do you play in any other bands?
I am always up for playing with my friends and helping them in any way, on drums, piano, guitar, bass, etc. I usually have just as much if not more fun playing and supporting and being a part of their awesome music. I just love it.
What’s one detail about you that a lot of people may not know?
Are there any musicians that you would like to play with that you haven’t?
My Morning Jacket is definitely one of my favorite active bands. They seem to come from such a good place; I feel like they love music, love playing music, and really do things the way they should be done, in terms of putting on an awesome show and really believing in that power, in that positive energy. It seems like they are not overly concerned with the fashion of things, but just kind of do what they love to do and I think when you do what you love to do and are sincere and earnest about it, it’s totally contagious.
But I doubt I will ever get to play with them. That would be awesome, though.
What’s next for Jason Anderson?
Well I have to go to the afterschool center in about fifteen minutes. Today I have 5 piano lessons. One of them is a group lesson with Sam and Spencer. They are really great kids.
Thanks for the questions, Brendan.
Thanks for your time, Jason!
You can visit Jason’s website here. His albums are available on iTunes or by mail order. He also has selectr free downloads available as well.