Yes, Sam Anderson plays cello in several bands around town—Kay Kay & His Weathered Underground, Ravenna Woods, Bryan John Appleby and, most notably, Hey Marseilles. He began studying the instrument privately at age 6. But one of Anderson’s greatest fears, he says, is being put in a box.
“People see me in the third concert I’ve played that week and they’re like, ‘You’re the guy! The Cello Guy!’ No, I’m just happy to be here. I don’t identify as the Cello Guy.”
As if to prove his point, Anderson released his first solo recording under the name Arkomo and entitled Ace Imagery in late November. Its nine compositions sound nothing like any of the bands he runs with. In fact, they sound like nothing else coming out of Seattle right now.
Ace Imagery is an amalgam of electronic-inflected experimental pop, sleek and concise and unpredictable. It’s alternatingly catchy and obtuse, diffuse and plucky and danceable. (My ears hear obscure touchstones like the Books, Battles, Minotaur Shock and Wagon Christ.) It’s an immersive work four years in the making—a remarkable span of time considering that Anderson is 23.
He plays all the instruments on the album: guitar, electric bass, upright bass, piano, synths, fiddle, viola, drums, drum machine. He sings. His only collaborator is vocalist Tara Kelly Kearns; for the simmering, pulsing chorus of “Pond,” Anderson and Kearns harmonize on a lyric that sounds very much like “tomatoes of rhythm.”
“I was reluctant to use the instruments I excel at, like cello, because it was too obvious or too easy,” he says. “It wasn’t the sound I was hearing. In a way, I think about the record as a statement: This is different, and if you dig it, get in touch. Like a production business card.”
As producer and engineer of Hey Marseilles’ second album, last year’s Lines We Trace, Anderson was instrumental—ahem—in pushing the band into less familiar terrain: The album includes a handful of ambient, classically-inflected interludes that arose organically from studio improvisation. That studio is on the second floor of the Columbia City home he and his brother and sister spent three years renovating. Then and now, it’s Anderson’s lab and workshop, aka Chartwell Studios, which he’s stocked with pro-grade recording gear. He’ll spend a lot of time there next year, working with the rest of Hey Marseilles to craft their next album, as well as recording and producing a slew of local bands. Anderson is reluctant to discuss specific collaborators while projects are still in motion, but he’s excited to apply his musical mind to the new and unexpected.
“I’ve been active in Seattle music since I was 16, when I started playing in clubs around town,” he says. “I’ve played in a lot of different groups, but in the back of my mind I’m always like, ‘I’m a producer, I wanna work in the studio and make cool stuff out of the spotlight. And now people are starting to recognize that, more than me being the Cello Guy.”
Hometown Anderson Island
Greatest Inspiration Risk-takers
Achilles’ Heel Isolation
Current Obsession Ghost Gallery
Photo by Mike Hipple