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If youth is spent looking forward to the future, and old age is spent looking back at the past, then our thirties is something Cataldo’s Eric Anderson describes in the title track of Literally Main Street as “early middle age.” It’s when we begin to look over our shoulders to see how all the nicks, bruises, and bad mistakes connect to who we are and how we became that way. For many the answers to those questions are rooted in the towns we came from and defining experiences we had there. Flannery O'Connor once wrote “Anybody who has survived his childhood has enough information about life to last him the rest of his days,” something Anderson proves with profound wit and lyricism on the new album Literally Main Street.

Now entering his mid-thirties, Anderson began writing these songs during a writing exercise with a group of well-known powerhouse Pacific Northwest musicians. Each performer wrote twenty brand new songs in one day and shared them with each other the next, a humbling experience he describes as “CRAZY” in all caps when recalling the story.

“What is this song about?” isn’t an easy question to answer once let alone twenty times in a row, but Anderson found himself going to the same well for inspiration. “I just kept thinking of people I grew up with in Idaho,” he explains, “things that had happened to me, characters and situations from that era of my life. ‘What should happen next?’ was always answered by ‘well, what would they have done?’ if not ‘what did they actually do?’ I think I just now have the distance to write about that time with some wisdom and perspective.” Album highlights like “White Lighter” and “Ding Dong Scrambled Eggs” emerged from this session. “I'm not sure why I fixated on that,” says Anderson, “but I started deliberately digging around in those memories while writing the rest of the record. I’d just mentally wander around my hometown and think of people and experiences from that block, that building, or that storefront.”

In looking to that past, Anderson delights in specificity and detail avoiding the selective omissions and, if not nostalgia itself, at least its rose-colored hue. “I tried to write songs about what it was really like growing up in a weird small town, not a tarted up banjo-and-suspenders version of what people imagine it might be like,” he says. The characters in these songs are drinking “cheap gin and Hawaiian Punch” and hooking up with “that guy who only wears sandals.” They’re “barfing on the chaise lounge” and “teaching fitness martial arts.” Working with John Vanderslice as a producer would provide the perfect match when it came to translating that “warts-and-all” approach to the sound of the record.

Recording and mixing to analog tape at Tiny Telephone Studios, Anderson explains how one aspect of Vanderslice’s famously computer-phobic methodology complimented his songwriting. “He only lets you put one take of anything on the reel,” explains Anderson. “Normally while recording you play the song a few times, pick the best take, and do some editing in Pro Tools to make it just right. John’s restrictions left you with two choices: keep what you just recorded or rewind, record another take, and tape over what you just did (thereby erasing it forever).”  

“It’s so intense! Every time you step in front of the mic it’s important; you’re trying to record the definitive version every single take. Not only that but when a take has 10 amazing things and 1 weird keep the take!” It’s easy to hear what Anderson describes: snare drums are late, bass guitars hit clams, and the vocal sometimes doesn’t nail pitch. Whether heard or felt the aggregate effect grabs the listener by the lapels--it sounds like real people playing music in a room where something important is at stake.

The seriousness and integrity of that approach means the mood of the recording is as captivating as Anderson’s gift with story and language. “When You First See Waves” reflects on the death of an upperclassman in a car crash, a peek at mortality that deeply affected him even though he only knew her in passing. “For me you were right at the edge of my page,” he sings. “For some you were right at the center, baby / I was throwing rocks into the depth of their pain /and what a faint little splash they made / Well don't life just happen on a regular day / That's when I first heard the waves.”

The title track touches upon Anderson’s reflections on a friend of his who came out in high school in the 90s. “I started thinking about having to parse if a situation is romantic or platonic in the closet in a small town. That’s hard enough for straight teenagers, what would it be like if you were gay? So I took early romantic situations from my own life and interpolated them through that lens. I really did go for a walk with someone down literally Main Street, falling down in icy spots and grabbing each other by the hand. The song is about yearning for a relationship and without knowing for certain that it was romantic.”

These and other stories pull back the drapes of an unvarnished past and invites you to cup your hands against the glass and look in. A look back at small-town adolescent weirdness, with all the awkward moments, nervous energy, and previously uncharted experiences left honest and unadorned. “In the arrangements, performances, and songs themselves everything is a little sideways and off-kilter,” says Anderson, “but isn’t that how life really is?"