Cataldo on working with Laura Veirs and career longevity

Combining incisive lyricism with instant campfire-classic melodies, it was hard to believe Cataldo's Signal Flare's rich arrangements and assured delivery sprang from the mind of an artist just 21 years old at the time of its 2008 release. Released this fall after a long wait, Eric Anderson's follow-up album under that nom de plume, Prison Boxing, proves every bit as irresistible as its predecessor, with his boyish tenor belying a sophisticated lyrical vision on par with the greats whether his homespun melodies are backed by swooning strings ("Prison Boxing") or buoyant brass ("Rock of the Cavalry").

Prior to tonight's Varsity Theater gig, the former Twin Cities resident Anderson took time out to talk with Gimme Noise about getting an early start in music, learning from Laura Viers, and how his "brainy feelings" music fits into the larger pop-culture picture.
City Pages: Compared to most of your indie peers, you got an early start pursuing music in earnest. You released your first album at age 18 and toured the country repeatedly in between semesters during your college years. Are you glad to be feeling like somewhat of a veteran in the business already?

Eric Anderson: I'm a believer in the saying "there's no better time to be sophomoric than when you're a sophomore." Making music is like any other pursuit, hardly anyone is very good in the beginning. So I guess I'm happy that I've ended up at a place where I'm now producing work that I feel is pretty good work while I'm still relatively young and flexible. I'm 25, I'm not married and I don't have kids. One piece of advice a friend of mine shared with a young musician lately I thought was really good. Which is that if you want to pursue music, just start playing out as much as possible and you'll very quickly attract musicians of the same caliber - that can be a good thing or a bad thing of course [laughs]. I've been lucky to gravitate towards a lot of people whose work I respect and to collaborate with them.

CP: Foremost among those collaborations so far has been your relationship with the husband-and-wife-team of [critically acclaimed singer/songwriter] Laura Veirs and Tucker Martine [a Grammy-nominated producer for the likes of My Morning Jacket and The Decemberists]. You spent much of 2010 touring the globe as a sideman in Veirs' band and Martine has mixed the last two Cataldo records. What have you learned working closely alongside those kinds of established veteran talents?

EA: Just from a purely technical nerd level being in a room with Tucker Martine making a record is like taking a master class in recording. With Laura, it was obviously great to get to play music every night with someone that talented and whose songs I loved, but it was also great just hanging out and being there with someone who's actually doing it and making music for a living. It hasn't become just a job. I'm nowhere near being burnt out myself, but it was still comforting to see people maturing into adulthood and things like babies and marriages in a graceful and cool way without turning their back on making music.

CP: While you've been the sole constant in Cataldo over the years you've always made a point of seeking out collaborators and performing with a band whenever possible. During your time in the Twin Cities you worked with the likes of Adam Svec and Caroline Smith and you've found other like-minded Seattle-ites to round out your band now. Why "Cataldo" rather than Eric Anderson, acoustic singer-songwriter guy?

EA: To me, playing solo sounds really good in someone's living room in front of 25 people or at the State Theatre in front of 2,500. Most places in between, it doesn't work. In the typical rock club environment your job is to help sell booze, That's just the economics of the situation. And when you're playing for drunk people it helps to have bass and drums [laughs]. It's hard to get an audience to be quiet and listen performing solo.

I'm not a particularly amazing singer or guitar player. I do work really hard on the lyrics and that's what I think is special about the band, but it's also pretty impossible for someone to pick up on your wordplay or whatever in a crowded bar. So with the band it's about putting on more of a rock show that can hopefully grab some people's attention and get them to check out the records where they can hopefully make a deeper connection to the songs. It's certainly more fun and entertaining for me playing with other people.

CP: The type of music Cataldo makes - lyric-driven traditionally melodic folk-pop - isn't the sort bound to go viral on blogs or be part of the latest subgenre surge. How do you see Cataldo fitting into the current indie music landscape?

EA: I played a couple of shows in Seattle recently with Sean Nelson form Harvey Danger and he was describing the type of songs we both play as "brainy feelings" music. I feel fortunate that Seattle has a strong illustrious history of that kind of music, be it Sean or somebody like John Roderick from The Long Winters, or Death Cab for Cutie before that.

You're correct that there's nothing particularly "of the moment" about Cataldo's sound. It's just pop/rock/folk music with what I hope are intelligent lyrics. Because it isn't trendy there hasn't been a big Pitchfork write-up or some licensing guy getting excited about my music.

But what has happened from about 2007 on has been a steady accumulation of fans. It's not an enormous number but it happens regularly enough to be encouraging and the people who are connecting with it really care about it. It's not a passing interest, which makes for a relationship between the fan and the artist that maybe doesn't evaporate as quickly as others. I feel comfortable that if my base of fans keeps growing at this rate it would not be impossible for me to make a decent career out of It within ten years. And the thought of doing it how I've been doing it for another ten years doesn't scare me, it excites me.

Cataldo opens for Blind Pilot at Varsity Theater Monday, March 5. 18+, 7 p.m. Click here.

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