Austin W. Anderson is living his dream, in moments both big and small.
“It feels kinda surreal, honestly. It’s so real that it’s not even real.” Anderson is in his apartment in the Sherman Oaks neighborhood of Los Angeles, the city he grew up in and still calls home. The 20 year old musician is one of the indie scene’s best-kept secret, an in-demand guitarist and vocalist who has already collaborated with idiosyncratic geniuses Frank Ocean, Tyler the Creator, and BROCKHAMPTON’s Kevin Abstract. What was supposed to be a gap year after high school to pursue his solo project Slow Hollows eventually morphed into a full-fledged band, and a reputation for crafting powerful hooks and riveting guitar hooks. But despite all the prestige engagements, two years later Anderson’s life is remarkably normal for a person his age.
“I’ve been driving around town a lot recently. The last few months I’ve been driving around and just parking somewhere to write. It’s therapeutic to be in a car, parked in the shade, and writing.” Anderson mostly keeps to the immediate vicinity, avoiding most of LA’s infamous traffic, but every once in a while he’ll coax his car to climb up to the hills surrounding the San Fernando Valley.
“You can find nice energy up there.” he says, with learned certainty.
Brightest Young Things: It’s been two years since Slow Hollows evolved from a solo project to a full fledged band. Has that shift affected your creative process, and if so, how?
Austin W. Anderson: I think it has, just because there are more people around to bounce ideas off of and work with. You try to figure out your solo process really quickly – obviously, it’s just one person and you know what you’re going to think about something. So just having other opinions and having other musicians who are talented makes it better, I think.
BYT: Would you consider this to be a band, where the process is somewhat democratic, or do you feel like it’s still your project? I’m trying to be careful with the phrasing here, because I don’t want to make it sound like you’re a dictator – but do you retain veto power?
Anderson: Yeah. I mean, all the bandmates – nobody is a hired gun. We’re all equal members of the project. But they still know that I’m spearheading it, and have essentially full creative control, but in the least Trump way possible. Fucking guy.
BYT: Have you followed the news today? Every day is crazy, but today was particularly bad. [Note: I can’t actually recall what happened that day because at this point, what does it matter.]
Anderson: No – I mean, I saw something so extreme, but it’s not even really real at this point. That much is clear to me. We’re not all gonna die, but we’re on a swing towards the end of the country and I don’t really want to pay attention if it’s inevitable. I don’t want to walk around thinking about fucking dying. I already know it’s going down. [Laughs]
BYT: We’re in D.C., so if this shit goes down, we’re definitely in trouble. As you said, it’s all a surreal joke.
Anderson: Nothing really matters anymore. Not to get this grim, but it’s what it is.
BYT: The sound for Slow Hollows has evolved from post-punk to a more well-rounded indie style. And you recently said that “The whole purpose of being in a band was to make people dance and to come to your shows, [and] the music reflected that mindset.” What’s your take on what you guys are putting out now? What’s your purpose for being in a band at this moment?
Anderson: Regarding our sound, we wanted to try some new things out. The songs we’ve put out in the last year were relatively slow and weird, and a hard left-field from the stuff we had put out before. We didn’t want to necessarily show people we could do other things, but we wanted to show ourselves that we could make a song other than a really dance-y pop song.
And actually, we’ve kind of come full circle when it comes to our purpose. That’s our purpose again. I realized it doesn’t need to be anymore than making people dance at the end of the day. Or make them feel – if you can connect with them on a purely physical plane, just sonically and lyrics aside – that’s about communication. Not overthinking and feeling.
BYT: What are your reference points when making this sort of decision? What are you listening to that is inspiring you at the present moment?
Anderson: I’ve been going through a lot of bands that slipped under my radar in high school, maybe because I didn’t think they were cool – or whatever dumb shit I was thinking in high school. A lot of Talking Heads; I’ve been listening to a ton of their catalog recently, and also studying their approach. David Byrne’s approach with Talking Heads was about “I’m speaking to the audience in simple English and using everyday words, and if it isn’t as simple as possible it’s overthought.” That’s not necessarily about doing the bare minimum, but using only what you need to communicate and making sure it’s really believable. A group like that has been a good reference point as of recent.
Also, I’m listening to podcasts and interviews with artists. You can sometimes get more from that than their records, almost.
BYT: I read David Byrne’s book, “How Music Works”, a few years ago. Have you read it?
Anderson: No, I haven’t. I think I have a copy somewhere around the house though.
BYT: One thing that struck me as an interesting parallel to his music was how the book did a great job of explaining the basic physics and cultural importance behind music – how music literally works. And it makes sense, because that’s how he writes song lyrics, but it was also welcome because it communicated a lot of ideas to the reader without ever straying into condescending territory. That intentionality and direct style of communication is also present in so much of the Talking Heads’ music.
Anderson: Right, and that’s how music was intended to be. There’s some philosophy that breaks art into a bunch of categories, and I think music falls under Dionysian – an art form that helps humans disconnect from reality entirely. You let music work on you and you can’t put your own mind into it; you let it take control. Let it interfere with your thoughts.
BYT: You’ve had the opportunity to collaborate with two of the most idiosyncratic “auteur” musicians in Tyler, The Creator and Frank Ocean. You worked with Tyler on Cherry Bomb and Flower Boy, and you worked with Frank on Blonde. Both are rightly considered visionaries, creating highly stylized records that approach concept album territory without veering into kitschiness.
Looking back on your experiences, what would you say are the main things you’ve learned from each one of them, respectively?
Anderson: Really that you just need to trust yourself and be yourself honestly. That might sound cheesy or whatever, but at the end of the day, everything they want to communicate is purely themselves, and going purely with the feeling. It’s the same thing you can learn from the Talking Heads: it’s about communicating exactly who you want to be and not thinking about anybody else. And that your first instinct is probably the right one.
Also – they taught me just to get out of my own way.
BYT: Do you aspire to be recognized as an auteur yourself?
Anderson: Yeah, absolutely. I think it’s really important to keep creating your own universe, and it can be any art form. Images, sounds – you need to create that universe and make it your brand. And if you’re going to do it, you need to go all in.
BYT: Funny you frame it that way – I know you appeared on the runway a few years ago for Yves Saint Laurent as part of their New York Fashion Week exhibit. Are there any other mediums or art forms you’re exploring presently?
Anderson: It’s really, really musically oriented right now just because we’re finishing the record and that’s a lot of work. [Pauses] But I’ve started thinking about doing more of the creative design for the band, whether that’s the aesthetics of the records, or merch – any sort of visual direction. I would do anything, really, if it felt right. [Wry laugh] But nothing specifically right now.