For someone who has less than 12 hours to write 20 songs, Eric Anderson doesn't seem too stressed out (yet). The mastermind behind Cataldo is taking part in a songwriting challenge with some musician pals. "The idea is that if you set a goal to write a song every 36 minutes or whatever, you just can't be too picky or judge your own work too harshly because you just need to meet this crazy deadline," he says as he apologizes for the "mess" in his Central District home studio.
It's one of the cleanest work spaces I've ever seen—guitar pedal chains lined up in rows on small stands, cords tucked neatly underneath keyboards, and a whiteboard with 20 little circles that Anderson checks off as he finishes each song. He's done six so far.
This songwriting challenge couldn't be more different than that of his latest album, Keepers, which took almost two years, multiple trips to recording studios around town, and endless e-mails wrangling the many musicians who participated (including Ben Gibbard, violinist Andrew Joslyn, Danielle Sullivan from Wild Ones, mixer Tucker Martine, and members of Pickwick, Fruit Bats, electro-pop band the Silver Torches, among others).
Each song on Keepers sounds different from the last, from the disco-chill, toe-tapping urgency of "Photograph" to the nostalgic piano chords in "Straight Up Western (White Noise)." But the one unifying aspect may just be Anderson's melodic and harmonic nous, joined with his supple, cerebral way with words. And in terms of its production value, Keepers is also his most ambitious to date, in keeping with his ultra-perfectionist tendencies. Which means he's 100 percent satisfied now, right?
"There is this feeling, no matter what, that I'll crack it next time," he explains. "Like I'll make the perfect thing, where I wouldn't change anything about it. And that is very motivating. But then life happens, and being a human being happens, and you make another plan and adjust things, and eventually you land on something that you feel really good about."
With Keepers, Anderson has hit his career sweet spot in the constant push and pull between creative pursuits and economic reality. For the past nine years, while making Cataldo records, he's also been working his way up from ice-cream scooper to area manager at Molly Moon's. Now Molly Moon's is releasing the album on vinyl for the launch of its new label, Mooncrew Records.
"It's just been a really slow burn," Anderson says. Last year, Cataldo toured with an eight-piece band for their album Gilded Oldies, pushing themselves to play every festival in the state that they could. Their hard work generated both critical acclaim for the album and growing attention outside of the city.
"We've never had this moment where we got exponentially way more popular, but one foot in front of the other, one record after the next, in a linear way, we just got a little more cachet each time," he says. "And so now it's funny to be at the place where we're selling tickets in places that aren't Seattle."
But, Anderson admits, because of the "crumbling economy around music," the hard work doesn't always pay off in the other way—the money way. Whereas in the past he would cut an album in his basement in Olympia or his parents' house in Idaho, he's now developed "champagne tastes" for recording studios and working with top-notch talent.
Cataldo records, like nearly all music releases in 2017, still cost more than they earn. But this reality brings the freedom to "be able to do kind of whatever you want, whenever you want, and with whomever you want. In a way, the people who are in my same position are almost like Beyoncé. Beyoncé can put out a record and it could make zero dollars—and Beyoncé is fine. And I feel the same way, actually. I've also never felt more validated by my peers, who I really like and respect. This record could just eat shit, and I would be okay. My ego would be bruised, but financially, I just don't count on it for money."
For the album release, Anderson is celebrating by hosting a Nerd Prom, presented with Artist Home and KEXP. The party will be complete with DJs (Ben Gibbard from Death Cab for Cutie, KEXP's Sharlese Metcalf, Marco Collins, Chris Staples, and The Stranger's own Kathleen Tarrant), spiked punch, a photo booth and a table full of eyeglasses to try on for posing. Which sounds fun—but why nerds? "Well, I myself am a nerd. Which is... not like Beyoncé," he laughs. "I'm like Beyoncé in many ways, as we've discussed, but not in my stage presence. I guess I just know my place as a frontman."