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Interview: Ryan Anderson (Bendigo Fletcher)

28 March 2024

On Two Things at Once, Bendigo Fletcher’s second full-length album for Elektra Records, the Louisville, Kentucky band blends folk authenticity with indie charm, creating melodies that resonate deeply across tracks like “Tough Season,” “Sweet Tooth,” and “Babushka Dolls.” The acoustic guitars and mild rhythms evoke a sense of serenity, while the harmonies convey emotion in a timeless style. Influenced by artists ranging from Crosby, Stills and Nash and The Byrds to modern contemporaries Fleet Foxes and Bon Iver, Bendigo Fletcher’s sound captures the essence of storytelling through intimate yet expansive songs.

In this conversation with lead singer Ryan Anderson, we delve into the intricacies of the latest album including the songwriting process, blending fact with fiction in the lyrics, and working with esteemed producer Ken Coomer (Wilco).

Your music can fit into a number of genres, from folk to indie to singer/songwriter. What kind of stuff did you grow up on that inspired the kind of music you write now?

RYAN: Simon and Garfunkel is a good example of great harmonies. You could call them folk but they go into all these universes and their soundscapes and song structures don’t have rules. Whatever the song needs, they can throw in an instrument. There’s no pigeonholing there. They broke the mold while managing to sound beautiful the whole time.

How did Simon and Garfunkel enter your universe?

RYAN: That’s a good question. I’m 32. When I started listening to music, it was Napster and LimeWire. You download stuff illegally and then it to an iPod and take it on road trips or listen to it on the bus. There was a classic rock station in my dad’s car growing up and a great Motown station that I’d listen to in my mom’s car. I’m happy to say that good old-fashioned radio influenced my taste and grabbed my ear early on.

Where are you in terms of physical media?

RYAN: As a fan, I get into some of the most immersive musical grooves, like happening upon a CD. I’m thinking about one time I bought a Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band CD, Outer South, by happenstance right before I went on this work trip. This is five or six years ago where the whole work trip I was by myself. I was staying in a State Park lodge, driving a ‘99 Toyota 4-Runner around the land between the lakes. My job was to watch birds on a bridge to make sure the construction didn’t disturb the ospreys. Anytime I got in the car, that Conor Oberst record was playing. So, I have this huge experience with that record that’s always going to be important to me.

I have a vinyl player and I’ve been lazily working on my stereo over the past year to get it playing properly. I haven’t really spent much time with it, but I have a lot of vinyl that are important to me too. But playing CDs in the car has made a big comeback for me. I had a Subaru a couple of years ago that crapped out but it had a tape machine in it so I got really into tapes for about a year and after the car died I had to get a double tape deck player for the stereo system because there’s just something about each medium, – CDs, vinyl, tapes – they all have a special character. When you listen to a tape, you’re almost looking forward to a little bit of a warble and a little bit of modulation.

When you were recording the new album, would you listen to songs through a variety of speakers? Like, would you listen to see how it sounded in a car? Listen through a cheap Bluetooth speaker? Listen to how it sounds through earbuds? Listen on a proper stereo with good speakers?

RYAN: Yeah. I find that if the car has a decent setup, it’s a great balance finder because it’s hard to tell how the low end is coming through any headphones for me. I usually like standard Apple headphones so that’s a big part of the test. The car listen is always special.

And did you tweak anything based on those listening experiences?

RYAN: Yeah, little notes along the way. “We want more bass here.” That kind of thing. A huge part of the process is listening to the music in your familiar place where you regularly listen to music and seeing how it feels.

This go around, our mixer for the record was Tchad Blake. We didn’t have to ask for a whole lot of him in terms of balance because he’s phenomenal. We loved his instincts with the record.

As you mentioned, you worked with Tchad Blake on this record. You also worked with Ken Coomer. How did that come about?

RYAN: We worked with Ken on our last record. That was before we got picked up by Elektra. I was working in a grocery store at the time and one of Ken’s acquaintances recognized me. He’s like, “I have a friend who’s looking for cool bands to produce and record. And he happens to be the original drummer for Wilco.” I was like, “Oh, cool. Tell him about my band.” That’s how me and Ken connected. Our first phone call was really enthusiastic. We talked about swimming half the time, like swimming outside. He’s kind of a kindred spirit. We are lucky to have found Ken, he and I are really good friends now and keep up outside of music. So, the second time around, we went back to work with Ken and he was enthusiastic about getting Tchad Blake to mix the record. That was his direction, something he always wanted to do.

This is your second full-length but you’ve also released some EPs. Do you feel like you advance as a songwriter with each release or does it feel more like a continuation of the last thing you’ve released?

RYAN: I would say this album feels like our best yet, not that you asked me to make that claim. When I first started making recordings, I’d listen back and be like, “That’s cool. I’m glad I did that.” With each effort, I wanted to feel like this is something that I would listen to on my own time because, as funny as it is, that’s not always the case with the stuff that you make on your own.

With this record, it feels like we’ve reached this place of musicianship and chemistry. And being in the studio demands that you rise to the occasion to some degree but also trying to forget that you’re in a studio and just playing the songs freely and loosely. I feel a little more in the spirit of being a rock band on this record. There’s songs that hold my interest in terms of playing them live and the challenges they have. One of the songs has a live detuning of the low string. It feels like the next echelon of creativity for us.

Do you think the album reads like a story, with a start, middle and end or is it more like 11 short stories compiled into one volume?

RYAN: I guess it’s more like little glimpses of different parts of my life. I wouldn’t say there’s a storyline or anything like that, but there are themes that run through, like, water comes up often. There’s this mention of baked goods at various times throughout the album. There’s a couple of songs that mention death and dying.

Would you say the lyrics are more fact or fiction? Or, is it a blend of both?

RYAN: Definitely a gentle mix. I take a lot of inspiration from movies and books, even though I’m not a huge consumer as far as quantity. But, I can read a page and have a song idea. I guess Two Things at Once being the title, there’s a lot of duality at play – life and death, decadence and decay. The song we released just before the album came out is called “Sweet Tooth”. I was thinking of the things that we are sold as consumers as overly sugared representations of the truth and how bad commercials are these days.

Since you mentioned taking inspiration from movies and books, are there any lyrics that are either obvious or vague references?

RYAN: Totally. There’s a song on the record called “Ought Not” that definitely has a Twin Peaks reference. I feel like you hear Twin Peaks references a lot of music. So, shy of just naming the show, which perhaps would have been very on the nose, the second verse starts with lyrics that, if you’ve watched the show, you would definitely pick up on. Once you hear “Cherry pie and coffee,” you’ll know that’s Twin Peaks.

The last song, “Rental Skates,” crafted the aesthetic of the story of the movie I Tonya, which I absolutely love.

Is that a video game sound at the beginning of “Upcountry Lemonade”?

RYAN: It’s a sequencer that we used. You’d have to ask Ken Coomer what it’s called but it’s a device that he had in the studio where you can sequence notes and then add effects to them. We played around with this sequencer and kept adding dirt to it to see what it would do.

When was the album finished and has it been tough to sit on it?

RYAN: We did a session in 2022 where some of the songs were started and then we released an EP of songs that were recorded after some of these songs! We were trying to find the blend of songs that fit together and that took some time. There were songs that were written late last year that had to be on the album so there was a lot of patience involved but I think it pays off when you’re looking for the right flow to the 11 songs.

I’ve talked to some artists who have released 4 or 5 singles before dropping a full length. They’ve said they do it for the streaming algorithm and to try to get on playlists so people recognize their name and their songs. What’s your take on releasing a bunch of singles before the album?

RYAN: I guess in an ideal world, it would be less upfront and more diving into the unknown of a full album experience. But, the way media is being shared nowadays, I don’t think our brains hold onto things for very long. I hope I’m wrong about that. Our fans seem to be like, “Hell yeah, we want the album.”

I think albums get more appreciation and our fans recognize that it’s a piece of work that we poured our hearts into, that there’s this intangible quality of care and thought that went into the whole thing. To our fans’ credit, it seems like that’s what they get most excited about.

A testament to a great album is when you, as the listener, can get into that flow state where you’re listening and not really thinking about anything else throughout the course of an entire album. That’s kind of rare but it’s always a good goal to shoot for as an artist when you’re making an album.

Albums are like mirrors, they tell us a lot about ourselves and where we’re at in our attention spans and our capacity for absorbing.

You’ve got a pretty full touring schedule coming up. Are you finding it to be the case where you’re hitting the same cities and crowd sizes are growing because the people who have seen you in the past are now bringing their friends to experience a show?

RYAN: Definitely. That’s been an encouraging part of the journey for us because you have to start somewhere. I think one of our first runs was with Rayland Baxter many years ago. He took us out and we toured in the Midwest and northeast. We’ve been going to St. Louis a lot. Last spring we played a headlining show in Indianapolis and then last fall we played there on an opening run. The ticket sales doubled this past weekend for Indianapolis from last spring so that’s what we hope will continue to happen.

You’re based in Louisville. Are you considered a local band there and are you playing a few times a month, maybe on undesirable evenings like Tuesdays or Sundays or are your Louisville shows now special occasions and/or part of tour stops on longer runs?

RYAN: We’ve chosen to play once or twice a year, but, you know, different strokes for different folks. There are bands who play way more often that create a reason for people to get together on a weeknight and they are playing great sets and different sets every time. It’s just kind of a choice we’ve made.

Does Louisville have a good music scene?

RYAN: Yeah, it always has been good to me. I’m becoming more aware of everything that’s going on around us as I live here longer. When I first moved here ten years ago, it didn’t seem to have much cohesion between bands. There were bands who were friends with other bands but now there seems to be this big net of support and excitement for everything that’s going on and people celebrating each other’s work more than I’ve ever seen. We’re really excited and inspired to be here. It’s cool.

I’ve heard similar things about the Chicago scene. Back in the early ‘90s, where there were some pretty well recognized scenes, bands were competing for major label deals so there may have been some negativity in the scene. These days, with the ability to release music easily and without major label support, perhaps bands are being more supportive of each other and less competitive.

RYAN: As much as I like to rag on the internet and social media, sometimes the flip side is that it’s really cool that if you have something real and truthful to share, the world can see it exactly for what it is. And, you know, we’ve worked with a label for the past two releases now, and it’s been really cool. We’ve had things afforded to us that allow us to carry out projects and make them how we want. At the same time, the thing that seems to be speaking to people on the internet are people with guitars, who don’t spend anything to further their outreach on social media, who are able to share their music with the fans and with the world. It’s a cool leveling out, some of the gates are either down or are now open.

Not sure who it is managing Bendigo Fletcher’s social media but you seem to be pretty actively posting on Instagram, sharing videos, things like that. Do you have a strategy or do you have someone behind the scenes handling that for you?

RYAN: I think if it were just the five of us, six if you include our manager, you probably wouldn’t be seeing half of what you see. For this release, our team, which includes people at Elektra, are working with us. And we’ve all decided it would be good to get the word out about the album and to have these cool things for people to see and to help them understand who the band is and where the music comes from. It’s been a team effort and I’m grateful for that because it’s too much for me personally to handle and think about.