Role Models: Anders Osborne

Videos by American Songwriter

There’s a local legend in New Orleans that the longer Anders Osborne’s beard, the more heartbroken – and less sober – the Swedish-born songwriter is. Only now, with his beard a wooly Chewbacca mat, and a new album, American Patchwork, on shelves, Osborne appears to be just the opposite.

On 2007’s Coming Down, Osborne mined the same stripped, mystic-soul of Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks. On personal songs like “Back on Dumaine,” “My Old Heart” and “When I’m Back On My Feet,” he deals with personal emotions that feel representative of all New Orleans. Looking back, that album, recorded in Nashville, seems to serve as a closing bookend to the five years Osborne spent commuting from New Orleans to Nashville to write country songs. (He scored a #1 hit with Tim McGraw with “Watch The Wind Blow By” in 2004.)

American Patchwork is a whole different beast. Heavy and gritty, it’s defined by anger, not pain. Of course, with all things New Orleans, we’re still talking about Hurricane Katrina. The city is being rebuilt, but that doesn’t mean everything is perfect. An incredibly honest lyricist, most often chronicling his own faults and weaknesses – addiction, obsession, infidelity – these days there’s a lot on Anders Osborne’s mind.

On writing country songs in Nashville:

It was gratifying. I learned a lot of stuff, how to craft songs, I learned the variety that exists, but I also learned how packaged and how narrow the songwriting community can be too. It has to be a specific storytelling idea, otherwise, they don’t consider it a song, and that’s not really the school I come from.

On the future of the New Orleans music business:

There has to be a purpose for New Orleans music on the national scene. We have to, as musicians and as an industry, learn what we have to contribute to someone in Michigan, at 5 p.m., in the car, on their way home from work. Why should they listen to us? Can we be part of their lives like country songs or pop songs? For us [New Orleanians], it’s natural because it’s our culture – we walk, talk, eat, breathe – it’s all one thing. You figure out that [one thing], personally, and then you create your business around it.

On Dr. John:

Dr. John is an example: it’s just a cultural thing. It’s a business model. It’s worked since the ‘60s. He has the persona, he has the idea. We know him, so he’s much more than that. He’s a mentor and a teacher; he’s so beautiful and prolific. But it’s an idea – the voodoo and the whole thing. To everybody around the world, that is what he represents.

On producing:

I do a lot of local people. I wouldn’t say it’s my preference, but I really like it. It’s just like being in a family. We know each other, they call me – “Can you help out?” We go in, we hang out. It’s a very comfortable space to be in. I try to figure out what I think that artist is looking to do. I try to leave myself out. I try not to play on the record. Maybe co-write, sometimes they want to pick out of my catalog. It keeps the flavor of me out of it. It’s about finding out what they’re about.

On writing versus playing live:

I enjoy both worlds. If I was just in a box, just in a room, writing, I think I would go crazy. If I only had the road, I’d probably go crazy. So, I’m fortunate that way, I mean, the explosive experience of live shows and making your own record – it’s extremely fulfilling. To write for other people, to produce for other people, it’s not as explosive, but it’s extremely fulfilling in other ways. It’s just different experiences.

On American Patchwork:

On this record, I think I’m connecting with my teens. The influences that I had when I was younger. That’s what I feel like playing right now. Just kickass rock and roll. Hard and loud.

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