Jacy James Anderson is an indie-folk singer-songwriter who grew up on the Big Island, but is now based out of Denver, Colorado. He says his time here, especially under the tutelage of Honoka’a High band teacher Gary Washburn, helped shape his sound. In a Big Island Beat Podcast interview, Anderson reflected on his rural to an urban musical journey.
“My parents once owned a CD store here in Colorado and we ended up moving to Hawaii when I was about eight or nine,” recalled Anderson. “Once we got to Hawaii, it was kind of just natural to fall into the music scene. I ended up going to school in Honoka’a and Gary Washburn’s music program got me interested in music and instilled the love of music. From there, I picked up a saxophone, and eventually my parents got me a guitar and it just kind of went from there.” In 2010, Anderson joined a local reggae band called Nonami as lead guitarist and they played clubs like the Blue Dragon Musiquarium.
“Once I got out of high school, I ended up going to Berklee College of Music in Boston. I’d heard about it from one of my drummer friends on the Big Island, Noa Edes.” Anderson graduated from Berklee College of Music with a dual major in Songwriting and Professional Music with a focus in Performance and Contemporary Writing and Production. He has performed with artists such as Laney Jones and the Spirits, Monica Rizzio, and has opened for well-known artists including Lake Street Dive, Brad Paisley, and Lady Antebellum.
“Washburn very quickly became a mentor for me in life, as well as in music, and he gave me a great opportunity to find my voice and to try to learn how to work really hard to get where I wanted to be with my music,” remembered Anderson. “He was always supportive of that, whether it was in the jazz band while I was playing saxophone, or if we were in our ensemble class where I was playing guitar. Gary has these piercing eyes, and he gets right to the core of what you need to hear. He’ll give you that tough love when you need it.”
– Jacy James Anderson
Anderson’s debut album Blackout Poetry was released on October 23 and says the overall theme of the recording reflects his struggle with anxiety and panic disorder, and how he overcame it. “The title of the record refers to a type of erasure poems, like when you look at a newspaper, poem, or some prose, and you start to black out different words and you’re left with a new poem,” explained Anderson in the podcast interview. “When I was writing the record, I was spending so much time just editing my lyric notebook, and one day it just looked like blackout poetry. So, I thought that would be a cool name for the record. I felt like it explained that self-doubt, that anxiety I’m talking about. I feel it’s kind of a poetic name and metaphor for the record.”
Did Anderson’s time in Hawaii shape his musical style? “Often in Hawaii, you will hear the phrase ‘talking story,’ a story that is passed down through time. It could be a chant or a song, and I think that the storytelling tradition in Hawaii really impacts me when it comes to writing my songs.”
Anderson’s music is often compared to early songwriting greats like Leonard Cohen and John Prine and modern-day heavy-hitters like Gregory Alan Isakov, Jose Gonzalez, and Noah Gunderson, Anderson is heartbreaking in his vulnerability – his delicate approach to tough subjects like mental health, self-esteem, and violence provides a sound that spotlights the human condition with depth and brevity.
So far, two singles have so far been released from the album “What Are You Waiting For?” and the second single “Hollow” reveals a far more emotional side. Anderson spent about $30,000 to record Blackout Poetry, some of which he was able to recoup through a Kickstarter project. He says he would have made it whether the Kickstarter had been successful or not.
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