Marisa Anderson is a composer, guitarist and multi-instrumentalist living in Portland Oregon.
She possesses a unique and distinctive musical voice. She plays an intricate flatpick guitar, mandolin and banjo. Anderson’s second solo record, The Golden Hour (Mississippi Records 2011), features twelve improvisations inspired by Delta blues, West African guitar, vintage country and western, gospel, noise, rhythms, cycles, mortality, and praise.
Her last record Mercury (Mississippi Records) mines new veins of hidden gems as Anderson shifts her focus from the Delta swamps to the high lonesome sounds of the Appalachian region before heading west to follow the trail from Nashville to Bakersfield and beyond. Songs like 'Mojave' and 'Embudo' are steeped in the sounds of the American West, while 'Galax' and 'Deep Gap' are tributes to the rural mountain music of the South. "Mercury" picks up where "The Golden Hour" leaves off, featuring sixteen compositions for solo guitar and lap steel, recorded live in single takes, with no overdubs,looping or electronic layering.
Anderson’s current and past projects include the Evolutionary Jass Band, the Dolly Ranchers, and the One Railroad Circus. Anderson has toured throughout Europe and the United States and opened for artists including Sharon Van Etten, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, The Devil Makes 3 and Thao & Mirah.. She accompanies Beth Ditto’s solo acoustic performances and provides guitar work for many recordings including Sharon Van Etten’s ‘Are We There?’Anderson has collaborated with musicians including Tara Jane O’Neil, Sarah Dougher, Lori Goldston, Rachel Blumberg, and many others.
Anderson’s music has been featured on soundtracks including ‘Smokin’ Fish’, ‘For the Love of Dolly’, ‘Girls Rock’, and ‘Gift To Winter’. Recent festival appearances include Le Guess Who, Creative Music Guild Improvisation Summit, Portland Experimental Film Festival, Sound & Music Festival, NOFest, Electrogals, Festival of Endless Gratitude, Pickathon, and PICA’s TBA Festival. Her writings on music and activism have appeared in Bitch Magazine, Leaf Litter, and in Rock ‘n’ Roll Camp for Girls, the book. In 2012 Anderson was one of six artists selected for Signal Fire’s Afloat Residency. Anderson’s debut solo recording ‘Holiday Motel’ was a 2006 Outmusic nominee for Best Female Debut Recording.
In August 2013, KBOO Community Radio released a split 7″ featuring Anderson and Elizabeth Cotten. She was KBOO’s 2013 Artist in Residence and in 2012 Anderson was one of six artists selected for Signal Fire’s Afloat Residency.
Anderson spent 2003-2011 working at the Rock'n'Roll Camp for Girls. Before arriving in Portland in 1999, Marisa walked across the US, toured with Circo De Manos through southern Mexico, was a founding member of the Chaos Collective and helped create the One Railroad Circus in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
What do you remember about your first guitar?
My first guitar was a Yamaha nylon string guitar. My parents gave it to me when I was 11 or 12. Before that I played on a small kind of toy guitar. I remember the Yamaha was a weird bright orange color. I had it for years until I lent it to a friend and someone stole it out of her room.
How's your musical routine practice?
My routine is always the same. I start with Segovia’s scales for all major and minor keys, which warms up my brain and is a gentle stretch on my hands. Then I play two (always the same ones) 1920’s ragtime pieces, to really warm up my hands. After that it varies a little but I usually work on improvising based on a couple of standard themes as a way to stretch my thoughts and see how pliable my inspiration is on that day.
From there I move on into whatever I might be working on.
What's the relevance of technique in music, in your opinion?
I believe very strongly in the importance of technique. If you have proper technique, you can choose to use it or not as suits the work you’re doing.
Just like in athletics, good technique will ensure that you are not injuring yourself. I have certain compositions that are the result of experiments with technique, or with analysis of the motions of my hands and creating a piece of music out of that information.
What’s the difference between a good instrument and a bad one?
A good instrument is alive and a bad one is dead.
What are the challenges and benefits of today's digital music scene?
The benefit is that anybody can learn to record and distribute their music. The challenge is that everybody can record and distribute their music!
Also, I think an instrumental laziness sets in when you know you have unlimited tracks to work with.
Depict the sound you're still looking for.
If I knew the sound I'm chasing well enough to talk about it, I wouldn’t be looking for it!
How do you feel listening to your own music?
It depends. When I first make something, I love it. I listen to it over and over. Then, I hate it. I can’t stand to hear it. After that wears off I only listen for reference or technical reasons, and I’m uncomfortable when someone puts it on.
What would you enjoy most in an art work?
I enjoy artwork that invites contemplation.
If you could, what would you say to yourself 30 years ago, about your musical career?
I would say relax! If you’re not having a good time, you’re not doing it right.
What is some valuable advice that someone has given to you in the past?
I had a teacher with whom I studied for a few years in my early twenties until she kicked me out. She said, “You’re ready. Go find people to play with”.
What instruments and tools do you use?
On the road I use a Stratocaster , a Dickerson lap steel and sometimes a Gibson ES 125 hollowbody. In the studio I use a Fender Musicmaster and a Gretsch Anniversary hollowbody with Gibson pickups. I recently started playing a Show Bud pedal steel . One neck, E9 tuning…
I like Fender amps. Onstage I use a silverface Deluxe Reverb and in the studio I use a silverface Princeton Reverb.
I favor Kyser capos, and brass slides, although I make my own glass slides. D’Addario strings, light guage. Boss tuning pedal, old Ross distortion pedal that was left in my friend’s basement and an Ernie Ball volume pedal.
What do you like the most about being a musician?
I like to play the guitar more than anything! And in terms of having a job, I like the freedom of deciding what I want to work on. I like travel, and I like holing up in the studio. I like meeting people in all the cities and towns and finding out what’s going on in all the different places.
What projects are you working on now and what does the future hold?
I’m working on my next record, I think I’m almost halfway done…? I’m working on scoring a film called “The Gentleman Bank Robber” about the escapades of Rita Beau Brown and I’m working on the music tracks to accompany an audio book called “The Mutation of Fortune”. I’m also working on a trip to Niger to play with musicians there in November.
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