For years, Marisa Anderson has lived a double life of sorts, as both one of the most skilled and adventurous solo guitar players on Earth, and also as a relative secret, hidden away in her longtime hometown of Portland.
Even within the solo guitar scene—which has grown over the past decade—Anderson’s work often feels overlooked by all but the most committed enthusiasts for dusty, six-stringed sounds. But that’s changing; with the thrust of the mighty Thrill Jockey Records behind her new album Cloud Corner, Anderson can feel an increase in interest and attention for her music.
“I’ve just been me doing me my whole life, and things attach or fall away,” Anderson says. “Honestly, I don’t know why it’s happening, [but] it is happening. It’s fine. I like doing what I do. It’s not the reason I do it. But I don’t want to think about that too much. I just want to do what I do.”
What Anderson does is use the guitar as a jumping-off point for exploring the spaces and intersections where traditional folk, country, and blues meet modern classical music, outernational sounds, drones, avant-garde song forms, and experimental techniques. She’s been on that journey as a solo artist for a dozen years, with six full-length albums to her name, along with a handful of collaborations and film scores. Before she recorded under her own name, she played in Portland’s radical Evolutionary Jass Band.
“I moved here in the mid- [or] late ’90s, when it was easy to get a room, easy to get work, easy to not have to work too much,” says Anderson, who grew up in Northern California and started learning to play the guitar at about 10. “It was a comfortable place to land.”
Anderson’s two most recent solo albums each came with a theme: 2016’s Into the Light is the soundtrack for an imaginary sci-fi western, and 2013’s Traditional and Public Domain Songs explains itself. By contrast, Cloud Corner has no theme, unless you consider “gorgeous and serene songs composed in search of personal peace” a theme.
Like many American artists, Anderson finds herself reacting to life in Donald Trump’s America through her work. And her conclusion is that we must remember to keep our heads up and our eyes on the bigger picture, even as we feel overwhelmed by the here and now.
“If I can make one metaphor, this record is about taking the long view,” she says. “Being part of things, but looking at them through a bigger lens. This is where we are now, but this is not where we’re always gonna be. Perspective—that’s the word. It’s really easy to get caught up in the everyday, so this record is like taking a time-out, but not checking out.”
On Cloud Corner, that sounds like gently undulating acoustic string patterns (“Pulse”), African desert blues licks (“Slow Ascent”), modern takes on old-time music (“Cloud Corner”), and mournful ambient string-scapes (“Lament”). Despite their differing styles, the album’s 10 songs are bound together by Anderson’s graceful playing and an overarching sense of calm. That’s not necessarily what Anderson was planning as she made Cloud Corner, but it’s what came out.
“I’m enjoying playing the songs,” she says. “They do give me a little break. I tackle some heavy things in my show sometimes, so it’s kind of nice to be like, ‘Here’s a song that just feels good.’ Everything I do is sort of caught up in current events, and this record is a wider lens—a more forgiving, compassionate, hopeful way of interacting.”