Taken separately and then together, The 1900s' tracks "Whole of the Law" and "When I Say Go" represent the multiple ways one songwriter can get the same result—writing a great song. In this case, the writer in question is Edward Anderson, a Chicago musician who admits he began to make friends who happened to be smart musicians several years ago. "Whole of the Law," written before the band was formed and included on the Plume Delivery EP, was originally meant as a somber, almost-solo acoustic number. When the band grabbed it, though, they added a gliding twee bounce and a weepy, tense-but-teasing violin line. It works. But Anderson knew exactly how the piano-led "When You Go" would resolve: It would be sung by a female, and it would be the single from last year's Cold & Kind. He was right. Over a cup of mint tea and a telephone call, Anderson discussed his trade and the effect a band can have on it.
INDEPENDENT: This song is from your first EP. When did you write it?
EDWARD ANDERSON: I had the song before I had the band, so it's maybe just over three years old. It was never really meant to have.... Well, I had it before I had the band. We'd go camping or something and have the guitars around the fire and I would play that song, and the people that became the band liked it. The demo I did had an accordion and a guitar. It was never meant to be this sort of song, but everyone liked it and wanted to play it.
So this is a song you wrote but the band sort of brought to itself over time?
Yeah, you could say that.
The string arrangements in "Whole of the Law" reflect the melancholy and anxiety of the song in how they move. How were they composed?
Well, there are a couple. There's the hook, like the main melody. [Hums.] That was written on an accordion, but there's a major string-section part in the middle where it gets all emotional and Disney. That was written by the violinist at the time who's not in the band anymore. She wrote the string parts that aren't just the melody line.
That's probably one of the best things about having a band—turning the song over and letting them do as they will.
It's always exciting. It's always surprising that, in your head, you think it has to be one way and then you hand it over and it's like, "Yeah, whatever. Why not do it like that?" I had just always assumed it would sound like that, but then the rest of the band is like, "Why not try this?" It happened to a bunch of other songs. You write these quiet songs and then three or four years later, it's this massive production. But it's cool. I love it when that happens, when things go in unexpected directions. And with so many people, too, you can go so many places you never expected.
What can you tell me about your emotional state when you wrote "Whole of the Law"?
I don't know. It's a tough question to relate something to writing a song right when it's going on. It might sound weird, but—when I'm writing a song—I'm thinking about something that happened long ago or something that hasn't happened yet or both at the same time. There's nothing I could tell you that would be like, "Oh, well, this happened and I wrote this song." You just kind of start singing.
Has this song reflected something that's happened since you wrote it, you think?
It's not so much.... It's a very non-specific song. It's more of a general emotional state or an emotional choice that you can experience on a micro-scale a few times a day or in a longer slump. It's not maybe a one-time thing that you get over. It could be about something that hits you once in a while, and it's a choice: You either have to grab yourself and get yourself moving, or wallow in the darkness—and enjoy that as much as you can, I guess.
Does the narrator of "Whole of the Law" get himself out?
Wow. I'm trying to think about the lyrics....The chorus is "Into the darkness/ Where I've been waiting around/ I stood right in front of/ the light and turned back around." So take that as it is, I think.
On the new record, Cold & Kind, did you still find yourself writing songs that were radically changed by the band, even though you've been with most of these people for a while?
Yeah, definitely. The first song on the record, "No Delay," was originally written on classical guitar and had a little handclap or something and a harmony. Then it morphed into a full rock-band song. When we first started the band, it was one of the first two or three we ever played, and it was this more generic rock arrangement of the song. We all got sick of that, so when we started to do the record, it was one of the songs I wanted to bring to a string arranger. So we transferred it to piano with a string quartet and a big horn section. It went through a lot of changes. It got shortened, too. There were originally a lot of verses and choruses, and we made it so that everything happened once. So, I definitely still do that.
With seven people in the band, do you still write most of the songs?
The majority of them. There's one song that Mike Jasinski wrote, called "Georgia." He came up with the keyboard part and put it together. We worked on some changes, and I brought in the lyrics. But for the most part, it's mostly me bringing the whole band or some people in the band the song. There are certain holes in the song that are always filled by the band. Like I may have the same beat through a whole song when I'm using the drum machine, or I'll have the bass drop out in a part.
With a band this big, you often have female vocalists singing words you write. When you write a song like "When I Say Go," do you know you won't be singing it?
For that one I did. "When I Say Go" is the last song I did for the album, and I knew I wanted a really catchy pop song. It was just brewing in my head—what style I wanted to make it. I was sitting at the piano, and I wrote the whole thing in five minutes—not the words, but it just happened really fast. It's all different.
The 1900s play Local 506 Tuesday, Jan. 8, with Wye Oak (formerly Monarch). The 9 p.m. show costs $7.