Interview with Rock Photographer Alissa Anderson - Part 2

Posted by Miss Ess, March 5, 2010 03:13pm | Post a Comment

Here we continue the interview with San Francisco's own rock photographer Alissa Anderson! In this edition, aside from more chatting about Alissa's favorite moments in her artistic career, check out photos (some exclusive!) of artists including Joanna Newsom, Vashti Bunyan, Vetiver, CocoRosie, David Byrne, SIlver Jews, Beach House, Bert Jansch, Meg Baird, Devendra Banhart, Donovan, Little Wings and more! Please see Part 1 to catch up!

Joanna Newsom and Neal Morgan - Big Sur - March 28, 2009

Miss Ess: How did you come to photograph the Joanna Newsom show in Big Sur?

You were the only photographer allowed.

Alissa Anderson: I planned on taking pictures from the moment I found out about the show since I knew it was going to be such an intimate and historic occasion. I have shot Jo many times over the years, from her very first shows at the Hemlock, and I hadn’t seen her play in a long time. I’ve shot many times at the Fernwood so I knew what the situation would be like. I brought my Hasselblad and just shot a roll from my seat in the front. I didn’t want to be too distracting for Joanna or the band and it was extremely crowded; I was pretty squished up against the stage! Ironically, my favorite shot ended up being the one of her tuning.

ME: What was the show like? Can you describe the scene a bit for those of us who were not there? How were the new songs (now released on Have One on Me)?

AA: The vibe in Big Sur was relaxed but definitely buzzing with anticipation. The crowd was pretty diverse. It was nice to see Jo’s family and friends I hadn’t seen in a long time. There were definitely a lot of Nevada City and San Francisco folks, especially since Mariee Sioux was on the bill. A lot of Fernwood/FolkYeah regulars came out who bought tickets far in advance and really had no idea she was going to play. Joanna’s headlining slot remained a secret right up until that day, even though “The Beatles’s” was clearly a fake band name. There were actually a few tickets still available at the door when it opened.

I’ve seen many shows at the Fernwood but this one was by far the most anticipated. Joanna was playing brand-new songs that she was just about to record that had not even been performed in public, so I think most people were just trying to soak up the songs as much as they could while they had the opportunity.  There’s a lot going on in her music -- lyrically, melodically, and rhythmically -- so there’s a lot to pay attention to, especially when you know you’re not going to hear them again for a very long time.

Even though the audience was extremely attentive, the room itself is super small, so people spilled out into the bar area. Inevitably, no matter who the performer is, on a Friday night at a bar you end up with drunk people talking loudly over the music. So I imagine it was pretty difficult for many people towards the back to hear, as well as frustrating for the performers. But everyone seemed to be in a great mood and took it in stride.

ME: You are a musician yourself [Alissa has played cello and flute in Vetiver] -- what has been your peak musical experience thus far in your life?

AA: It sounds so cliché but you really can’t beat playing at Carnegie Hall. Even though I only played one song on the flute! Hearing my own playing travel through that magical room and come back to me was a completely unforgettable and surreal experience. Some of my dearest friends were playing onstage that night and many of our parents and loved ones traveled a long way to be there, so it truly felt like a convergence of everyone’s given and created families.

Vetiver - Carnegie Hall Soundcheck - February 3, 2007

Vashti Bunyan - Carnegie Hall Soundcheck - February 3, 2007

Cocorosie -Carnegie Hall Soundcheck - February 3, 2007

David Byrne with Andy Cabic of Vetiver Backstage - Carnegie Hall - February 3, 2007

Devendra Banhart and Adem Plus Band & Co Waiting in the Wings - Carnegie Hall - February 3, 2007

ME: What's the most exciting live show you have ever been a part of?

AA: Although the Carnegie Hall show was pretty hard to top, 3 other Vetiver shows stand out for me:

-The Bowery Ballroom, NY - Devendra/Joanna/Vetiver Tour, 2004.

Antony also played and we had a huge “Family Jam” with friends singing and dancing onstage. I had never played a room that big before and there was so much excitement in the air. There was definitely a feeling among the performers as well as the audience that something really historic was happening. We met Chris Robinson from the Black Crowes that night, who has been a fan and good friend of Vetiver ever since, and a picture from that show became a 2-page spread in Spin.

-Arthurfest, LA -  Los Angeles, 2006.

So many incredible bands played over 3 days. Vetiver played on the last day as the sun was going down directly in front of us. It was so hot onstage our instruments kept losing tuning. We all had BluBlockers on and mine kept slipping down while I was playing. Halfway through the set Comets on Fire started playing on the far stage and they were so loud. It was pretty hilarious. It was all filmed for a documentary about the festival that has yet to be released.

-Bolinas, CA – Quiet Quiet Window Lights Festival, 2005

A “Family Jam” where Vetiver ended up onstage with Kevin Barker, Chris from Espers, Joanna, Dev, and Michael Hurley all singing the Michael Hurley tune “Be Kind To Me.” A recording of that ended up on a Believer magazine compilation.

ME: What is the most bizarre place you have found yourself in, taking photos? Who/what were you shooting?

AA: On tour with Devendra in 2005 in Cork, Ireland. Donovan came out to the show, was extremely friendly and funny, and we all ended up having a sing-a-long backstage afterwards.

ME: What's coming up next for you?


AA: A couple of my tour photos are in The Art of Touring, compiled by Sara Jaffe (Erase Errata) and Mia Clarke (Electrelane), which you can order through Yeti.

I’m really excited to be working on a project with Kevin Barker called The Family Jams, a documentary film about the epic 2004 Devendra/Joanna/Vetiver tour. I’ll hopefully be releasing the photos I shot on that tour, which have never been published, with the DVD release of the documentary.

The Family Jams - Trailer from kevin barker on Vimeo.

Also, I’m continuing to work on projects with my friend Joel Bernstein, an incredible rock and roll photographer. He took some of the most epic and iconic music shots of all time before he was even 21. Just helping him organize his personal archives inspires me to be a better photographer.

ME: What's been your best find at Amoeba?

AA: Andy’s the real record-buyer in the household. He’s got such a huge collection I’m never without new music to listen to!

ME: Thanks so much for your time!

More beautiful images by Alissa Anderson:

Vetiver - 2005

Beach House - Festival in the Forest, Big Sur - 2008

Silver Jews - Festival in the Forest, Big Sur - 2008

Bert Jansch and Meg Baird Backstage - Arthur Nights - October 20, 2006

Little Wings - Winters, California - January 31, 2009

The Black Crowes with Vetiver - Milwaukee - December 7, 2008

James Mercer of the Shins with Andy Cabic - Atlanta - January 1, 2008

Relevant Tags

Bert Jansch (5), Meg Baird (3), Donovan (5), Little Wings (15), Beach House (30), Silver Jews (2), David Byrne (11), Cocorosie (3), Vashti Bunyan (7), Interview (341), Devendra Banhart (13), Vetiver (19), Joanna Newsom (36), Alissa Anderson (3), Alissa Anderson Interview (2), Black Crowes (2), Shins (3), Neal Morgan (5), Kevin Barker (3), The Family Jams (2)