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HAWKS AND DOVES

Kasey Anderson

 Photo credit - Jennie Baker

Photo credit - Jennie Baker

 

What's that in the sky? 

Kasey Anderson spent the first decade of the 21st century writing songs that drew praise from the likes of Paste, No Depression, The A/V Club and many others, and touring alongside Jason Isbell, Steve Earle, Counting Crows, Peter Case, BJ Barham/American Aquarium, Joe Pug and fellow songwriting luminaries. Known as a “songwriter’s songwriter,” Anderson counted the aforementioned greats among his fans - his songs covered on albums by Counting Crows and Star Anna - and carved out a niche for himself as one of Americana’s most revered, if underrated, songwriters. Then he disappeared. A relapse and personal and legal problems saw Anderson fade from view - no albums, no gigs, the only traces of him found in Counting Crows continued performance of the Anderson-penned “Like Teenage Gravity.” Had it all ended there, Anderson would have been just another name on a long list of songwriters whose careers ended in relative obscurity or, in Anderson’s case, infamy. Now five years sober and with a prison stint behind him, Anderson has re-emerged as the frontman and primary songwriter of the band Hawks and Doves, whose album, From a White Hotel, will be released August, 2018. Written in the wake of the 2016 election and containing Anderson’s trademark wit and arresting lyricism, From a White Hotel takes a hard look at Anderson’s past and the current state of affairs in a fractured, embattled American landscape. It is more than a return to form; it is the elevation and evolution of a songwriter insistent on moving forward. 

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Hey guys, Underwater Sunshine executive writer Katie Mullins here. When we started making these posts, I wasn’t sure if I was going to try for a more journalistic voice or if I was going to write posts like I used to on my old blog, Katie Darby Recommends. It winds up, when I truly love music— I can’t take the “me” out of it. Last week, associate producer (and incredible husband) Andy Mullins wrote about his experience seeing Boom Forest for the first time and this week I’ll be talking to you about Hawks And Doves.*

I’ve been dying to write this review, not just because From A White Hotel is one of the best
records I’ve heard in years— which it is— and not just because Hawks and Doves, despite it
being their first record, is an incredibly intuitive band— but because songwriter and frontman
Kasey Anderson has been a friend of mine for a long time, and I’ve been wanting to do this
justice. So let me start here:

In the last ten years, no one has broken my heart as badly as Kasey Anderson. In the last five, I
can’t say anyone else has done as much to restore my faith in humanity. I’ve fought with those
two sentences for a long time. It’s not rare to hear the adage, “People don’t change,” and maybe
that’s true— because the Kasey Anderson you’re going to see at Underwater Sunshine IS the
man I thought he was in the first place, whether he’d gotten there yet or not.

Before Underwater Sunshine Festival, there was the Outlaw Roadshow— but if we go even
further back in time, there was a SXSW showcase called Smoke and Sand. That was my first
time to meet some of the producers I still have the great fortune of working with, and it was my
first time to see Kasey Anderson play live. I’d been dying to see what he could pull off— I
skipped other showcases I was excited to see. I’d reviewed his album Heart of a Dog and I
remember that strange, beautiful feeling of seeing someone live for the first time and still
knowing every word. He also sang a song that was so funny and well-written I remembered it
years later, “Some Depression.” I don’t always remember a song after hearing it for the first
time— in fact, it’s pretty rare that I do. I wish I’d listened a little closer to the truth in the song
and heard past what, at least then, seemed funny.

After the show, I wanted to meet him. I think there’s even a picture of him with me there, back in
2010. I’d just gotten married and it was my first “solo” concert. He asked about my husband and
stepdaughter, and was so peculiarly polite and kind that it was almost jarring in and of itself (few
of the men there were— though I can say my fellow producers Frank Germano and Adam Duritz
were two of them). What I took away from that meeting was a few things: we were both nervous,
for some reason, but that he was someone I loved at his core.

If you’ve read the bio, you know what happened next. (If you haven’t… now is a good time to
flip on over to that Hawks and Doves page.) I actually found out from a musician I was only
casually acquainted with that Kasey was going to prison. I hadn’t known he’d been arrested. I’d
been talking to him the whole time. I was crushed. I went back and forth for months on how I felt
about it, wrote a bunch of poems and stories (that’s what us Creative Writing folk do with our
pain), and tried to figure out why I cared so much. But it goes back to that first meeting— the
moment where Kasey treated me like I was exactly as impressive as he was, despite that being
untrue, but also, that I could sense absolute kindness at his core. And what I learned about his
last few years— well, it wasn’t kind.

But then I’d listen to the records again. It just didn’t connect. How could somebody write “Like
Teenage Gravity” and not know, as James Wright says, the feeling of: “They love each other
very much/ There is no loneliness like theirs”? How can someone write “Exit Ghost” without
understanding that idea of “a name you forgot/ a number you lost/ a melody you learned to play/
while you fade away” without having enough empathy to understand what happens to someone
when you’re out of the picture?

How did I not see that you also have to understand that those kinds of loneliness and fading so
often come from pain that in my relatively sheltered life (at least up until then— looking at you,
stroke), I couldn’t vocalize those feelings? How did I miss that in the humor of “Some
Depression,” Kasey was poking fun at the nouveau riche people who tried to appropriate alt-
country, but included lines like, “I’ll be getting high in a locked bathroom?” It took me a long
time, but I had to accept that both Kaseys were the same man— and maybe he couldn’t have
been the intuitive, empathetic, kind person I knew him to be without having suffered and tried to
figure out how to self-medicate. I’m not covering for him. In fact, it took me a long time to
accept Kasey’s “transformation” (which I put in quotations because it wasn’t magic: it was hard
work, a complicated diagnosis, and apologizing profusely by trying to make amends). But Kasey
Anderson is my friend. He has always been my friend, even when I was mad at him— which,
honestly, was probably more fear for him. And he is, without a doubt, one of the best damned
songwriters of his generation. That would be true even if this story didn’t have a happy ending.

With Hawks and Doves, he’s written the album of his career so far. Hard stop. From a White
Hotel is the kind of record you would expect from a journeyman, someone who has seen hard
things and adapted, grown into himself, become a better man. I’m happy to say that the record
sounds that way because it’s true. He’s not hiding the past— you can’t with songs like “Lithium
Blues.” But he’s also telling other desperately important stories against a divided political
landscape. “The Dangerous Ones” is Springsteen-esque— a new anthem for a scary time. And
the single, “Bulletproof (For Laura Jane)” is about Against Me! singer Laura Jane Grace who
went through an incredibly public transition. With a chorus like:

And when it’s all over, they take you apart

And find nobody born with a bulletproof heart

So shout it out loud all around all around the world

There ain’t no such thing as real American girls

It’s easy to see a negation of so much of the rock ‘n’ roll landscape’s take on masculinity and
femininity. I cried a lot the first time I heard the record. I’d be shocked if some moments don’t
put a catch in every throat. But for me, it was personal, too. I know who he’s talking about when
he says “The Dangerous Ones”— I’m one of the dangerous ones. And hell— I’m a cisgendered
woman and know there ain’t no such thing as real American girls. It’s not just Kasey’s truth he’s
singing, though the record is threaded with that. This is a time capsule of 2018. I’m just grateful
Kasey’s here, clear-eyed, and capturing it— and I’m glad to have my friend back. Please come
see Hawks and Doves play the Festival, and meet my friend Kasey and his amazing new band. In
cynical times where we have a hard time believing in redemption, his record— and his story—
could help change your life, too.