While Anders Osborne may now be an elder statesman in the New Orleans music scene, he’s not one to rest on his laurels. An accomplished songwriter, guitarist, storyteller, just to name a few, Osborne kept busy during the pandemic with biweekly livestreams and a new album, Orpheus and the Mermaids.
Initially, Osborne and I were going to discuss his 30th year at New Orleans Jazz Fest when the unfortunate cancellation was announced. However, Osborne was still gracious enough to offer his time to discuss this past year and upcoming projects.
On Friday night he will appear at the Orpheum Theater on a bill with Eric Lindell & the Natural Mystics as well special guests Jon Cleary, Mike Dillon, Samantha Fish and Stanton Moore
You’ve managed to stay definitely busy during the pandemic; you released an album and you’ve been doing your livestreams. When I saw you at Tipitina’s in April, however, just as they were opening up after COVID, you said that right before the pandemic you were getting ready to hang it up, but the pandemic made you love music again. Why the shift in mentality? What was it that made you tired of music before the pandemic?
Let’s start with the positive. When a lot of the travel aspects and the self-promoting aspect; just kind of the 18-plus hours a day when you’re on the road that you do all this stuff you’re not playing. You’re just kind of checking-in and checking-out, going to the airport, looking at ticket sales and being nervous: “Is it going to be enough to keep your business?”. All the stress factors, all that, was removed and all I did was play for free. I just plugged into Facebook, used their platform and said “Hey man, are you guys out there? You hanging in there? You doing alright? Let me play some songs. I’ll play some mine, we’ll come up with some silly things. I’m going to be here with my kids and my family.” So, I asked them, “Can you partake in this? I’m going to do it every other Friday.”
I just had no idea that the response was going to be from the fans, but also for myself. To not worry about anything except, “I’m just going to play some songs, ‘cause that’s what I’ve been doing since I was a little kid. I write songs and I play ‘em.” That’s what revitalized my passion for music. It’s not complicated. Music is my hobby and I just ended up doing it for a living, but it’s not that serious. That’s what returned to me. My heart felt much lighter, and I didn’t have to impress anybody else or myself, I just played the songs. I started learning a bunch of interesting cover tunes that were a little bit out of my wheelhouse. It was inspiring. Obviously, the response from the fans was so unbelievingly overwhelming. To see that many people live and going back and watching it because it was free, I didn’t ask for anything. I just wanted people to come together and talk and hangout. Something clicked for all of us. So, I’ve kept it going and it brought back that feeling and I want to see if I can bring that on the road.
Obviously, I’m going to tour a lot less. I don’t think I’ll ever go back to what I used to do, but I’m going to figure out a way to make a living and bring the same spirit when I go out there. I didn’t have fun prior because it wasn’t about the music as much anymore. There were moments where it was. But it was about a lot of other stuff. When you spend 9 months on the road and you miss all the birthdays and the holidays for your kids, for twenty years, it got to me a few years ago. I didn’t see the point in being out there when I couldn’t see my own family.
So, you’re not itching to get back on the road? Or are you? Maybe you’re somewhere in the middle?
Both. I have some creative ideas on how I want to do it. I want to see if people respond to that. Obviously, maybe a couple of bus runs with the band, where we can kick ass and play some cool venues that will what do it justice. I think every venue has something unique. Then I want to do some songwriting stuff, solo stuff, and find the right venues for that. I’m really excited to do that and collaborate with new interesting musicians, too. But I’m not itching to go back to my blue-collar method of week in and week out. That doesn’t do anything for me anymore, unfortunately.
I understand that. Who are some musicians you’re looking to collaborate with then?
Yeah, there’s a new guitar player who’s been playing with me for a minute. He’s in his thirties and he’s up in D.C. Jonathan Sloane. He used to play with Cris Jacobs for a long time. He’s just beautiful. Just a wonder musicality and I’m just a big fan. And then my drummer Chad Cromwell. I can’t wait to get back out there with him. Right now, we’re in between bass players; Ron Johnson took a job with Samantha Fish. I’m going to work with a couple of guys that I’m really looking forward to. One is Bob Glaub that I record with. He’s going to do a couple of road gigs. Steve Mackey is another cat. I’ve talked to Todd Schaeffer from Railroad Earth; we may go out and do something. Ivan Neville and I have talked about some runs. I’m looking forward to friends going out to have a good time for a week.
For Orpheus and the Mermaids, was that a collection of songs you had prior to the pandemic or was that written during it?
I think it stemmed from the pandemic. Pretty much all of them. I may have started one prior to it. Thematically, I looked at when it was time, in October, and it was pretty quickly put together. At first, the pandemic froze me up a bit and I wasn’t writing like I usually do and then something happened where I wrote song that Jonathan and I started via Zoom. My idea was to write about how I had nothing to say. That this was so much larger than anything I had experienced before so I didn’t know how to reference it. That opened the gates a little bit. After that point there was a lot to write about. A lot of interesting angles I thought. So, it was collection of my observations of a few things, and I wanted to make a record that was very acoustic and sparse. Just like the livestream, so it felt sort of similar.
For me, this album, both musically and lyrically it’s a lot more somber. There’s definitely some darker themes; it touches on aging, for example. One of the things that stuck out to me, is the lyrics from “Last Day in the Keys.” You mention people going underappreciated before they’re gone. Is it something that you feel is common for musicians in New Orleans? Or was it coming from a place of frustration?
It’s an interesting topic. So, I was partially frustrated, but I was also confused, I think. I got the idea after several people committed suicide or it can be explained as they decided to murder themselves. It’s a big step, to actually go through with that act. I thought about it a lot, because I’ve suffered from depression and different mental issues as part of the addiction struggles I’ve had over the years. That step though, to go in and execute something like that, where you decide to go in and murder yourself, that’s some big shit. I was just thinking about it for weeks and pondering. Then I started to see a lot of celebrations about these people, I started to see special things being done for these people. Everybody started to connect with what they’ve been doing. It’s human nature thing when you realize it’s too late and you think “Shit, I should have paid attention.” So, I’m not blaming anyone, but I wanted to contemplate, what is this? What is this entire event in the community? When they commit suicide, they kill themselves, and then we start celebrating them? I don’t get it. That’s how the song started out and then I wrote a story about a gentleman down in Key West who’s not a famous musician, but it’s a similar thing, and I just tied it altogether. It was a lot of emotions that drove the song. It was sadness, it was anger, and a lot of confusion. Does that make sense?
People definitely celebrate these people after something tragic happens.
Yeah, know what I mean? All of the sudden we know their birthdays and celebrate them all the time; we sing their songs, whatever it is. It just seems odd. I don’t quite get it.
Exactly. You mention Neal Casal in the song; right now, they’re making a tribute album of his songs. If only he knew about how much his songs meant before he passed.
You get what I’m saying. I’m not pointing fingers at anybody. If anything, I’m pointing fingers at us as a community. We gotta do a little better in general. We need to pay attention to people when they’re down. Music is supposed to be a relief and fun thing. Even when it’s serious and sad topic in the song, it’s a pleasant emotional experience.
Lastly, and you touched on this earlier when you mentioned that there are people you’re working with, have you thought about releasing new music any time soon? Or is that on the backburner for now?
I’m always writing. I write all the time. Sometimes that process brings me to a collection of songs, where I go, “These should probably be something.” I start thinking about album title, “If I recorded these where should it be recorded?”, “What time of the year?”, and “When should I release it?” You start thinking conceptually about the whole process, ya know. I have two records in the can right now. One is a rock record with a full band that we did before Orpheus, and we just held on to it because I couldn’t tour, and I still can’t really tour behind it. We want to wait ‘til I can tour with it. That’s probably coming out next. Then I have an old record that’s four years old that I’ve decided not to release. It’s called Deep Impressions and it’s a whole record about depression and it is pretty depressing. It’s a beautiful record, but I was like “I don’t know if I should release this.” It’s a very costly diary, that’s what it was, [laughs]. Outside that, I do have a few projects. I’m talking to the band and maybe we’ll a follow up on Orpheus. It’d be fun to do a volume two on that, where the story continues. Not sure how it would look and when it would come out, but I’d like to record it. Maybe do something with other people, too.