You may not know his name, at least not yet, but Brandon Anderson is already setting many hearts on fire with his edgy folk rock sound. The handsome young from Wisconsin is already an award winning singer/songwriter and has just released a new single, called I’ll Keep Driving. Jason Shaw takes a look at the man who creatively blends folk with piano rock with just a pinch of other alternative influences to create an ‘edgy folk rock’ protest sound.
He was born and raised in a Mormon family from Kenosha, a medium sized city on the western shores of Lake Michigan, Wisconsin, USA. Music was a key background ingredient to life in Brandon’s home during his early years, yet there was always something creative hiding under the surface and Brandon got involved with school plays and school musicals as a kid. It was during his early teenage years when his family situation changed that Brandon began to have questions not only about his own Mormon faith but also about his sexuality. There were questions he needed answers to, but at the time answers seemed few and far between. However it wasn’t long before the young adolescent found the perfect outlet for his creative desires and ideas which was putting pen to paper and writing songs.
Brandon is now a resident of New York and regularly plays gigs at many of the Big Apples premier singer/songwriter hotspots as well as touring across America. It is along these travels that he picks up stories, ideas and inspirations that form the basis for many of his songs. Indeed his latest album, Guitars and Grievances, is largely inspired by the stories of hardship, human spirit and grievances he picked up along the way.
His latest single is a perfect example of just that, taken from Guitars and Grievances, I’ll Keep Driving is a moving, evolving story inspired by a young gay fan’s sense of despondency, isolation and the desire of seeking out a better place to be. Brandon’s effervescent voice delicately conveys the emotion with surprising depth echoing feelings that we can all identify with at some stage during our lives, at least to some degree.
Listening to this single and the Guitars and Grievances album you quickly realise that there is far more to this young singer songwriter from the US Midwest than meets the eye. With that in mind, I caught up with him to find out more about his music, his influences and his life, including what it was like to grow up in a Mormon family in Wisconsin.
“It’s weird to look back on, because when I was living it, it was all I knew. There didn’t seem to be anything strange about the church or their beliefs and I truly believed everything that they taught.”
“It wasn’t till my parents got a divorced and my mom left the church that I started having questions about my faith. That was quickly followed by my own questions about my sexuality, which really brought me to a crisis of conscious. I remember when I was about 13, my dad lived on a horse farm in the county and I was kind of at a breaking point.”
“I ran out into a field that night and kind of had an argument with God, asking him to prove that he existed. I stayed out in the corn field for a long time thinking I never got an answer, but the next morning I was looking through my song book and realized that music was my connection. I had just recently started writing, and the realization that writing was my connection to something bigger really helped me let go of having to have some formalized relationship with a higher power that was dictated by rules and dogma.”
So, would you consider yourself to be religious, spiritual or atheist these days?
Can you pinpoint a time when you first started getting into music?
“Music has really always been a part of my life. My parents always had music playing in the house and when I was a kid I got involved in musicals and played musical instruments in school. From there it grew to writing when I met my friend Carmel Mikol, who became one of my biggest influences and the person who started me writing. I first saw her perform a song she wrote in a middle school talent show and I knew immediately that that was what I wanted to do. We became friends and started a kind of music workshop where we would play songs for each other and bounce ideas back and forth. She in now an award winning artist in Canada and you should definitely check her out.”
Ok, other than Carmel Mikol, who were other early influences on you?
“My first influences definitely came from what my parents were listening to while I was growing up. My mom listened to a lot of singer songwriters like Joni Mitchell, Carol King, and Carly Simon, but also rock bands like Led Zeppelin, Jethro Tull, and Heart.”
“On my dads side, it was all country and folk music, which I also loved. I grew up with a pretty wide appreciation, but when I started writing it was definitely Tori Amos and Ben Folds. Piano was my first writing instrument so I was really drawn to their sounds and lyrics.”
How about now, what artists influence you these days?
“As I have grown in my writing, I have become really influenced by artists who are storytellers and have strong social commentary in their work. My go to’s these days are Tracy Chapman, Joni Mitchell, Patty Griffin, Ray Lamontagne, and Trent Reznor from Nine Inch Nails.”
I’m going to put you on the spot here, if you could only take one album with you to a deserted desert island, which one would it be?
“Blue by Joni Mitchell.”
An excellent choice and I can definitely hear some Joni Mitchell echo’s in your work and I wonder what the mechanics of creating a song are for you, I mean what comes first – the music or the lyrics?
“It happens a lot of ways, but the best songs usually come out in one burst with music and lyrics at the same time. When that happens it feels more like channeling and less like writing. However, most of the time it’s just hard work and craft.”
“With my more political songs, the lyric usually comes first and then the music fits on top. I also am really drawn to rhythm and I sometimes start with a rhythmic idea that informs the lyrical form and then the music after that. It all really depends on the song.”
How would you classify your sound?
“Edgy Folk Rock.”
You’ve played a number of gigs in New York and toured around America, what do you enjoy most, performing live, writing songs or recording them?
“I would have to say performing, because that is when the songs really become what they are meant to be. A song is never truly finished until it has been performed and you see how it affects people. I also love the energy I get from an audience and that feeling of community. That exchange is what gives me the fuel to go back and dig through my psyche for more songs.”
Are you surprised at how some of your songs really do effect and seep into the hearts and souls of your audience.
“Anytime I get feedback from fans, it is amazing. These songs mean so much to me and come from such deep places, that when people tell me that they have been affected it really makes me feel like I’m not alone in this world feeling these things. I think it reinforces the universality of the human experience and how we are all really looking for connection and understanding. I love writing and performing music because it makes me feel connected and when that is reciprocated it is the best feeling in the world.”
Do you think you are a sensitive and creative person in general?
“I definitely think I am. Sadly, I’m the guy who cries at cotton commercials. I have always been drawn to creative outlets, from theatre, to music, to dance and its definitely my driving force in life.”
That neatly brings us on to your latest single, I’ll Keep Driving, which is out now, please tell me a little about it?
“I’ll Keep Driving is really the heart of my album Guitars & Grievances if I had to boil it down to one song. I actually was inspired to write it by a young fan who is growing up gay in a small town in Pennsylvania. One day I saw he had posted on his Facebook that he wanted to “steal a car and drive far away, maybe California.”
“I was really struck by the sentiment and how I think we all have those moments of just wanting to start over again, hit the reset button. I had just been touring across the country and was fascinated by how there really isn’t any unexplored land left to run to. You used to be able to head to the frontier or wild west if you wanted to break from the life you had. We don’t really have that anymore. This idea really connected with the protest album feel I was writing and helped to ground the whole thing in a very personal place. Of all my songs, I would have to say it is one of my favourites.”
How important do you feel it is for gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans youth to have positive role models as they grow up?
“I think it is so critical as we move forward as a culture. Growing up in Wisconsin, I was not exposed to any gay role models until college. There weren’t really any openly gay role models in music or TV until later in my youth and that definitely would have helped me to see a positive reflection of myself.”
“I think it is awesome that now people are coming out and being accepted in pop culture. I think for a kid to be able to look on TV and see a reflection of themselves, or listen to a musician who is singing directly to what they are feeling is so key, especially for people growing up in more rural and less accepting places in our country.”
Same sex marriage is much in the media at the moment, do you think that full marriage equality will ever be achieved?
“I do, and I think it will be sooner than later. I think we will get the laws squared away within a few years, but battling intolerance is going to be the real work of the equality movement. I think the only way we do that is by being visible and living our lives to the fullest. The more we can show ourselves for who we really are the easier it is for people to get to know us look past the intolerance they have inherited.”
Talking of being visible, I think the video for I’ll Keep Driving looks absolutely amazing and packed with visible meanings, what was that like to make?
“Thank you! Making this video was an incredible experience. I filmed it in and around my hometown while I was on tour this last summer with fellow songwriters Jeremiah Clark, and Rachel Epp, who both make cameos in the video.”
“It was filmed by Firmament Films, who is run by friends of mine from when I lived in Kenosha and they are just an incredibly talented group of people who are a joy to work with. We filmed it all in one day, because that was all the time I had while on tour. We had played a show the night before and had to be up before dawn to film the last shots on the beach, but the scenery totally made it worth it. All in all, it was a 15 hour day for me and probably much longer for the crew, who were unbelievable. The greatest part about working with friends is that we just laughed the whole time and really had a great rapport to get exactly what we wanted out of the video. I really can’t thank then enough for all the work they put into it to make it what it is.”
I always finish an interview with the request for a secret, for example, Christopher Dallman told me that Lindsay Lohan told him he was hot and Jake Walden informed me he started going grey at 20 and now uses hair dye, so now it’s your turn Brandon, tell us a little secret?
“I had a day job at a clothing store in Chelsea and Jennifer Coolidge lived above the store while she was in a show on Broadway. I am a huge fan of her work and was a bit star struck when she first walked in but she kept coming into the store and we became buddies and one day before Christmas she needed help wrapping her gifts, so I went to the basement of the store with her and wrapped gifts for a few hours. It was surreal, but she is even funnier in person.”
Brandon is an intelligent engaging and enthusiastic man with an effervescent voice that is as warming as a hot blanket on a coldest winters night, whilst his poignant lyrics attach themselves to your consciousness with delicate ease. His latest single I’ll Keep Driving is available to download now from iTunes and Bandcamp or you can watch the video on YouTube. The track is taken from his album Guitars and Grievances, which is also available to download on iTunes, Amazon and Bandcamp.
My thanks to Brandon for taking so much time out for this interview, it really is appreciated and was a joy to get to know in more depth the person behind the music.