Green Man Review-April 2005
By Gary Whitehouse
Pete Anderson could be a poster boy for the new realities of the music business in the developing era of the Internet, independent labels and fringe music. Not “way out there” kind of fringe, but rather “popular with a small but devoted core of fans” kind of fringe.
From the very beginning of his working life, Anderson learned to integrate the skills required to make and sell this kind of music: the actual playing and the “production” work in the studio. It has served him, and a sizeable roster of diverse musical acts he’s worked with, quite well.
Anderson first came to prominence as the producer and guitarist for Dwight Yoakam. Beginning in the early 1980s, the two played a key role in rejuvenating Southern California-style country music — the kind first championed by Buck Owens, Merle Haggard and their ilk out of Bakersfield in the 1960s. But Anderson also produced albums for a number of other artists, including k.d. lang, Michelle Shocked, The Backsliders and even the Meat Puppets’ 1991 major label debut, Forbidden Places. More on that later.
In 1993, Anderson started his own label, Little Dog, on which he released two critically acclaimed solo albums, 1994’s Working Class and 1997’s Dogs in Heaven. And late 2004 marked a new step, the release of a new album by nouveau-honky-tonker Moot Davis. Ever since then, Anderson, Davis and a small rhythm section have been on the road for a couple of weeks at a time, touring and promoting Moot Davis. Green Man Review caught up with Anderson by cell phone somewhere between Salt Lake City and Denver.
Anderson also has a new album ready to release on Little Dog, the aptly titled Daredevil, 10 tracks of instrumental guitar-oriented rock (which will be reviewed by GMR as soon as a demo copy reaches our mailroom). He said that he indeed set out to create an instrumental album.
“I’m not a big fan of my own voice as a singer,” he said. “I had some instrumentals on my earlier records, so I decided I wanted to do this record.
“I’ve been doing it in the nooks and crannies of everybody else’s projects for a while, and finally about a year and a half ago I decided to dig in and finish it,” he explains. “It was a little bit of a task, because I wanted to have full compositions, I didn’t want to just have a guitar gymnastics record. So I came up with the motifs and melodies and expanded on them. It’s not easy to write 10 instrumental compositions that really have some sort of meaning, that have movement, so I set out to write songs with the guitar as a voice. So the guitar comes and goes as the voice of the melody, and there’s maybe a brief eight- or 16-bar solo, and in some cases there’s an extended solo area in the outro of the song.”
It’s not a record that he can tour behind, though. “I pretty much played all of the instruments,” he said. He had some help on violin, English horn and some keyboards and accordion, “but I played some of the piano, and bass, drums, percussion, harmonica . . . I even made some guitar loops and worked with those.”
So for now, he’s backing Davis, maybe plugging Daredevil from the stage and “tossing it into the pile” on the merchandise table.
When he is off the road for a few days at a time, one of his responsibilities is to Little Dog, which has been around for nearly a dozen years now, since he founded it “with an 800 number and a couple of partners,” as he recalled. “There was no Internet at the time,” he noted. “It was just something that I needed to do for myself personally. It was how I wanted to stay in the music business, as opposed to waiting around for somebody to call me to produce a record; I wanted to take the bull by the horns, so to speak.”
As he pointed out, “there have always been little record companies,” but right now seems a propitious time to own one, and one with a track record at that. Because now that anybody with a four-track deck, some instruments and microphones and a computer with the right software can record a CD, but it helps to have somebody with experience handling the business end of things.
“Right now, I think the benefit of (the new technology) is that we’re breaking down the walls of the major record companies, where people who don’t know good music from bad music are controlling what the public hears,” Anderson said. “There are a lot of people now who can have their music heard because the majors are losing some of their control.
“The downside is that everybody who thinks they can do this are going to do it,” he continued. “They’re going to clog up the stream.” I fact, it’s happing now, he noted. “If you walk into a major record store . . . there’s just too many CDs in there. There are not that many people who should be making records. How are you going to find the one or two really great musicians in all those CDs?” Compounding the problem is the economics of marketing. The majors are spending less for marketing except for a few mega-acts, and the independents don’t have the budget for big marketing efforts. “Getting on certain TV shows and video stations is still more or less controlled by the major outlets companies,” he said. “They ghettoize you.”
Anderson learned how to record and produce records early on, as a way of cutting demos of his early bands. “It stemmed from just wanting to be creative,” he said. “There’s nobody else to do it, so it’s up to you to do it. And I think it’s pretty much the same process now, and it’s even easier because of some of the tools that are available.”
It was when he was asked what’s coming up for Pete Anderson and Little Dog that Anderson dropped a bit of very interesting news. “I’ve signed Curt Kirkwood, and we started recording in March,” he said. Post-production work will start this spring, and plans call for release in September.
Kirkwood was the frontman for the Meat Puppets, a Tempe, Arizona-based trio that married punk, country, metal and acid rock, and became one of the most influential underground bands of the 1980s. After a brief brush with stardom in the wake of their appearance on Nirvana’s Unplugged session where Kurt Cobain sang three Meat Puppets songs, the Pups imploded in the late ’90s when bassist Cris Kirkwood got hooked on heroin. Curt Kirkwood has floundered about with several unsuccessful projects since then.
“The record that we’ve made is a singer-songwriter record, sort of like one of Neil Young’s quieter records,” Anderson revealed. “There’s percussion, and we filled in (with other instruments) where it was needed, but Curt plays acoustic guitar on every song; I think it would appeal to fans of Neil Young’s singer-songwriter material,” he said. “Curt is a genius lyricist, and he writes really unique melodies. It’s a great record — there are 10 great songs on this record, and I’m really excited about it!”
Little Dog has also signed Chris Jones, a bluegrass guitarist and DJ on Cirrus Satellite Radio’s bluegrass station. Jones also has made a singer-songwriter album, hoping to move beyond the confines of the bluegrass world.
In the meantime, Anderson concluded, “We’re just on the road with Moot (Davis) a lot. All summer we’ll be at festivals trying to get in front of a larger audience. We’re having a good time and people are coming back to the shows.”