Impressive as that may be, this interview focuses mostly on Rusty Anderson’s incredible gifts as a songwriter and creator of his own studio albums. Rusty Anderson’s first studio album Undressing Underwater was released to critical acclaim. This interview took place shortly after the release of his second album Born on Earth.
Rusty Anderson’s songs are unique and at times unusual, but always very interesting and a pleasure to listen to. This interview covers a lot of ground and we hope you enjoy Anderson’s unique perspectives.
Our special guest is Rusty Anderson. In addition to being the lead guitarist for Paul McCartney, he’s also a singer-songwriter and recording artist. I’m going to share this quote from Rusty Anderson and then we’re going to bring him out for our exclusive interview.
“When I was a kid, I was like seven or eight, I had dreams that the Beatles would come to my door with their guitars and stuff and say ‘Hi! You wanna play?’ And I’m like ‘Yeah!’ And I’d wake up and be sad because it was only a dream. And then we’re in the studio recording and towards the end of that Paul says ‘Hey man, I had a dream about you last night.’ ”
It is with great pleasure we welcome guitarist, singer-songwriter Rusty Anderson. In addition to being the lead guitarist with Sir Paul McCartney, he’s also a recording artist. He joins us to talk about his new album, Born on Earth. So first of all, thanks so much for joining us here.
How are you, Paul?
I’m doing great. How about yourself?
I’m good, man.
I think most stories are best from the beginning so tell us a little bit about your early life.
I guess, musically, I sort of flipped out on the Beatles when I was five ‘cause my older sister was playing Beatle records. Coincidentally, right around that time, my – I’m the youngest in my family – and my oldest brother, Mike, died of a kidney thing. And I was five and he was 19, and I think it messed with the family. And I think my parents sort of numbed out and no one really talked about it, and I just went into music land and started exploring all sorts of different artists. And I got a guitar when I was eight – finally. It was, um, an electric guitar and amp – a little cheap pawn-shop thing, that I was just really into it. And I think I just sort of really hyper-focused on the guitar, you know, ever since (laughs). So I’ve been doing the same thing since I was five, basically.
Can you give us your recollections of the first public music performance you ever had?
I was maybe nine years old, uh, we did like two gigs at the school, different classrooms, playing with my little band and, uh, the drummer, my friend Ronnie and, uh, another guy, I think it was Ken, playing fake bass on the guitar. That was the first gig I can recall but that was, uh, quite a while ago (laughs).
Well, tell us about the band, Eulogy.
Eulogy was, uh, the first actual band that stayed together that I was in because I was always forming bands and it was sort of a prerequisite to being my friend if you played an instrument and we could be in a band because I was a little bit OCD, I guess, about it. So yeah, Eulogy was together maybe five or six years and, yeah, it had a lot of great experiences. We played, you know, all over Orange County. We played like 85 high schools in one year, I think, and then, you know, really got into playing, through like, uh, this – it was through a radio station in Orange County, and then we played, uh, you know, a bunch of clubs in Hollywood and started doing gigs, you know, opening up for like, you know, The Police or Van Halen and things like that. Yeah, it was a fun band. Good music.
Tell us a little bit about your influences on the guitar and also as a songwriter.
You know, I have my guitar favorites like I really always loved Mick Ronson, just for his melodic sense and his arrangement sense, and his tone was so special. And I loved Jimi Hendrix and Ritchie Blackmore and Jimmy Page. I think, musically, I really, really have always loved Debussy and Rachmaninov and Gershwin. Sort of my three favorite classical composers and they sort of got into jazz a little bit, the early forms. I mean, they definitely have influenced jazz and they’re just beyond, you know, another world. I definitely had a lot of influences, I guess as all musicians do. Songwriting wise, you know how it is, everybody’s busy these days rolling through so many different styles of music. I mean, everybody I ask they say ‘Oh, I like a bit of everything.’ Very strange world in that respect. Yeah, there’s so many genres. I mean, I’m influenced songwriting-wise from everyone from Bob Dylan to David Bowie. You know, I love a lot of new the music – MGMT and The White Stripes and Band of Horses and The Shins and Death Cab for Cutie and, you know, on and on. There’s somebody I love, Captain Beefheart, and I love Cream and I love Todd Rundgren, and so many influences. I think ultimately, when I’m writing a song, I just have some ideas. Usually, I’ll come up with a lyrical thing. Maybe I’ll jot it down. Like, for instance, there’s a song on the record called Julia Roberts which was a dream. I wrote it down when I woke up because I thought it was really odd ‘cause I, you know – she popped into my head for no reason, and then I forgot about it. And later, I returned and saw the lyrics and thought, oh that would be cool to turn into a song. So I, actually I co-wrote that with a friend of mine named Jord Lawhead and we, uh, turned that into a musical, finished song. It happens a lot of different ways.
There’s another song on the new album called Funky Birthday Cake and I was hoping you could tell all the listeners about that song.
Well that song – actually, it’s funny ‘cause you brought up Eulogy – my friend, Myles, when he was a singer in Eulogy and we were, you know, maybe 13 or something and we had just started hanging out, and having fun and making music, and we wrote that song together when we were 13 or 14 or something. When I was working with Peter Smith who co-produced some of the songs on my record, who also plays drums in my band live – I had a demo of that song and he heard it and he said ‘Yeah, we should record this.” and I said ‘OK.’ It was just sort of an impulsive thing and it ended up on the record.
I was hoping you could tell all the listeners out there a little bit about meeting David Kahne.
I was in a band called The Living Daylights and, uh, we had a single. It got over to David Kahne, he really liked the band, he was working at a major label – I think, uh, Columbia or something at the time – and we didn’t end up signing with him but he was a producer that worked on a lot of major, different acts at the label. So I started working with him in the studio playing guitar and, uh, that was the beginning of a long relationship because then, eventually, he started working with Paul for Driving Rain. They had talked and he said ‘Hey man, I’m going to be, uh, doing this record in a few months – so this was, like, maybe two months before Driving Rain happened which was, I guess, 2001 – and he said ‘Yeah, I think, uh, we’ll be needing some guitar work’ and I said ‘Well, man, cut me in. I’ll be really exited to do that.’ And then I sort of didn’t tell anyone about it – I didn’t want to do the Hollywood jinx – and then, sure enough, two months later I was in the studio with Paul and David and, uh, you know, that was, uh, the beginning of, of working with Paul.
You had an album before this one called Undressing Underwater. My two favorite songs on that album are Catbox Beach and Everybody Deserves an A in This Country.
That was my first solo record. Catbox Beach, which Stew Copeland played drums on incidentally. We were in a band together called Animal Logic a few years ago. That song started off – the concept was a classical sort of song rocked up – and then, I’m thinking to myself ‘this sounds suspiciously like a surf song.’ I kinda got that vibe. So I named it Catbox Beach and when Stew played on it, I thought it would be really a shame not to have his amazing reggae feel so we sort of put a reggae bit in there, which I thought was cool because I had never really heard a surf song-reggae song combo before. So that definitely had to stick.
[Recording concludes] From Rusty Anderson’s debut album, Undressing Underwater, that was Catbox Beach.
Everybody Deserves an A in This Country was a song that, I guess, I was hanging out with some friends and suddenly enough we had this plan to take mushrooms and record music. Not that I’m a big drug person or anything, but that day that’s what we did. I don’t know if you’ve tried to do anything (laughs) when you take mushrooms – it’s pretty, it’s pretty tough, especially singing. So we didn’t get a whole lot of music done that day but the, sort of the birth of the concept of Everybody Deserves an A was, to be frank, motivated by brain mindset.
Well, it managed to score a really cool song, as far as I’m concerned.
You’ve done a lot of things in your musical career. You’ve done session works for people like Little Richard, Neil Diamond, Carole King. You have two records, you perform on your own and, of course, you also perform with Sir Paul McCartney. When you look at your musical history, is there something that you’re most proud of?
I’m really glad to be making a living playing music. I feel very, very lucky. Especially – I just finished reading that book Grapes of Wrath, and I feel extra, extra lucky because in these crazy days you never know what you get. I mean, it’s been amazing working with Paul for the last eight-plus years. I’ve seen all sorts of things, you know, gone all over the world. And, you know, musically I just try to make music I’m proud of and I can stand behind, and trying to just contribute to making melodies or some lyrical idea or something that maybe will inspire somebody. Basically, to communicate. I think that’s what it’s about for everybody, you know? They say that, uh, the most important thing for people is to communicate with others and to feel understood and I would definitely concur with that.
When someone listens to a recording you performed on or they see you in concert, either by yourself or with someone else, what is it that you hope that the audience gets out of the experience of the music?
Oh man, you know, people get what they get. I mean, it’s exciting to get responses back from people, to hear the different things that people interpret from music, whether it’s playing with Paul – out there doing shows or doing, you know, the records with Paul – or doing my own live shows. You know, I just got the record Born on Earth out so I’m starting to get a few responses and it’s been incredibly positive. And it was the same with, uh, Undressing Underwater. And people have their interpretations, you know, their favorite songs. Everybody’s got their favorite song that they relate to. I think that the cool thing about music is that it’s untouchable and, therefore, it makes it very, uh, very individual. The impressions people get from the music is very individual. I guess with any art, you know, you’re going to get a million different opinions whether your dealing with, uh, contemporary art or classic art or whatever.
You’re listening to our interview with Rusty Anderson, who’s here joining us to talk about his new album, Born on Earth. I was hoping you could everyone out there about the title track.
It’s, basically, sort of about the infinitesimal chance that we would be alive in this crazy era of technology bum and the way the world has changed so much and, you know, we could have been alive a few million years ago or now, or – it’s a crazy time I would say, and I think you’d probably concur. And the songs are sort of a reflection of that and I think – it’s an epic sort of piece. I would just say you have to listen to it to kind of understand what I’m talking about, maybe (laughs).
What song, from the songs that you recorded that you wrote, means the most to you?
Where Would We Go? Private Moon Flower. They’re sort of, uh, personal songs. You know, the new record – I think every song has some personal aspect and it has some global aspect to them. And so I felt like the title Born on Earth sort of fit the record and the song. And, in fact, I was up in Alaska hanging out a few years ago. Some friends of mine were getting married. Actually, I was kayaking out on the edge of this, um, sort of bay of the ocean and in the grass there was this mannequin sitting there, sort of out of the blue. And I took a picture of it because I thought it was so odd and then I ended up using that for the record cover. And it sort of summed up, to me, the sort of incongruency of life these days – the randomness of it.
Having recorded your own music and gotten the chance to play music all over the world, you could honestly say that music has done some things for you that most people will never get a chance to experience. Having said that, are there any dreams that you have that you have not yet experienced, that you’re working on making happen?
That’s a very good question. I think there’s certainly a part of me that feels drawn towards getting more involved in, uh, philanthropic types of things, um, you know, charities. There’s so many good causes these days to be involved with, whether it’s, uh you know, helping people out in Africa – I feel very strongly about that. I also feel strongly about the environment and global warming, and I’m sort of trying to find a good place for my energies in that realm. Certainly, I think I’ll always be making music and creating new, uh, themes, whatever medium it’s in. whether it’s, you know, new CDs or, you know mp3s or whatever the new media is at the moment. Certainly, playing more gigs with Paul, and it’s a good ride that I’m on and I just want to keep it expanding and communicate with more and more people. That’s pretty much it.
Through the eyes of Rusty Anderson, when you’re on stage performing in front of just thousands and thousands of people, where everyone’s looking at you, and there’s definitely this energy and this positivity coming from everyone – tell us, through your eyes, what is that experience like?
You know, it’s a weird loop. You can’t think about it too much. I mean I sort of just vibe off the audience – you know, look for friendly faces and people that are into it. And I guess, in a certain way, I feel more at home on stage than I do anywhere else just ‘cause I’ve been doing it a long time. And it’s – it’s always, like, an engaging challenge to try to really connect in that zen way, you know playing guitar and singing and being up there and grooving with everybody and, uh – it’s a pretty astounding feeling. I think the biggest gig we did was, uh, in Rome for 500,000 people. In a way, the smaller the audience the harder, the more intimidating it can be, like playing for one person is almost the most intimidating thing there is, as opposed to playing for huge audiences. On the other hand, playing that gig in Rome, there was 500,000 people and it was this super-buzz – like you felt this extra kick of energy – thrill – I can’t explain it but, you know like, we were doing I think Let It Be and there’s a bunch of people holding up lighters. And it was at night and this was in front of the Coliseum, and you look down the Apian Way and it was like a river of fireflies going off the edge of the planet, and it was – you couldn’t even see the end of it. It was pretty, uh, heavy and, and sort of monumental. It’s like you can’t really remember it either. It’s sort of like eating chocolate or something – it’s an experience that you can’t have unless you are engaged in the middle of it and then you can remember what it’s like.
Working our way back to your album, could you tell us about some of the musicians who played on that album?
The latest one is primarily Peter, the drummer, and I and the other guys on my band played on some of the tunes, too, and did a lot of background vocals. I wanted to keep it a little bit more – on that level – more sort of band-centric. There was another guy, Bunk Gardner, a good friend of mine who played in The Mothers of Invention, who was a huge influence on me when I was, uh, a kid growing up. And I always loved their music. That was Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention. And I liked that sort of incarnation the best because it had this really organic, out-of-control kind of feeling, And, uh, Bunk plays woodwinds and sax and flute, and I think he played sax and, uh, bass clarinet on Funky Birthday Cake. That was a lot of fun. The last record, Paul McCartney played on a track and Stew Copeland played on a track, and it was a little more kind of, um, fun, bringing all these outside musicians in. Like I said, this one was more sort of about the band. Oh, another friend of mine, Gabby Marino, sang background vocals on a few songs, and I think that’s about it.
Tell us about the song, Timed Exposure, on the album Born on Earth.
Timed Exposure – I’m not sure exactly what the song is about to tell you the truth. It just came about organically and I think the music came first. It seemed to somehow, uh, connect the global, sort of macro perspective on the world and what we all go through – that personal experience. One verse is written from, I think from a fortune cookie –combination fortune cookie and personal ads that are in the newspaper.
Oh, interesting (laughs).
Yeah. So, you know, different things will inspire lyrics.
Can you tell the listeners out there how they can find out more about not only the new album but also more about you?
Well, there’s RustyAnderson.com. There is my MySpace. I started doing this Twitter thing so look for that. I’m doing Guitar Center in-store CD signings.
This broadcast is going out all over the world. My final question for you, Mr. Rusty Anderson: What would you like to say to all those people that are listening in?
Oh, just say ‘hello and, uh, happy to e-meet you or vibe with you’(laughs). Hope to see you at some show soon. I’m always into connecting with people.
Rusty, thank you so much for doing this interview. It means a lot.
You’re welcome, Paul. It was my pleasure.