Posted On 27 Jul 2018
Get to know the composer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, Kim Anderson! This Spring, she released her debut album Yarrow. Deriving its namesake from that of a small, delicate flower native to the Northeastern United States, often found growing in wide open fields and abandoned places, the songs of the album evoke images of both wild, expansive spaces in fragile intimate details. Kim has found inspiration in the beauty of overgrown, forgotten urban spaces. Her lyrics and orchestration aim to conjure up richly detailed landscapes and a feeling of exploration, be it a walk through the wilderness or the experience of uncharted territory in one’s own mind and in the complexity of human relationships. She wrote and arranged all songs on the album herself. The album was released on Biophilia Records, a socially and environmentally conscious record label that asks each artist assigned to the label to donate time to volunteer work – it’s written in their contract!
Overall, Anderson’s music walks the line between many genres, incorporating the lyrical intimacy of folk songs with the delicate, detailed instrumental arrangements of chamber music.Raised by jazz musician parents in New York City, she grew up absorbing a diverse blend of musical genres, continuing on to study composition more formally at New England Conservatory in Boston, MA, and later to immerse herself in the world of West African music when she began studying the rhythmic percussion traditions of Ivory Coast and Guinea. She works as a composer/arranger and music teacher, and is a musician for Big Apple Playback Theater and percussionist with the Kotchegna Drum and Dance Company, led by Ivory Coast-based master drummer and dancer Vado Diomande.
Check out her video for “Emily” here:
Learn more about Kim Anderson in the All Access interview:
Thanks for your time! So where does this interview find you? What’s on tap for the rest of your day?
Currently drinking a cup of coffee, listening to some Gregorian chants, and answering a few emails here in my new home in the Hudson Valley in High Falls, NY. Also taking in some of the first World Cup games of the summer!
What is one big goal you have for 2018?
I have a video project in the works for my song ‘By The River’ that I hope to complete this summer. I’m very excited about that. I also have some concrete songwriting goals; I’m gathering together a collection of new songs to fill out a new album that I plan to begin work on in the near future.
Growing up, did you ever think that this would be the kind of life that you would have? Has music always been a big part of your life? Can you recall your first ever musical experience?
My first experience with music was watching my parents play. My mother is fond of reminding me that she was playing guitar with a club date band up until 8 months of pregnancy, so she claims that my first musical experiences were in the womb! But my mother’s opinion aside, I remember watching them play as a toddler, at gigs or at rehearsals in our apartment. I also have fond early memories of taking naps under the console at a recording studio in Hell’s Kitchen, where we lived; my dad had a side job as a recording engineer at the time. So music was everywhere, I think.
How do you think you and your music has been influenced by your hometown?
In a way, it’s everything. It’s difficult, maybe impossible to view a person’s identity without considering the surroundings in which they spent their formative years. All of the intensity, the ugliness, the glamour, the inequality, the myriad rich cultural identities of New York City informed me as a person, and therefore as an artist. And the change, the constant relentless thrum of construction, of histories erased and new ones built, has inspired lyrics in my songs. Not to mention the obvious positive influence—that is, the wonderful opportunities I had to absorb music from all over the world, on a nightly basis sometimes. That was really essential.
What did it feel like recently releasing your debut album, “Yarrow”? Can you remember the first time you heard the whole collection the entire way through? What did that feel like?
Initially my ears were kind of numb to it, after listening to so many mixes and tweaks and rough takes, I started to wonder, ‘wait, is this good? Is it shit? Is it even music?’ And then I waited a day or two, and I listened to it in full through a good pair of speakers again and I knew, wow, we’d done something really special. And the thrill was indescribable. I am definitely proud of what we made, and I’m delighted that it’s out there in the universe now.
Did anything surprise you about the overall process of putting “Yarrow” together? Were there any unexpected challenges?
I came to singing later in life; I had always been serious about composing and songwriting, but had hardly any experience of recording my voice. Singing into a recording mic, you learn the do’s and don’ts, the nuances—it’s a real skill. It schooled me in terms of how to use my voice, that’s for sure.
While it’s difficult, can you pick out a couple of your favorite songs on this collection and what was the inspiration for them and did they get to be on this album?
‘By The River’ is very important to me; it’s a song about the bittersweet experience of growing up in New York with my childhood best friend, and reminiscing about moments of wildness and spontaneity we had together in some very unlikely places. Our active imaginations could make even a sometimes hostile urban landscape a dreamworld of sorts.
‘The Arriving’ is another favorite, from a purely compositional standpoint. I had a vision, and it took lots of counterpart lines, layered vocal harmony and a great lead guitarist to bring it all together. I felt euphoric when the song in my head finally became the song I was hearing through the speakers.
I would love to know more about being part of Biophilia Records. Why do you think this is the right place for you and your music today? What volunteer work have you agreed to do as part of the label’s contract?
Fabian Almazan, the founder of Biophilia Records, is first and foremost a world-class musician. So one aspect of it is being included in a family of musicians that I respect and admire, and whose music I really enjoy listening to. Fabian also has a vision as an environmentalist, and uses his record label to do good work in the area of environmental activism. The musicians volunteer for a certain number of hours of work in the field, be it river cleanups, working with compost initiatives, tree planting, or other projects. I am myself an avid community gardener at the Eldert Street Garden in Bushwick, Brooklyn, composter, and environmentalist, so it’s a natural fit for me.
Between working as a composer/arranger, a music teacher, a musician for Big Apple Playback Theater and percussionist with the Kotchegna Drum and Dance Company, where did you find the time to record your own solo album?
I was also working as a gardener at the time, so add that to the mix! I don’t know, this is the age of multitasking, right? Aren’t we all writing novels while living with seven roommates and holding down three part-time jobs? I think now, in an age of distractions and the reality of some financial difficulty for creative types in my generation, if you’re going to do something, you’ve got to really want it. And maybe, if you’re like me, it takes a year of planning and crowdfunding your record on Kickstarter. But you get it done. Because if you have something you really need to express to the world, you’ll find a way.
What do you think makes for an ideal show for you? What has been a favorite performance of yours so far?
It’s all about the room sound. We are not a loud band. There’s lots of quiet, intimate moments, close vocal harmony, delicate sounds. I loved my album release show: small, great-sounding room, good balance, attention to detail with the soundcheck. I actually really like playing places like bookstores and house shows; I think we’re also well-suited to a DIY, homemade kind of setting. Plus it’s fun to play in various kinds of spaces.
We are living through a very trying and politically charged time right now so I am curious how you think being a musician gives you the most joy in life today? How do you think that music is going to reflect these challenging times?
Music oscillates between feeling like work, and feeling like a self-made world into which I can escape from the more prevalent painful realities of the times. It seems like a great time for someone to write some real rallying Vietnam-era kind of protest songs, and for us all to sing together in the streets about the changes this country needs to make. But this is a different era. So-called ‘subversive’ music with an important social message is being put out today, just delivered differently—A Tribe Called Quest and Childish Gambino, to name a couple great artists, have put some great protest songs out recently that give voice to real struggles. As for me, I just hope that my music continues to reflect human experience in an honest way.
Who are some of your favorite artists or rather, what musicians have continued to inspire you and your music? What musicians would you absolutely still love to work with in the future?
There’s an amazing list of musical superstars from Africa, especially from Mali that I never tire of having in my rotation, such as Amadou and Mariam, Tinariwen and Toumani Diabaté. Jazz and so-called experimental music always has a place in my heart, as does Radiohead, whose ambient angst never ceases to comfort me. I’m also eagerly consuming music I discovered more recently—Moses Sumney, Unknown Mortal Orchestra and Julia Holter on the playlist right now. Who would I like to work with? All of the above. Everyone. Let’s make it happen. (That would be one strange record.)
At the end of the day, what do you hope your fans take away from your music? What would you say is the overall message of your songs?
Whether I’m singing about an actual moment in my life, or weaving a fictional character and writing a song from their perspective, I’m always trying to articulate something about the way I experience the world. There’s pain and joy and vulnerability in it, and I hope, as any songwriter does, that my music is cathartic to listeners and makes them feel connected to me as a person.
Would you like to share anything else about yourself or your music with our readers?
Stay tuned (@kimandersonmusic on Instagram and Facebook), we’ve got a live session of a couple of great songs coming soon!
(All photography provided by Julia Ryan Publicity)