Local music fans have had no trouble finding Todd Anderson on stages around town, either as a guitar player in synth-pop band the Vanilla Beans or more recently as Shady Bug's bass player. But where his role in those bands was vital but not designed to draw too much focus, Anderson has also been making his own dreamy brand of bedroom pop over the past ten years.
For the bulk of that time, he performed and recorded under the name I Could Sleep in the Clouds, but this summer he released a four-song EP under the name From a Cloud.
"I felt like changing the name would make me branch out and try something new," Anderson says. That "something new" includes a tear-down approach to his composition and instrumentation, which usually begins on guitar. For the self-titled EP and quasi-debut of From a Cloud, Anderson eschews the guitar almost entirely, letting laptop beats and mild synths prop up his gentle, sleepy delivery.
From a Cloud's debut EP was just released this summer, but already Anderson, with the help of his friends, has added to the group's canon. On the Live from Bird Cloud album, Anderson resurrects eleven songs from his time performing as I Could Sleep in the Clouds and performs them with simple, sometimes ethereal instrumentation. In much the same way that Will Oldham often records and re-records his songbook under subtly different guises, Anderson allows himself one backward glance at his old project.
Anderson says that a few of the songs on the live recording date back almost ten years. In a broader sense, Bird Cloud serves as a compendium of Anderson's songs from his solo project's first incarnation. "I used the ones that I sensed people were more interested in," he says. "I could move on and at least I have it documented in my life, even if no one listens to it."
And while the recording sessions were done in one day with minimal overdubbing, Anderson and his band — John Hams on drums, Kaleb Kirby on electric piano and Aaron O'Neill on bass — treat the songs with delicate arrangements that frame Anderson's soft vocals and articulate nylon string guitar.
Some of those older songs on the Bird Cloud recordings have an appropriately nostalgic streak to them — young love, fresh heartbreak and the warm embrace of true friendships all get their due. But with a ten-year backlog of songs newly exorcised, Anderson looks forward to writing, recording and releasing new material
"I've been trying to figure out how to be creative without being sad," the newly married Anderson says. "I love sad songs, but it seems like it's much easier to find creativity when something is weighing on you. I am trying to figure out how to use being in a good space."
Part of the change in approach is attended by Anderson's change in instrumentation. A music teacher by day, he has fluency across all of the major rock & roll implements and leans more heavily on keys and drum machines on his solo recordings.
"I love the guitar, but I went to school at Webster for jazz guitar, and they rubbed me the wrong way on what I need to be doing with the instrument," he says, describing music school as having a "cookie cutter" mentality of its goal for graduates.
Anderson says that rather than being a jazz-performance major who could, say, internalize bebop phrasing, he changed his focus to a more broad degree in music. And even though many of the bands he has played in, including his own projects, operate on a twee mentality that prizes simplicity of form as a conduit to purity of expression, Anderson remains fascinated by the mechanics of music and its effects on the listener.
"I was just more interested in chords and how things work," he says. "I don't really care about soloing and stuff; as far as chords and chord progressions, I use as much of that as I can, but I don't want people to hear it and think I went to music school."
"I am still blown away by people who can play C and F and make it sound like something I haven't heard before," he continues. "That's my favorite thing about it."