“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 together?
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 Claim”?
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 massage-music territory.
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 there?
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 sound good.
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.