You can learn a lot about Edward David Anderson by looking at the tattoos on his hands. His wedding ring is a band stamped in black around his finger. And on his right wrist is 7-3-44, the birthday of his mother. His new debut album “Lies and Wishes” is filled with confessional songs that open the floodgates from a difficult time in his life, unleashing the feelings he kept locked away during the deaths of his mother and mother-in-law as well as the break up of his beloved band, Backyard Tire Fire. Many of the songs begin in grief and work their way to hope, but others are love letters to his wife Kim written on his way home from weeks on the road, after loading wood in the stove, or apologizing for taking his frustrations out on her.
“These are the most personal tunes I’ve ever written,” says Anderson. “I’ve written introspective stuff before, but not like this. This one is it, this one is me.”
Extending his name from Ed Anderson to his birth name Edward David Anderson was another way he established his identity and anchored himself to his family. “After my mom died I started thinking more about where I came from and decided to use the name my parents gave me the day I was born.”
How did you start in music?
I was always exposed to good music at my house with The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Gordon Lightfoot, and Crosby, Stills. Nash and Young, but I played sports, not music. I hurt my knee playing football in high school and had an operation to repair it. While I was recovering in bed, my dad showed me a few chords on his guitar. He was a plumber, not a professional musician, but he taught me the basic chords that I still use today.
I have played music for 20 years, ten years with my band Backyard Tire Fire. We built up a good fan base, toured the country, and opened for bands like ZZ Top, Los Lobos, Buddy Guy, and Gov’t Mule.
Were you ready for Backyard Tire Fire to break up?
Not really because the band was still growing. We were still playing big gigs and touring across the country. When it happened it was like a divorce with multiple people that I was close to, including my brother. Looking back, the timing of the hiatus was good because it happened before the death of Kim’s mother and my mother when they died in the same year. We were able to spend a lot of time with them and I could not have done that if I had been on the road. It needed to happen that way.
Did you want to become a solo musician?
I never thought of going solo. I always liked fronting and being a part of bands and playing rock and roll. I went solo out of necessity when I found myself without a band and I needed to make a living. Now I really dig playing on my own. Everything is much simpler on and off the stage. My wife travels with me and we get to live and play in Lower Alabama during the winter.
You can sing, play guitar, drums and harmonica almost all at the same time. How do you play multiple instruments at once?
I am fairly musical so I can have multiple things going on at once. I naturally tap my feet to the rhythm on the song, so I put a bass drum in front of my right foot and a tambourine on a piece of plywood under my left foot so I can get a little bit of the crack and shimmer. I don’t really have to think about my feet too much while I’m playing.
I am also somewhat multi-instrumental. I can play mandolin, ukulele, bass, drums, and keys. I’m not amazing on any of these instruments, but I get by. On the new record I played guitars, bass, banjo, keys, and did some percussion.
Tell about the album Lies and Wishes.
The album is a collection of experiences that I had to go through to get here. There was a long time that I couldn’t talk about my mom because I was putting up a front for everyone else and had to go to a grief counselor. The idea for the title song “Lies and Wishes” was that you can lock things deep away, but ultimately letting someone know how you feel is the better path. The lyrics shift from I can lock things away to I won’t lock things away because what I was going through was so metaphorical. Steve Berlin said the song was a paradigm for the entire record, but I didn’t know that when I wrote it. It’s hard for me to be objective when I come up with a new idea.
The song “Lies and Wishes” was recorded in my basement as a demo and we ended up using that cut on the album because I never could have gotten that intense, emotional recording again in a studio. That was Steve’s idea and the only things on that track from the studio sessions are the drums and the second half of the vocal, everything else is from my basement demo. You can hear me breathing because I was trying to keep it together that morning to get through the song. It is the last song that I wrote that my mom heard. I took her that demo the week I recorded it and she loved it. She’s been gone for over a year but she got to hear the first track on this record.
“Nothing Lasts Forever” was written to my father and was taken from conversations I had with him about getting out and living again. He was lost when my mother died and had no purpose, no direction. It was hard to see that happen to the man who I’d never really seen cry. Dad knew the song was his story before we talked about it. He thinks it’s the best tune I’ve written.
Nothing lasts forever and you find you’re on your own. Living on an island in the middle of the ocean. You’re surrounded yet you feel you’re all alone… I know you’re lonely but just know you’re not alone.
I wrote “Pins and Needles” after a visit with my mother-in-law who was suffering from dementia. I brought my guitar and we sat outside and I played Beatles songs for her. She seemed to connect to the melodies and I was inspired to write something from her perspective.
Yesterday felt like a dream to me. One that I already had. Days seem to slip away easily. They’re here and then they are gone just like that. Sing to me softly and sweetly. Sing to me something I know. A melody that brings back a memory. A glimpse of that used to be show.
I wrote “Fires” after I came home late one night after a gig and loaded firewood in the stove. I realized the day will come when I won’t get do this again because I will be gone or my wife will be gone. I wrote the line “I want to build fires for you forever” on a Post-it note on the counter and I went to bed. That line sparked, if you’ll pardon the pun, the idea for the rest of the tune. My wife still carries that Post-it note in her wallet every day.
I want to build fires for you forever. I want you to feel that you truly do belong. I want us to live each day like it’s the last we have together. I want what I want.
What is your relationship with your Grammy-winning producer Steve Berlin?
When my dad started me on guitar it was around the time when the movie La Bamba came out and those were songs that he played when he was in a band in college. He taught me how to play “La Bamba” and “Oh Donna.” Who would have thought that years later I’d be playing shows with Lobos, including an evening at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, IA where Richie Valens played his last show? Or that Steve Berlin, who won a Grammy for producing the soundtrack to La Bamba, is now the producer of Lies and Wishes and has become a musical father figure to me in this business. When someone like that believes in you and becomes your champion it gives you confidence. If we are in the same town and I am gigging late, Steve will show up and sit in with me.
Does going through difficulties help you encourage others?
I write songs because I need to. I enjoy it and it’s therapeutic. In addition, you hope you put something meaningful into the world that might have a positive impact on someone’s life.
People have used my songs at their weddings, engraved the lyrics in their wedding bands, and even tattooed my words on their bodies. That sort of feedback reaffirms that the music is resonating with people and that it’s a part of their lives.
How did songwriting become the way you handle the ups and downs of life?
In my early 20’s I started learning Neil Young songs. He’s always been my hero and model for how to do all of this. I learned a couple dozen of his tunes and my mom asked if I had thought of writing my own songs. I wasn’t very good at first, but I kept writing and the more living I did, the better I got at it. It took everything that I have done up to this point at age 42 to be able to write the songs that are on this album. I could not have written these songs when I was 20 because I have to live through it to write about it. I don’t know what I would do with my emotions if I couldn’t put them into songs.
Why did you move to the Alabama coast for the winter?
I found Gulf Shores years ago while passing through on tour and then went back with my wife a couple of winters ago shortly after my mom died. We returned this year for four months to get away from shoveling snow and scraping windshields in Illinois. It went even better than we expected. I played a lot of shows and met lots of good people. The hope is to come back every winter and, who knows, maybe eventually be down here full-time? It was the warm embrace that we were hoping for and there is certainly a lot for us to come back to next Fall. We needed this.
With lyrics, a guitar, and a little sun and sand, Edward David Anderson has worked through grief and loss and found himself and his voice. He’s created an artistic album that he is proud of that is dedicated to the memory of his mother, and is at peace with the experiences that led him here.