Interview: Hamish Anderson on B.B. King and singing blues
Hamish Anderson

Hamish Anderson is an Australian singer-songwriter who now calls Los Angeles home. He plays a blues-rock style that is influenced by blues greats like B.B. King and Peter Green. Last fall he released the blues-rock EP entitled Trouble, which displayed his ability both as a guitarist and songwriter. By phone he discussed working with producer Jim Scott (Tom Petty, Wilco), opening for B.B. King and performing at South by Southwest

AXS: What did you learn from working with Jim Scott?

Hamish Anderson: I learned a lot from working with Jim. We saw eye to eye on wanting to do most of the record live, and not do many overdubs, and not overthink it. That's why I like blues. It has that raw quality to it.

AXS: Do you find that minimal approach works best for you?

HA: Some of the songs, the vocals are from a live performance. That's the kind of thing I like. I'm at a place where I feel really comfortable playing live. It serves the songs I'm writing best in the overall sound.

AXS: As a big blues fan, what was it like for you to open for B.B. King?

HA: It was very surreal. My dad played B.B. King for me when I was 13 or 14. I became obsessed with his playing style, his voice. It was surreal coming to America and being able to open up for him. It was very bittersweet because that turned out to be his last tour. The tour was cut short because he got ill. Ten out of 10 times I would have done it because it meant so much to me personally.

AXS: What was the crowd like? 

HA: It was great. Before that I really only played clubs - medium-sized venues. Playing these big performing-arts centers was really daunting, but playing in front of an audience that loves the blues and loves guitar - they were really responsive. The last gig I did with him was at the House of Blues in Chicago. That was amazing just being in Chicago where a lot of the music I love came from.

AXS: Did you feel like you had to do anything different in preparing to open for B.B. King?

HA: Sometimes in my usual show, there's a lot of guitar solos. But I also like to do acoustic numbers and ballads. The B.B. King shows focused very much on the blues side of it and the guitar side of it. I'd even throw in a cover of a traditional blues song. That audience - they're about the guitar and the blues. When you're supporting someone, you really have to keep the audience's attention. 

AXS: I read that you've done some tour dates with The Rides (Steven Stills, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Barry Goldberg). What did you learn touring from them?

HA: It's amazing seeing guys like Steven Stills and Barry Goldberg, who have been playing their whole lives. They're now in their 70s, and they're still doing it. That's something I look up to and admire. It's something I hope I'm doing when I'm 70 or however old. Music for them is everything, and it keeps them going. The same thing with B.B. King, the way Steven Stills interplays with the members of his band and acts as a leader. That's the kind of thing I'm watching for.

AXS: Do you feel like you pick some stuff up just watching them lead the band?

HA: Definitely. It's not really in a James Brown or Prince way where they're dictating everything. It's just the interplay between the musicians - especially how the guitar and drums lock in together. It's really inspiring for me to see people who have done it for so long and bring an intensity and passion to it.

AXS: It must feel pretty good for you to play with some of these artists later in their lives.

HA: Yeah. Especially with B.B. King. Now it's Buddy Guy and Otis Rush, and there are not many of those guys left. It's amazing to see them to continue to do it and inspire people.

AXS: You're going to be pretty busy at South By Southwest. Have you been there before?

HA: I played there in 2015. That time too I think I had seven shows in three days. This time I'm there a little bit longer and I'll be doing nine or 10 things total. It goes really fast, and there's music coming out of every corner of Austin. Having gone to Chicago, and then playing Austin - it's just such a blues and music town. It's awesome to go there and soak it up.

AXS: What advice would you give to artists going to South By Southwest for the first time?

HA: Get ready for a rough time. You don't get a lot of time to sound check. You have to hit and go. For me I'm just paranoid about blowing out my voice. I just kind of play and then take it easy. It's great. There's music everywhere. It's inspiring to cross paths with all these musicians you admire and take bits and pieces from them.

AXS: Is there anyone, in particular, you're looking forward to seeing at South by Southwest?

HA: I like seeing the Austin-based artists that play there all the time. Gary Clark, Jr. is from there. He's always inspiring to see. I have another friend from Australia named Alex Leahy. She's playing it as well. It's always cool to cross paths with people you know.

AXS: What would you be doing if you weren't making music?

HA: It would definitely be something to do with the arts. I really like film and writing. It would be something in a creative field. Making something from nothing is always the interesting part for me.

Hamish Anderson's EP Trouble is available everywhere now. Beginning March 13, he will perform at South by Southwest.