Eric Anderson had written a handful of songs for the fourth album from his ongoing pop outfit Cataldo when he needed some advice. As fresh ideas for melodies and lyrics fermented in his mind, he sat down with his roommate Mike, a sound artist with an appreciation of Top-40 pop that had earned him Anderson’s trust.
The problem was that the recording process for Anderson’s third album, Prison Boxing, had left the 27-year-old songwriter wanting. That album was a step forward for Anderson, casting his melodic hooks and poetic couplets in a more refined folk-pop landscape, building on the acoustic-guitar parts, odd banjo run, and chorus of voices found on the songwriter’s earlier work. But Anderson felt that the process had slipped from his tight grasp. He told Mike that he wanted to retain more control while working within the modest budget that his day job at an ice-cream shop afforded him.
“I knew there was this barn that I could get free studio time at,” he says now, sitting in the back of a Capitol Hill coffee shop. “I thought I would just show up and engineer all the stuff just like my past records. It would be cheap—I was so strapped for money—and it would be easy.”
Then Mike said something that radically altered the album’s trajectory.
“That makes a lot of sense,” Anderson recalls his roommate saying. “It’s very sensible, but what do you want to do?”
Anderson was struck by a question he says he had never really considered. After some hemming and hawing, he answered, and an unlikely litany of wants followed: “Well, if money was no object, I guess the drums would be compositionally similar to hip-hop or R&B or modern pop drums, which is all boom and bap, kick drum and snare. And it would be cool to have horns, but, like, horns, a sensual cool horn arrangement, and I want to sing in a more conversational manner. And I wouldn’t play guitar; I’m kind of bored with that.”
Mike replied, “Well, why don’t you do that?”
It took some time, but eventually Anderson took his roommate’s advice. The resulting album, Gilded Oldies, is everything that Anderson said he wanted, and very different from anything he’s done before. Gone is the strumming rhythm of Anderson’s past; in its place is a booming kick drum, undergirding simple piano parts and sophisticated, moving horn arrangements that replace the sometimes-precious folk instrumentation of Cataldo’s previous releases. The album is a transformation for the artist, who managed to get what he wanted by squirreling away $500 to record those drum parts in a studio, and by swallowing his pride and asking phenomenal horn player Ahamefule Oluo, an artist he respected but didn’t know, to arrange the horns.
“It took more time, took more money,” Anderson says, “but I went into this project with the attitude of ‘I’m not fucking around,’ and everyone else followed.”
That confidence has spread into every part of Anderson’s art. Along with the new sound has come a new stage show that features the formerly frumpy 6´4˝ singer—slimmed, shaven, and suited—as a light-footed frontman, untethered from his guitar, leading a serious band laying down music that crackles with emotion and exuding a bravado that mimics hip-hop as much as those drums do.
“You don’t get to drink from my cup,” Anderson sings on the album’s most seething, aggressive track, “The Beast.” “The things that touch my lips are going to shred you up.”
These are bold moves for an artist from Seattle’s folk-pop scene, where humility in song and an acoustic instrument in hand have begun to look more pathological than paramount. Anderson’s peers should take heed. If the band’s last album was a step forward, Gilded Oldies is a bounding leap for Cataldo, a sign of true artistic growth. Anderson knows it.
“The impediment between doing this album the way I wanted and not doing it that way was so small when I said it out loud,” Anderson says. “I think that the fact that this [album] is better is because I decided to just do it. And not just do it because I knew a guy who could do it for free, but to find the guy I wanted to do it and just do it.” Friday, February 28. With Heatwarmer, Henry at War. Tractor Tavern, 5213 Ballard Ave NW, 789-3599. 9 p.m. $10. 21 and over.