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A Conversation With Ryan Anderson of Bendigo Fletcher

Interview and Photos by Tommy Moore

Ryan Anderson of Bendigo Fletcher photographed by Tommy Moore at The Riviera in Chicago, IL.

Ryan Anderson is one of the sweetest people I've ever met. In the basement of Chicago's Thalia Hall, I stepped into Bendigo Fletcher's green room and was immediately welcomed with a warmth that very few people radiate.

Bendigo Fletcher's music feels like a long drive through the woods. It exudes the feeling of light flickering through trees, your hair blowing in air rich with nature, and soft smiles and giggles shared with your co-pilot.

Last winter, Ryan and I sat down to talk about our shared love of long drives and the feeling of the morning sun, Kentucky's surprisingly deep music scene, and his writing process. Bendigo Fletcher is wrapping up their summer run with The Backseat Lovers and gearing up for a busy summer's end and fall with our pals The Brook and The Bluff among others. You can find those dates and tickets here.

Ryan Anderson and Andrew Shupert Bendigo Fletcher photographed by Tommy Moore at Thalia Hall in Chicago, IL.

Tommy Moore: Are you getting all of you own stuff set up for spring, or what's your deal there?

Ryan Anderson: I'm good friends with this couple, Mikey and Erin, and me and my partner Annie get our CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) from them. Basically, they've created a job for me a couple days a week for a little income. Honestly when we got back from our two months tour I wanted to be out there the day we got back. It's amazing. It's in a part of Kentucky that's like 40 minutes Northeast of Louisville. So it’s pretty rural. Have you ever heard of Wendell Berry? If you look up Kentucky writers he’s probably up there. Anyway, it's his hometown. It's a very bucolic, beautiful area. I love going out there.

TM: Is the attractive part of it being in that environment, or is it the mindlessness of doing physical work that feels good?

RA: It's both, definitely both. Being out there in the morning and seeing the winter sky and the sun starting to go down at 4:30. That lends itself to the other side of the question, the mindlessness. It's just a good place to be where my brain can clear itself out. Maybe I'm listening to an audio book or just singing to myself all day.

TM: There's such a therapeutic side to those things. I just did a long drive somewhere last week, and I don't do crazy long drives that much anymore. I forgot how much that is the equivalent of therapy for me, where it's six hours of just talking to yourself, or your inner dialogue, trying to figure out everything or explore different things. That excuse to be away from your phone long enough to actually have new ideas that aren't just recycled.

RA: Yeah, dude. It's riding the edge that the danger of driving in itself demands you to be present, but then in that zone that you're processing just has to happen. I think that's where I can relate. I love solo drives. My parents live up in Pittsburgh. I'll take a drive up there a couple times a year, and I've had some of the most fun, musical discoveries, just because I'm in that zone of openness.

Bendigo Fletcher photographed by Tommy Moore at Schubas in Chicago, IL.

TM: I bet since you spend so much time on the road, you've got so much pent up energy where getting back and able to get out into a field or do anything with your hands must feel like a weight off your shoulders.

RA: Absolutely. It’s rewarding. It’s that type of work that you see your result. It’s very tangible. Sort of a here are the basics of survival type of thing.

TM: Just like you said, I think seeing that result is important. I come from a few woodworkers of sorts, and I've done a decent amount over the past few years, and that's something I think is very similar. It's the same mindless thing, where it just feels so good to do something your hands and then see the result after. It allows you to get lost in the process.

RA: My best musical ideas come from that mode of being. I've had jobs the past couple years, like grocery store jobs, that are the same way. You have a very obvious and thoughtless, to some degree, goal in front of you that your body is fully engaged in. It's like running or walking, too. The mind is freed up to imagine and be in that little bit of a transcendental type of place.

TM: Is that a part of your writing process? Is it usually related to stuff like that or is it a more set thing?

RA: I've been trying to pay attention more, because it seems different throughout my life. I'm not a pattern or routine oriented person, really. So it's changing all the time. But songs stem from those types of situations where I'm either out in nature or working with my hands. That self-judgment that can be there while trying to work on something dissipates. Then maybe a line will pop up, or even if I'm listening to a podcast or something that inspires me because I'm in that open mode. Songwriting, I'm starting to see, is most rewarding and most frequently a result of me feeling open and connected. Something I'll hear 1000 times with a clouded head won't get through, but then a podcast about the water crisis, even intense things like that, break through when you're, like, Oh, I'm feeling connected. I'm feeling non-judgmental of myself. I don't have to be right about these ideas. I can explore them and try to be a kid again with the process of learning. That's the way it works, too, where I'm not sure what a word means or I'm not sure about something happening in the world. I'll go check it out and try to learn about it.

"Songwriting, I'm starting to see, is most rewarding and most frequently a result of me feeling open and connected."

Bendigo Fletcher and Madison Cunningham photographed by Tommy Moore at Thalia Hall in Chicago, IL.

TM: I feel like it ends up being polar opposite things. It's either that thing where you sit down, and for me, it takes 20 minutes to even get close to a spot where I might be able to put pen to paper. It's just 20 minutes sitting in a chair, drinking a coffee, trying to make the transition from this clouded space to something where I don’t have this eye looking down at everything I'm sketching or writing. Or it's that moment you're talking about, where all of a sudden you're walking, or driving, or working on something else, and it's that click of the light bulb moment. It may not even be the best idea, but it's a wave of the ability to do something or put pen to paper.

RA: Yeah, you made me think of this idea of expectations. I was listening to this book called Cynicism and Magic, and it's a lot of Buddhist ideas distilled for the American perspective from back in the 80s. And this guy, Chogyam Trungpa, is talking about how the expectations of sitting down to write and feeling like you should be getting somewhere, or even expecting a certain thing out of a relationship, those are possibly forms of aggression and the opposite of patience, but it's so true. When I can separate myself from those expectations, that's when it seems to be rewarded. Even just the blissfulness of the writing process and enjoying that.

Early mornings are my favorite part of the day and favorite time to see the sky, but then last night, I was like, I'm gonna stay up to throw off my rhythm. Sometimes stretching the mind into those places out of its routine, for me, can break some walls down.

TM: There's something nice about breaking routines. The times where there was no routine, I look back on and I feel like I got the most out of that month or timespan. Whereas the times where I'm in a grind and it's the same thing every day, it feels like it went by in two seconds.

RA: It’s like any great adventure. I'm also remembering where we talked about driving through the night with friends and when the sun's coming up and seeing it on the horizon. I actually went hunting for the first time, well, it was my second time but first successful hunting experience, a couple of weeks ago. That is just sleepless fun and everything I've talked about with the morning sky and seeing the woods wake up in the wintertime. But it's like you’re very tired the whole time, and I think it has this sort of psychedelic effect on the experience.

TM: Yeah, you're definitely right about that. And then it feels like you earned it in a way, because it is so hard and uncomfortable, especially in the winter. It's never easy.

RA: I think one of the times you feel justified taking pulls of bourbon at 10am. I was checking out the article in the second volume last night with Taylor. He's so eloquent.

TM: Yeah, he’s such a sweet and nice guy. That was the first time we'd ever chatted, too. Especially back then, I didn't think he’d ever entertain opening a message from us, let alone carving out the time to sit down.

You guys are hitting the road with some other Midwestern fellas soon, right?

RA: Yep, they’re called Boa Boys. They’ve done shows with Houndmouth and are buds with them.

TM: The music scene down there still blows my mind. I haven't really spent much time in Louisville or New Albany, but like seems insane how much music comes out of that little region. I never thought of it as a kind of a music hub, but the more I dive in, the more people I realize are from there.

RA: I wouldn’t say there's a limited amount of things to do, but people love music, live music, and starting bands. I'm discovering new bands from Louisville every day pretty much.

TM: Has it always been like that or is it more of a recent thing?

RA: There's a pretty rich history. Have you ever heard of the band Slint? They were like they're a huge band in the canons of like prog, poetic grunge. They have crazy dark, droney rock that they speak poetry over. They recorded in their bedrooms as teenagers and they blew up. Anyway, there's a radio station here that has a program that just plays Louisville stuff, and you go back to the 50s and 60s and there's all kinds of music. We're just like, Damn, I had no idea. I grew up closer to Cincinnati, so I don't have the deepest perspective on what Louisville was like before 2015.

"I think it's one of the times you feel justified taking pulls of bourbon at 10am."

Bendigo Fletcher photographed by Tommy Moore at The Riviera in Chicago, IL.

TM: What were the tunes that you grew up with then?

RA: I think I started loving music and singing when I listened to this Motown station with my mom in the car all the time. Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight, I had soul as a young kid and I would sing for people on the bus—if I dare say that I had soul. Also, classic rock and harmonies of like Simon Garfunkel, and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, The Birds. Those were like the pretty early ones that I found myself spending a lot of time thinking about music or songs and wanting to learn piano and guitar and stuff. Discovering Fleet Foxes, My Morning Jacket, The Shins, Grizzly Bear, that's when I was probably in high school like, Oh, shit, I think I want to be in a band, and make songs with my friends.

TM: Did you start jumping into that in high school then?

RA: Eighth grade was the first band. Long story short, I transferred from a public school to a Catholic school in eighth grade, and all the kids in the church band were punk kids. Pent up, Catholic school punk kids wearing eyeliner after school. They got to bring their guitars to school because they were in the church band. So I was like, Oh, okay. I'll learn. I'll be in the church band if I can bring the guitar.

"Pent up, Catholic school punk kids wearing eyeliner after school. They got to bring their guitars to school because they were in the church band. So I was like, Oh, okay. I'll learn. I'll be in the church band if I can bring the guitar."

Bendigo Fletcher photographed by Tommy Moore at The Riviera in Chicago, IL.

Bendigo Fletcher has a busy summer's end and fall, with dates all around the US and Canada. They'll be hitting the road soon with our pals The Brook and The Bluff as well, and you can find those dates and tickets here.


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