Person You’d Be Proud of: An Interview With Cataldo

Time to put away the Ben Gibbard comparisons, even as Gibbard himself ended up DJ'ing the record release party for Cataldo's fifth indie-pop opus.
Red Pepper

The first thing that strikes you about the way Eric Anderson talks is just how chipper he is.

The 30-year-old Seattle-based musician is about to put out his fifth record, Keepers, as Cataldo, into the world. The accompanying promotional video, titled “Market Research”, shows Anderson walking around Seattle asking strangers to put on headphones and then answer questions like: “If this song were to be in a commercial, what sort of product could it advertise well?” People balk, stand around confused, looking almost offended, before blurting something very negative. The comment section, unconventionally, is full of full-hearted support for the musician, denouncing the “haters” who dare to dismiss the new music as “the most unenjoyable EDM” they’d ever heard.

Anderson laughs when this is brought up during his interview with PopMatters. It turns out that what they were actually making people listen to out there was some abominable compilation of dark Aphex Twin tracks, instead of the dance-infused pop of Keepers. While making the video the team apparently left the original dissonant compilation on low volume, but they did such a good job of hiding it that no one seems to have picked up on it.

Such self-deprecatory, tongue-in-cheek humour is something you might associate with the popular conception of Seattle itself, but Anderson says that the city undeservedly gets a bad rap, it’s not as unfriendly as the stereotype goes. Having grown up in Moscow, Idaho, he frequently visited Seattle while going to college in Minnesota, and permanently settled down in the city in 2008. He claims that the stand-offish reputation of the Seattle music scene is completely unsubstantiated and that all it takes for new musicians to break through this illusion is to be less shy, “It’s like standing in one corner at a party and hoping someone will come and talk to you. It’s not cute and it’s not going to happen.”

Comparing the musician community in Seattle and those in other West Coast creative Meccas down South, he says that Seattle is much more grassroots, DIY, than places like Los Angeles, where the predominance of the capital “I” entertainment industry is less conducive to that sense of no one being above reaching out to. Although he admits that the encroachment of the tech industry is making life tougher than it used to be, Anderson doesn’t see himself moving out of Seattle anytime soon.

Molly Moon’s has been another reason for Cataldo to plant its roots firmly in the city. The ice cream shop, founded in 2008 by Molly Moon Neitzel, who used to work for the political non-profit Music for America, has recently launched Mooncrew Records, an imprint that will be primarily focused on releasing music by members of its staff. A long-time member of the Mooncrew crew, Anderson holds nothing but fondness for the place, nothing that “a lot of people who work there have creative careers on the side, they’re either writing, or playing or drawing.”

Aside from the general welcoming atmosphere of the place, the music of the Pacific Northwest has always been at the top of Anderson’s playlist. Citing a Death Cab for Cutie concert as one of his most memorable early rock show experiences, Anderson got to record Ben Gibbard’s voice, with whom he is often compared to, on the first track of Keepers. “A lot of people say that the Seattle sound is music that’s both heady and emotional. You usually have one or the other, it’s either very cerebral or very mawkish, I think that’s why we’ve been compared in the past and he’s definitely someone I admire a lot.” He goes on to describe how strange it was to process the musician simply “turning up” on Anderson’s doorstep one day like it was not a big deal. Gibbard will also be playing a DJ set on Keepers‘ release event, Nerd Prom.

The Portland-based dream pop outlet Wild Ones has also been a big influence on how Keepers turned out. Both Clayton Knapp (bass) and Danielle Sullivan (vocals) have worked with Anderson on previous Catlado records and have contributed to Keepers. “Danielle is great, she did stuff with me in the past and she was supposed to only sing one song on this record, but when she came in we finished it so fast that we just started recording another, and then another, and in the end I think she sings on like seven tracks on Keepers, her voice is what actually ties most of the album together.”

Having begun making music when he was 15, Anderson’s style has gone through quite a change on his way to Keepers. His eponymous debut was full of confessional folk storytelling, with his voice coming through muted, insecure, behind the rolling sounds of an acoustic guitar. Signal Flare followed in the same footsteps, slightly upping the instrumental ante and including a more varied mix of vocals. Prison Boxing continued the trend of Anderson building on his base folk sound, without venturing too far out into uncharted territory.

This early period was characterised by incremental change as Anderson seemed to be getting dangerously comfortable inside his small musical niche. The story goes that before writing the next album, he had an eye-opening conversation with his roommate, which prompted him to do “whatever the fuck I want” on the next album, instead of going down a similar well-trodden path of vulnerable indie folk that characterised his early period. This resulted in Gilded Oldies, a lively, reinvigorated album that saw Cataldo cover more pop territory than he had before, putting his voice upfront and showcasing his accumulated instrumental mastery.

Keepers continues the exploratory trend that began with Gilded Oldies, as evidenced in the mission statement Anderson says was behind the entire album of making each song different from the rest. Even though he instantly backs away from linking this part of his creative career to The Beatles’ middle period, the comparison is not totally unfair. Every song on Keepers seems to stand well on its own, from the Miami-Horror-reminiscent “Photograph” to the confessional “Person You’d be Proud Of”, to the explosive rock of “Willow Tree”. While the overall theme of Gilded Oldies had been the uncertainty associated with entering adulthood and how the expectations of this transition are often misaligned with reality, Anderson says that Keepers is about “getting there and seeing that it’s not as bad as it seemed it would be.” Its upbeat energy itself is a statement — it seems like Anderson has never had this much fun making music.

The kind of unassuming modesty that comes with being happy scooping ice cream while recording music on the side is not something you would expect from an aspiring rockstar. After he finished recording Gilded Oldies Anderson felt adept enough to try and wade the waters of the professional music industry. He doesn’t go into specifics, but admits that the project he was working on had “a lot, and I say a lot of money involved.” Writing a bunch of songs, only a few of which had even the slightest possibility of seeing the light of day just did not jibe with Anderson’s sensibilities, so he came back to his earlier ways of independent music-making and got to work on Keepers.

He says he’s happy working at Molly Moon’s and pouring everything he makes into his creative career, “I was actually very surprised when we started selling the pre-orders for Keepers because I had forgotten that I could actually make money from music.” With the earlier Prison Boxing having been financed through a successful Kickstarter campaign, it doesn’t seem like financial pressure will squeeze Cataldo out of the music industry anytime soon.

On the chorus of One Year of Solitude, a heartfelt love song from his 2005 debut, Anderson seems to repetitively denounce music mass media with the line “I don’t care what Pitchfork says about that.” When asked about this he laughs and says that if there’s one thing he’d change about his earlier albums, it would be this line. Even though back then Pitchfork was only a small-time operation, Anderson says that the overall push of music mass media to only embrace the wildly experimental and brush everything else under the rug made him feel alienated as someone who wanted to make simple heartfelt folk love songs. He says that over the years this dislike has been soothed, although, if he had his way, critics would still be allowed to review albums only at least two years have passed after their release.