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Saturday, January 21, 2012

Interview with Anders Osborne

Photo credit: John McCusker/The Times-Picayune

When you're at sea sometimes it feels like the sun never sets. This was the apparent case for blues musician Anders Osborne, fresh off a jam band cruise from the previous week, as he continued to soak up the musical sunshine.

"They had this boat going in the Caribbean with a bunch of people playing and another big slew of people dancing," Anders said with a laugh from his home in New Orleans.

To know the very essence of Osborne is to know the cruise must have been a spectacle of styles. The Osborne view of the jam band scene on the boat included funk, roots rock, and electronica.

"It was quite the hodge-podge," Osborne said of the various bands. "But mostly it's the after-life of the Grateful Dead following. Only now the new generation is jumping on board. I got into playing those crowds in the early 90s with folks like Joan Osborne, Rusted Root, and The Radiators." 

If there was one musician of the hundreds aboard the jam band cruise befitting the Artist at Large title--as he was known on the boat--it's Osborne. 

"People get to invite me to be a special guest on their shows," Osborne said. "This time I played with Toots & the Maytals and Bruce Hornsby. I was featured in George Porter's band (original bassist with the Meters). I also got up there with Bill Kreutzmann's (Grateful Dead drummer) band called 7 Walkers."

For artists like Anders Osborne defining oneself in the crowded jam band landscape can be tricky. When you talk stylistic presentation, Osborne likes the combination of improvisational music skills and a wallop of showmanship.

"People respond to my improvisation when I do my full band," Osborne said. "We rock and create on the spot. I grew up around a lot of jazz. But at the same time I came up with Neil Young and the hard driving rock and roll shows of the day."  

A good song knows no boundary. Not to be content with singular musical scene credit, Osborne is known for his original compositions across multiple genres.

"I've always tried to spend a little time on the songs and craft them to the best of my ability," Osborne said. "From time to time you get a little recognition for what you do and that's cool." 

One form of respect he wakes up to everyday is the diversity of artists who recorded his songs: Tim McGraw, Tab Benoit, Kim Carnes. What is it about Osborne's compositions that make them so worthy?

"I have never directly heard any comments from these people who have cut them," Anders said. "The decision to record is a very personal one. It varies. If you're not a songwriter you receive a bunch of songs and you go through them with your producer. The timing of everything just has to work out. You have to be in a certain place, maybe going through a divorce or something. Songs relating to that are more natural to sing. I don't think there's a method to this madness. Sometimes as a writer I get lucky."

Originally from Sweden, Anders Osborne says he was sixteen years old "full of energy and displeased with my position in life" when he left home. Osborne started to hitchhike, and--over the course of about three years--ended up in Northern Africa and Egypt.

"I met someone from New Orleans on the way and eventually made it down here," Osborne said from his home of twenty-seven years on The Ridge (original high point above sea level) in New Orleans. "It felt like home so I decided to stay here."

On this current tour with Keb' Mo' which makes a stop in Grand Rapids on Jan 21 at the Intersection, Osborne plans on performing an acoustic guitar set. 

"I haven't done it in a while but hopefully I'll be up to speed with it," Osborne said with a chuckle. "I think I'm going to try to stick with an acoustic. Other times I'll sit down with my amp and play an electric (guitar). What I'm trying to do this time is to find a specific tone for my performance and stick with that. The idea for me is more of a complete show. It starts with me and goes into Keb' so that there are no fuzzy lines. I want the audience to go from one thing to the next and feel that it was a nice transition for their entertainment."

Keb' Mo' and his band with Anders Osborne, 7pm, Saturday at the Intersection. 

More information at sectionlive.com