Interview | FFS 5 with Eric Anders

Eric Anders and Mark O’Bitz’ American Bardo begins with ‘Matterbloomlight (Revisited)’. Earlier this year, For Folk’s Sake premiered and praised the single for its complex, cyclical themes and the profundity of its arrangement. Now, much of the same can be said of the duo’s full album—out now, each track on the album is a “reading” to one of the characters in the Mann-Booker Prize-winning novel, Lincoln in the Bardo. An individualistic conception in and of itself, the album incorporates synthetic and organic musical elements alike to form its cerebral folk and Americana.

One half of the inimitable collaboration, Eric Anders, is the latest to take on our ‘FFS 5’ interview series. Within, Anders offers morsels on his background as a Californian artist, the academia that informs his songwriting, and what his perception of artistic success is.

Please tell us a bit about yourself. Where are you from and how did you get started in music? Any defining moments along the path to present day?

I’m a 56-year-old family guy with a wife and three kids.  I’m also a psychoanalyst who is wondering if I’ll ever go back to clinical work after the pandemic is done.  I might just focus on music as a retiree.  I grew up all over the U.S. but my family is very Californian, going back several generations on both sides.  I’ve lived in California most of my life.  I’ve been in NorCal since 2007.  Most of my music folks are in SoCal.  My duo partner, Mark O’Bitz, is a long-time OC resident.  My producer, Mike Butler, is from Vermont but plans to stay in San Diego for the long haul.  

As an artist, how do you define success?

Good question.  When I started writing songs in 2002 with Mark O’Bitz, I defined success by how the music sounded to me and all my collaborators.  We all felt very successful after releasing my debut album, Not At One, in 2003.  We loved that album and so did a lot of reviewers.  When CD Baby founder, Derek Sivers, said it was “the best Cd I’ve ever heard,” Mark and I entertained the idea that we might define success as actually being musicians who could get paid for making music–or at least have someone else pay to get our music made the way we wanted it made.  We knew the music industry was changing back then with Napster upsetting how money was made with music–or not made.  All of my releases since then have been totally self-funded, so we have not succeeded that way.  We are extremely happy with the way our music has turned out, so we consider ourselves successful that way.  We feel artistically successful, but we still wish one of our songs would take off enough to help us continue to make music at the high level of production we are used to.

What do you find your greatest struggle to be when it comes to the music business?

Mike Butler once compared releasing an album to polishing up a beautiful grain of sand and then throwing it into the middle of the beach.  We’ve had our songs in one film (Man in the Chair) and two significant TV shows (Dirt and a Dutch soap opera), but it is too hard to get our music heard by music supervisors who matter.  We don’t tour because it is too expensive and because I have very little stage experience.  The only way we’ve made money is through these placements that all happened in 2007.  Not a one since.   We’ve basically given up on our music being recognized by the “music industry.”  We hope for more recognition from music lovers.  Spotify may suck for artist revenue, but it is a rather clear measure of how many people are listening to your songs.  Our hope is that the number of followers we have on Spotify will continue to grow.  We have felt very successful artistically because we love the music we have been able to make, but we want more people to hear this music.  We see the music industry as more of an obstacle to this goal than anything else.

What do you think is the most realistic goal you can achieve as an artist and as a band? What do you hope to achieve?

Artistic success and a growing fan base.  Currently, we are hoping to grow our fan base to the point where it will make more financial sense to tour.  

Outside of music, what do you like to do that you feel contributes to the creativity that you tap into for your music?

Mark did his bachelor’s degree in classical guitar.  I think he feels this has contributed to his creativity a great deal.  I pointed out to him that most of our songs on our current project were in very unusual keys, like “C Mixolydian” or “F minor Dorian” or “F# Lydian.”  He tried to explain what this all meant, but it was way over my head.  I have zero formal training under my belt.  American Bardo has a bunch of these unusual keys too.  This may sound like Mark trying to be too fancy with the music he contributes to our process, but I don’t question or criticize it at all.  Whatever he is doing is inspiring melodies and lyrics from me that are really working for both of us.  

My background as a psychoanalyst has contributed a lot to my lyrics, as has my academic background.  I have a Ph.D. in English and I basically studied philosophy and “theory” like psychoanalysis and feminism.  A lot of this can be found in my lyrics.  

As for my melodies, I don’t know where they come from.  I was raised in a pretty strict military family, and I was in the military for too many years.  I think some of the difficulty I had with all that structure and, frankly, right-wing BS pushed a lot of feeling down over the years … and my melodies might be the cathartic release of a lot of that trauma and too many years of an oppressive environment, isolation, and pent up emotion.  

Piece by: Jonathan Frahm