“I STAND BEHIND THE GUITAR AS BEING THE GREATEST OF
all instruments. I love it.” This bold pronouncement came from
Rusty Anderson at the Four Seasons Hotel in San Francisco. It
was the day of his gig with Paul McCartney, and as excited as
he may have been to do the show, he was even more jazzed to
talk about his latest solo record, Born on Earth [MRI], a wideranging
collection of pop smarts, rock chops, and plenty of guitars,
even if those guitars are sometimes in a supportive role.
Being supportive is nothing new for
Anderson, having lent his 6-string acumen
to dozens of hit records, being a
valued member of Animal Logic (with
Stanley Clarke and Stewart Copeland)
and Ednaswap, and nailing the guitar
parts that defined a generation in Sir
Paul’s band. He animatedly spoke about
the tunes, tones, and gear that go into
his solo work and his day gig.
Your new record is a guitar record, but it’s not
exactly wall-to-wall guitar. How would you
describe its role?
The guitar presence on this record is
fairly diverse, because I have very diverse
taste in music, and I think most people
do. I like contrast. It’s guitar-based, but
really it’s a lyric- and melody-based record.
If the music gets dynamically soft and
empties out, it’s not really appropriate to
have this big smashing guitar in there. I
might do some floaty thing with echoes
or maybe a soft acoustic texture. There
might be parts with slamming feedback
rocking guitar and I like that diversity.
The title track covers a tremendous amount
of stylistic ground. There’s a classical intro, a
heavy fuzz guitar riff, a piano interlude, a rock
solo, and more. How did that tune come
First I had the intro, which I had written
on keyboards. I was going for a Wendy
Carlos/Switched-On Bach thing. Then I
played it on guitar and the guitar thing
sounded really cool and interesting, but
ultimately I sort of felt like it just wanted
to be this big, Wagnerian string deal. My
next-door neighbor plays violin in the
philharmonic, and she ended up playing
violin on it with her friend who plays
cello. I also had the main riff, and one
day I realized that it and the intro were
the same bpm and the same feel and
everything. I thought it would be cool to
stick them together—chocolate and
peanut butter. So that’s how that happened.
I think it was my 335 and I’m
pretty sure it was a Divided By 13 4x12
cabinet and a Laney Supergroup head
from the ’70s.
How did you craft the first lead tone in
“Baggage Claim”? It has this cool, sort of hollow
sound to it.
I think I played that solo direct into
the recorder. Then I later ran it into either
a Big Muff or my old Tone Bender into a Fender Deluxe. If you plug straight into
an amp and mic it, that’s one sound. If
you go direct and then go back out into
an amp, it’s a different kind of sound.
Because it’s going through the recorder
and buffers and all that stuff and then
going into an amp, it’s a different impedance
or something. I thought it was
interesting. It’s kind of splattery and cool.
What was the 12-string on “Baggage
That’s a hammered dulcimer. I messed
around with a 6-string acoustic doing that
part, as well as a 12-string acoustic and
a hammered dulcimer, and I think we
ended up getting rid of one of them. What
I like to do with the dulcimer is run it
through effects and maybe through an
amp after the fact. I find that if I don’t,
some of those new age-y instruments can
sound very pristine and very gentle, like
You definitely fooled me with how you
turned the beat around on the intro to “These Are the Days.” Can you explain what’s going on
That’s funny because that song has turned
me around a few times. When it was originally
written, it was starting on one. Then I
was fooling around with drum patterns and I
took a sample of a drum and put it against an
old demo of the song. It accidentally went into
a different place and I went, “Oh that’s cool!”
I can see that but how do you figure it out? How
did you learn how to play it?
You count backwards and then you feel
it. If I’m getting confused by the music, I’ll
just mathematically count it out—it’s on
the upbeat or it’s on the and of two, etc. I
learn it in a cerebral way and then I’ll start
to feel it emotionally. Sometimes music is
exactly as it seems and sometimes not. I
don’t know if I’ll ever hear the middle section
to “Stairway to Heaven” the way they
thought they were hearing it. It’s the same
thing with the intro to “Drive My Car.”
When I was a little kid I always heard that
starting on one, but it’s actually the upbeat
before: “and one.” The first time we were
working on it as a band was very strange.
Now I’m cool with it and I just hear it and
feel it the right way.
How do you set your gear to get such a big range
of clean and dirty tones?
I dial my Divided By 13 amps in with
some distortion but not a ton. I can turn my
guitar down and get a clean sound and, if I
really need to, I can put a compressor on it
to boost the clean sound. I can get a mediumgain
sound or I can get a super dirty sound
by clicking on some fuzz box or something.
The thing I love about Divided By 13s is that
they sound as close as you can get to a great
old amp, but they’re brand new with rocksolid
construction. They’re not fancy, with
a million knobs and switches. They just
My main axe is a 335 and I really love
those guitars. I love the midrange. I think
they’re pretty versatile and they have a
certain tone that’s beautiful to me. I’m constantly
adjusting the volume on my guitar.
When I turn my guitar way down it has a
sound, when I turn it up to 3 it has a different
sound. There are songs like “Hey Jude”
where I have to make sure that it’s between
2 and 2w. It gets really, really precise.
What would you ideally like to do when and if
Paul stops touring?
Since I was five, I’ve made music. I’ve
been in bands since I was nine. I’ve played
with a lot of artists in the studio, been in my
own bands, done solo records, and released
songs—music in one form or another has
always been my life. With Paul, it’s all been
unfolding in this organic way, and I don’t
really try to control it. I don’t make plans
based on question marks. I used to freak out
when I was in my 20s. I’d do a recording,
teach some guitar, or do something to make
a little money, and I’d think, “Man, how am
I going to make rent next month?” And it
somehow always just kind of happened. So
I think I’ll do what I’ve always done: follow
my muse and follow my heart and try to do
the best I can when it comes to music.