After seeing The Anderson Council’s incendiary performance at a local venue in New Jersey, TPA’s John Giordano was able to grab a few words with vocalist/guitarist Peter Horvath and lead guitarist Michael Potenza. The two were both warm and engaging, so an interview was suggested, and subsequently leader Pete Horvath answered a few questions regarding the band and his songwriting process.
Tell us a bit about the history of the band.
I started the band in 1999 after I left my old band, Seething Grey. The music of the old band was a total about face from the music of The Anderson Council. I had a bunch of songs written that didn’t fit with the old band, and so it was time for a light and airy change from the heaviness and general bummed-out-ness of the old band. Not to say that stuff doesn’t have a place, because it does, but it was time for something different for ME.
Who are your musical heroes and why? I hear The Kinks, Joe Jackson and Smithereens, but there is nothing slavish about the way you approach your influences. How do you take your influences and mix them into something that sounds like The Anderson Council?
Musical heroes? Not sure. I know there are bands that I really like, and always come back to time and time again, but I’m not sure about the hero part! When I was a kid, my older brother was really into the Allman Brothers, The Beatles, and Grand Funk Railroad. My parents listened to stuff like The Carpenters, Andy Williams, Ray Conniff, and Percy Faith. Honestly, I can see the merits of both sides of that part of my musical upbringing. I gravitated towards punk/hardcore/new wave stuff, and through that, heard a lot of bands that you’d never hear on the radio… Loud/Fast Rules, after all! [Laughs] I guess after that I figured out more what I was into, which was The Jam, The Who, XTC, Squeeze, Elvis Costello, and bands of that ilk. There was also the local band scene around New Brunswick, NJ – when one of The Smithereens owns a video and record store nearby, you tend to hang out there! I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the Britpop and Shoegaze scenes also having an influence. How do I make sure I don’t rip all that off too blatantly? Trade secret!
Live, you combine a powerhouse presentation with self-effacing humour. Do you prefer the immediacy of live work and the interaction with an audience or the creativity of the studio?
I love playing live – the power and volume and interaction with the audience (if there happens to be one) is always great fun. I’m terrible at between song banter, though. I get on a roll and then I talk too much… All that said, I enjoy taking the live version of a song that we’ve rehearsed and rehearsed, and adding the little bits and pieces in the studio that make it into a proper recording. I’m usually having a bunch of fun with that, at least until it’s time to mix the record; then my patience is in short supply… Don’t even talk to me about what order the songs should be in. My head hurts just thinking about it!
The song lyrics feel almost like slices of life – dispatches from a lived-in life – and so the songs come across as literate. What inspires you and do you read a lot?
I do read pretty constantly. Nothing terribly modern – I’m still into Kerouac and Burroughs, with a smattering of John O’Hara. There’s some Nell Dunn in there, some Alan Sillitoe. The whole Angry Young Men and Kitchen Sink realism scene… I also watch a TON of British TV. You never know when a turn of phrase will inspire a line to a song!
When you co-write, is there a method to the division of labour? Who would you most like to co-write with?
All of the usual methods happen in the co-writing situation: words first, music first, everything at once… In writing with my friend Dawn [Eden Goldstein], she usually gives me a recording of a mostly finished song. It’s up to me to interpret and maybe add bits if I think that’s necessary. Then I record a demo and send it back to her to make sure I’m on the right track (I usually am!). In writing with my friend Michael [Temkin], we have a running document of lyrical bits and pieces, and a Dropbox folder full of musical bits and pieces. Sometimes we cut and paste stuff together in GarageBand, and sometimes one of us has a more complete idea, and we send it to the other person to finish it up. All permutations are acceptable, and all have produced good results. Once we get a working version of the song together, I will usually cut a basic demo, and we’ll build it up from there before it goes to the band to learn. After having written by myself almost exclusively for a long time, the co-writing thing is a welcome new experience. That said, I don’t know who I’d seek out to write with currently. I’d love to write a song with Paul Weller, but Paul Weller circa 1979, you know? Ok, maybe Graham Coxon would consider writing with me. Maybe…
Your music is almost relentlessly upbeat. Are you a positive person by nature?
Not at all. I’m not into fun… Ha! Seriously though, I don’t consider myself a bummer by nature, but I tend to see the glass half empty a lot.
Your songwriting has evolved over the years, while staying firmly rooted in power pop. Would you attribute this growth to the people you collaborate with or is it more organic than that?
I suppose I’m getting better at knowing what I want to write, whether on my own or with others. I really do enjoy writing with Dawn and Michael. They both know me pretty well and know what I like to hear, whether it’s within the confines of the genre or not.
You’ve covered The Kinks and The Who on tribute albums. Is there a song you wish you’d written or that you would like to cover?
I played a monthly solo gig for years that was mostly covers, so I think I’ve covered most of the songs that would fall in the “would like to cover” basket. I think rather than a song I wish that I’d written, I would like to know what led to various song bits or arrangement ideas or chord changes coming into existence. The whole “how the hell did they write that” thing is very interesting to me. Was it an accident, or was it planned?
You’ve had “The Coolest Song In The World” on Little Steven’s Underground Garage with pretty much every album, including Times on the Thames from the latest disc. What does that feel like?
I will tell you that I NEVER tire of hearing myself on the radio. It feels good every time! It’s really cool that our music doesn’t feel out of place being slotted in a set list between bands that I’ve been listening to my whole life, or bands whose records I own, that I’ve gone to see when they have toured. It feels like we’re doing something right.
Are there any stories behind the songs you’d like to share?
Tea is mentioned in so many of our songs, as is driving, as is smoking. I’m still of the “smoking is cool” school, although I stopped almost 20 years ago… Make of that what you will!
Are you already forming ideas for a new album?
We’re at least 20 songs in towards the next record (or the next record after that)! Now we have to figure out which record each song goes towards!
Is there anything you’d like to say to readers of The Progressive Aspect?
Thank you in advance for reading, and thank you to you, John, for asking me to participate.
And finally, any other random thoughts you’d like to share?
I really like being around guitars, even if I’m not playing them.
[You can read John Giordano’s review of The Devil, The Tower, The Star, The Moon by The Anderson Council, HERE.]