- Mike Thornbrue
While the coronavirus has presented challenges to many musicians, for others, the socially distant life is normal. A disciple of the wandering folk artist lifestyle, young Nevadan-turned-Ogdenite artist Branson Anderson is living his life, business as usual. The release of his video for "To Kill a Mockingbird" (out Wednesday, April 15) confirms visually what his music suggests—that Anderson knows the value of going it alone, and getting to know oneself along the way.
The song comes from his 2019 album Applecore, Baltimore, which is full of meandering folk songs. Dylan-esque vocal delivery mixes with a contemporary zing, owing perhaps to Anderson's affection for the music of Jack White. His twang, often delivered as a soft sigh, serves up classic folk tropes while maintaining originality, or at least a searching for originality.
While Anderson's early years were spent chasing novelty, he tellingly admits, "I understand now that a person can sing something untrue with enough sincerity to make it true, and spark a good feeling in an audience. 'Sincerity' is more the term I'm shooting for than 'authenticity' or 'different' or 'unique.' Sing with sincerity, and all that will come, I think."
Anderson also saved up good money to produce his music as professionally as possible, ultimately turning to the talents of Utah resident and nationally-renown folk artist Joshua James to record the album. "Applecore, Baltimore is one step closer to what I am going for but still not there yet," Anderson says.
It does seem, however, to be a perfect example of his learned inclination for storytelling combined with his impulse towards authenticity. "When music first started really impacting my life at a young age, I admired a singer more when I knew they wrote their songs and I believed what they sang was all true," he says. "When I was a kid, I really believed that Johnny Cash 'shot a man in Reno.' I didn't understand that he was writing about a character, and I was disappointed to find that he didn't really do that. That instilled in me an attitude to write as truthfully as I could about myself."
Lately, however, he's found himself revising that attitude, spinning his own untruths that still ring with that sincerity. One song, "Jelly Man," marks a startling departure from the big-hearted narratives on the rest of the album—a feverish dream of a song that Anderson gasps with a grit not found on the rest of the album. "The engine brakes on the semis droning over the underpass make my migraine white with heat," hes says. As the song devolves into discordant melodrama, his growth as a songwriter becomes apparent.
Anderson admits that part of the reason he sticks to typical folk melodies and territory is because nothing new or unique would come as long as he was pushing for it. "It won't be possible to do something that hasn't been done before if you're trying too hard," he says. "It helps not to try too hard at something and go with what feels right."
More evidence of this development can be found in "To Kill a Mockingbird," the final track and the one for which he made his lonely video. In the song itself, he's "out of town, chasing all the fresh debutantes," but throughout the video, he's alone—wandering downtown Ogden one minute, hanging out in the Heavy Metal Shop in the next (a discordant image thanks to Anderson's cowboy good looks and rancher-style get-up), setting fire to a bird cage in the final scene. It's a lonely tableau glossed over with both wryness and a winking flash of longing. Almost like a premonition, it was filmed right before the coronavirus hit.
When considering the song, Anderson describes the tension between letting hard-to-ignore criticism weigh you down, versus embracing hope and continuing to give freely what you can. Lyrics like "the world is so lonely a place because it's full of people" follow Anderson as he meanders the streets, birdcage swinging from his hand. "I found there was a contrast of two feelings, inadequacy and potential," he says. "It's scary for me to put 'To Kill a Mockingbird' out there and sing it in front of people, especially people that know me, but I hoped the song was good and I didn't want it to go unheard."
The video's images, capturing the uncertainty of going it alone, will likely resonate with anyone dealing with the trials of quarantine or social distancing. Anderson says, "I have this joke that I've been practicing social distancing all my life, and am therefore practically bred for this situation."
With spring festival dates cancelled, Anderson is spending his time reading, writing and toiling without too much concern for the loss. If anyone happens to listen to his music during this time, they'd do well to follow his example. He says warmly, "People that have something to offer need to see that you're putting out what you have to offer, because it gives them inspiration and courage to do so themselves. Maybe they'll think, 'I could do that too and maybe even do a better job.' I hope they do."
Find his video on YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eClFaeJkSLo&feature=youtu.be) and follow him on bransonandersonmusic.com.