“Outside of the band, my goal in life is to be the best husband, partner, and father I can be”: A conversation with The 1984 Draft’s Joe Anderl

Let’s talk about The 1984 Draft again, eh?  I’ve been living with their Makes Good Choices for several weeks now and there’s something about the songs and the song cycle that really resonates with me.  I don’t believe that I’m just being enthusiastic or over the top when I suggest that it’s one of the years best.

That’s not to discount their previous efforts, as I’ve been doing some investigation work (clearly watching the two seasons of Jessica Jones in a short space of time has paid off) and it appears that they Deyton, Ohio residents have honed their sound over a few releases since 2013.  Still, I was keen to learn more.

So, get yourself a cuppa and get comfy, cause frontman and primary songwriter, Joe Anderl, was kind enough to agree to engage in a discussion around the album, the band, his influences, and what’s next for him and The 1984 Draft.

The 1984 Draft’s Joe Anderl [image from Poptek.com]
Tell me something about yourself, Joe; have you always lived in Dayton, Ohio?   What’s it like?… and I guess what was it like?  What did you do for kicks growing up?

I grew up a military brat, so I moved around a lot in my early life.  We did two stints in southern California, a year in DC, and a year in Montgomery, Alabama before we moved to Ohio and my dad retired from the Air Force.  I have been in Ohio for the last 30 years, so I guess I must call it home.  Dayton is an alright place.  Growing up, I was lucky to have an older brother who was very good at including me in things.  He took me to a ton of shows and let me hang out with his friends.

Aside from that, it was a very normal childhood.  I played soccer, ran cross country, was involved in a lot of school activities like choir and student council.  I worked at a local movie theater.  I’m not sure how much you know about the Midwest in the US.  It’s basically like a bunch of houses where kids all play together on the streets.  We rode our bikes to each other’s houses and played video games and basketball.

I would say I had the quintessential Midwest upbringing.  I didn’t get in a ton of trouble.  I was lucky to just be able to be a kid.

Do you remember when music first left an impression on you?  Who was it?  What impact did it have?

Music seems to be the one thing that has never gone away in my life.  I remember in preschool standing on the pews in church, pretending to direct the choir.  Both of Grandfathers had great singing voices from what I recall.  My Dad had a voice like no other.  When we would hit one of his favorite hymns in church, you knew it.  His voice would triple in volume and he would sing with all his heart.  Still when I think of the term “powerful voices” the first thing that comes into my head is my Dad singing “Lift High The Cross”.

As a teenager my brother discovered the local music scene in Ohio which lead me into punk rock.  I remember going to some of my first shows here in town.  The bands and crowd had so much energy and they weren’t much older than me.  That made me really want to start at band, which I did at 15.  After that, I was hooked for life.

The Midwest, and specifically Dayton, was a special place to grow up in the 90’s as it related to music.  In Dayton, we had The Breeders, Brainiac, and GBV.  Cincy had the Afghan Whigs.  Columbus had The New Bomb Turks, Gaunt, and Scrawl.

There was so much talent that would come through Dayton on a regular basis.  Dayton is often referred to as the cross roads of America.  Two major highways meet in Dayton.  You can get to New York, Nashville, and Chicago all within a day or a couple hours.  So many bands were coming through in the 90’s.  I saw The Smoking Popes, Sebadoh, Jawbreaker, Green Day, and so many others.  Every weekend was built around what show we were going to.

Music became my play thing.  It was my main activity outside of school.  All I ever really thought about was playing music or going to see music.  It was what I did with my friends and where I met so many of my friends I have today.

The press stuffs mention that you’ve been playing for 20 years or so.  How has what you’re doing evolved?

Over what is now 26 years, a lot has changed.  I started playing music with my high school buddies in a ska band.  I moved into more punk bands in college.  Fronted a hardcore band in the early 20’s.  Then moved onto a folk based project which eventually morphed into the full band version of the Draft.

The game of this all has changed so much.  It wasn’t easy to record in the 90’s.  You almost always had to pay to go into the studio to cut your demo.  You then dubbed tapes and took them to venues to try and get a show.  The web was a new thing, CDR’s were just coming into play.  To get press, you mailed off your tape and hoped they would write about it in a paper zine you might not ever see or the local paper.

As I moved into college, you began to see the CD era go into full swing.  You could burn CDR’s extremely easily.  The web had blown up and you were creating your first websites and learning how to file share and post mp3’s.  Email made it so much easier to connect with people and book shows.  Webzines started to come around in the late 90’s making it easier to get your name out there.

In the early 2000’s, the webzine boom was in full force.  It was easier to get national coverage for your band.  Sites like MP3.com made it easy to share music with others.  Booking at this point was exclusively through email.  You also started to see more of the computer driven recording making it easier and more affordable for bands to do what they do.

In the mid 2000’s you began to see social media start to really drive things.  This made it so easy for anyone with a computer to be in a band.  I feel like this is the point things started to become extremely saturated and made it harder to be in a working band.  There was so much out there that it was hard to differentiate yourself.

Now a day’s it runs the full gamut.  You have print, web, radio, podcasts, web radio, Facebook. Spotify, twitter, Instagram.  It’s so hard to keep up with all of it from a musical perspective and I am learning on a daily basis what works and doesn’t.  The thing is once you figure it out it can change tomorrow.

The one thing that is great is that I haven’t changed my basic approach over 20 years.  I try and write the best music I can.  I work hard to try and have it heard.  I try my best to build positive relationships and friendships with other bands, fans, media, etc.  Most importantly, I keep it fun for myself.  I think the biggest thing is to just be grateful that you have such an awesome opportunity to share your art with others.  That’s something I won’t take for granted.

You’ve shared the bill with some really interesting acts, too.  Richard Buckner grabbed my attention right away – one of my all time favourites.  Are you a fan?

I’m a huge fan.  His voice is something spectacular.  I really enjoyed his tours he did with Doug Gillard (GBV) accompanying him on guitar.  He’s kind of weird bird to play with but I am thankful for each time I have had the opportunity to be on a bill with him.  Each time was a special show.

And you guys featured in an NFL Network documentary?  How did that come about?

Prior to the NFL documentary, we were interviewed by Sports Illustrated.  They were searching for videos of each NFL draft for a story online.  When they got to 1984 they came to a bunch of videos of us so they decided to reach out and talk to us.

Fast forward to 2014, NFL films was putting together a series of documentaries on each draft (1974, 1984, 1994, 2004) leading up to the 2014 Draft.  A senior producer reached out to us and asked if we wanted to be included.  At first, I thought it was some sort of a joke.  I looked up the guy and sure enough he was a senior producer.  I called him, and we worked out all the details.

It was a totally surreal experience with 3 vans pulling up to our practice space and setting up cameras to do an interview.  They came out to a show that evening and filmed that as well.  Everything about the experience was great and it was cool to see us on TV.

It’s kind of our thing now that we are the punk band that talks to people about football.  I am a huge college football fan, so I love that I get to tie together football with music so often.

Moving on, I guess we jump in and talk about Makes Good Choices: tell me about the album, man.  Where did it come from and where does the title come from?

My mom has always told me to make good choices.  It’s kind of her mantra.  My wife even had my mom cross stich a picture that said that for me for Christmas one year.  When we decided to use her for the cover art it only made sense to call the album “Makes Good Choices”.

You guys have got a good sound.  Vibrant.  Busy.  Alive.  Buzzing.  The press stuff for the album say that you guys “channel American rock sensibilities through a ‘90s tinted punk and indie lens” and goes on to mention that the album is likely to appeal to fans of likes of The Replacements and Sugar.  Personally, I picked up Springsteen, Petty and Costello as well as Westerberg and Mould. All good stuff as far as I’m concerned and you obviously retain your own identity.  Who would you say are the biggest influences on the band’s sound overall?

From a song writing perspective, it’s a little bit of all of those.  I love Bob Mould’s pop sensibility and use of chords.  Westerberg is a lyrical genius.  I like more modern acts like The Menzingers, Beach Slang, The Weakerthans, The Hold Steady, and Japandroids.  All of those bands have the ability to put an interesting story in a great pop package.

I get the tie in to Springsteen, Petty, and Costello though.  That to me is the Midwest sound.  We all kind of have that throwback feel even when doing punk material.  You just can’t get rid of that Midwestern Grit.  It is just who we are.

The contributions from the rest of the band (Justin Satinover, Eri Alban, and Chip Heck) are pretty exceptional.  Your man Justin honestly sounds as if he’s pummeling mallets (tunefully) into the drums at times and the accompaniment from all the guys is well considered and explosive when it has to be.  I mentioned Heck’s bass during Morrisey of Mandy’s, but the way they all kick in during Honest and Wedding is powerful.  How long have you guys been making music together?

Justin has been in the band the longest.  I think we are going on 9 years playing together.  Justin is an absolute beast of a drummer and also happens to be my best friend.  I find it hard to find someone who plays as powerfully as he does.   You’d can probably guess from his drumming that he does Spartan Races for fun.  Justin is absolutely integral into the draft sound.  You wouldn’t normally expect it from a drummer but Justin actually helps with a lot of the arrangements of the songs.  He has a really great ear for how the song should flow and I trust his instincts.  He always makes a song better.

Eli joined 5 or six years ago.  We lived across the street from each other in college but it took another 10 years for us to be in a band together.  For a stretch of two or 3 years we were just a three piece with no bass player.  We would bring one in occasionally for a record or a show but we were looking for the right piece to formally add a bass player.

Chip was the final addition about 3 years ago.  I never realized how much we needed a bassist until we finally had one.  I feel like with Chip we finally have all the pieces in place.

One of the things that struck me when listening to the album is that nothing sounds overcooked.  The songs are concise and vibrant.  Also, they sound like they still have the energy and buzz that exists when you first play a song.  What’s your approach to songwriting and rehearsing?  Do you jam ideas out or are songs brought in pretty much fully formed?  Where do you start?  Music or lyrics?  Does it ever change?

95% of the time I come to practice with a full song (I think we have only ever written two songs with the jamming approach – Sinking and Morrisey of Mandy’s).  I sit at home and write on my acoustic.  Normally chords and words come at the same time, though I do keep a running list of lyric snippets in my phone.  I start with a sort of melody and build out from there.

A lot of the time, I will record and send out a simple demo to the band.  That way they can work on some parts prior to running it at practice.  With all of us having children, it really helps to maximize practice time by being able to work on things in advance.

At practice, we run it a couple times to get a feel and then we work on what should be added or changed.  This is where Justin really puts his stamp on things.  We’ve found this to work really well for us.

The 1984 Draft’s Joe Anderl [image from Poptek]
Lyrically, you talk about things that I can relate to – parenthood, family life, etc.  As well as things said explicitly, there are things here that I picked up within the context of the song cycle or lyrics of a particular song.  On Lately, you mention those stolen moments when the kids are asleep and naturally, changes with family impact on creativity and the time that you have to pursue music.  Do you find motivation or time to write difficult to come by these days?

I’ve always been sort of spurt writer.  Most of the time a song comes out quick.  A few can take a few months or even years to finalize.  I play lot of music between the band and leading worship at church on Sunday mornings, so I am almost forced to find the time and motivation to write and just play music.

With the birth of my youngest, right now, I am sitting back more and just enjoying my time with him.  If an idea comes I get it out but I am not forcing the writing process.  It’s fortunate that we had this record in the can prior to his birth, so I don’t feel the pressure yet to write the songs for the follow up.  I have about 4 songs ready to go but we haven’t even worked on them with the band yet.  I feel like for once I actually have some time.

There are a few lines in Honest that suggest you’ve considered whether this whole music thing is worthwhile… is that a fair assessment?  Have you ever considered putting the guitar and notepad away?

Everyday.  There is a lot of self imposed pressure with the band.  I don’t want to disappoint anyone.  There is a lot of work that goes into writing, recording, practicing, booking, press, playing the show, etc.  It can be absolutely exhausting.  It can be humbling plugging away for 20 something years and playing shows to 5 people.  It can be exhilarating as well to play to 200 people and have them applaud your work.

How close have you been and what keeps you doing this?

So many times, I have said to myself “This is the last record” or “This is the last show” but then I sit.  Another song comes out.  Another show gets booked and the cycle continues.  I’m almost 40 years old and I have been doing this since I was fifteen.  For 25 years this is the only thing I have pursued on a regular basis.  How do you stop that?  So much of my identity and heart is in The 1984 Draft.  Music is my play thing.  It’s my free time activity.   It’s how I relax sometimes.  It’s been my comfort.  It’s been my therapy.  It is so interwoven into Joe Anderl that I don’t even know how to quit.

I just want to make sure I give it my best.  I have been shown so much love because of music that I just don’t think I can stop.  I want my kids to think I’m cool.  I want my wife to enjoy it.  I want the people who have supported my music for 20 years to feel validated.

In the end, the things that keep me going are the positive feedback, the feeling that I still have something to say, and probably some sort of mental disorder that refuses to allow you to give up.

Who knows, maybe this is the last record.

Also, have you found sparks of imagination and wonderment with having a kid?  I often find that I get lost in that creativity with my kid – and I hold on to those moments where he looks at things and shares his ideas of the world. Something that we lose as we get older, I guess.  How has that influenced your songwriting?

My kids are my biggest influence lately as a songwriter.  Outside of the band, my goal in life is to be the best husband, partner, and father I can be.  When you are surrounded by such wonderment, creativity, and fun, it’s hard for it to not seep into your songwriting.  I think it’s relatable.  A lot of parents really seem to get this record.  They’ve had these experiences.  As a band, we have 9 kids between all of us so it is impossible to avoid having parenting work its way into songs.

There is also a part of me that wants to capture the innocence of it all.  I hope when Leif is 40, he can come back to “Makes Good Choices” and listen to his 4 year old voice and hear the joy of that moment.  That will forever be captured.  That is cool.

The 1984 Draft [image from Poptek]
I had seen that it was the album launch the other week.  What’s the reaction been like to these songs in that setting?  How do they fit with some of the older tracks from, say Heisman Trophy Winner or Bo Jackson Up The Middle?

The reaction has been super positive.  The release show was so great we are going to have several of them.  That way we can include some more of our out of town friends.  There is an ongoing joke in the band that I only write songs about 3 things: Nebraska Football, My Wife, and Jesus.  With the new record we added being a dad to that mix.   All the songs work well together because they are fit into those 4 categories.  From a pure flow perspective, the new record contains some of the drop tuning from Bo Jackson Up The Middle so we are able to flow between songs pretty succinctly.

I’ve been listening to Miss Ohio daily for a couple of weeks now.  I love it’s defiant message about getting out of a place that, well, I gather you’re ready to get the Hell out of.  It’s powerful and is very different from the rest of the album without sounding out of place.  Where does that song come from and, well, did you ever consider its place on the album?

It’s the oldest song on the album.  I probably wrote it 15 years ago.  It was on a previous album from my older project Joe Anderl and The Universal Walkers.  When we played it as a band, it just fit sonically with what we were doing.  It has been so well received In our live sets that we wanted the reimagined version on the song on the album.  Thematically, it ties into what the record is showing.  It’s about growth and redemption.  I guess I felt like I had to include the lows with the highs on the album.  Miss Ohio and Honest are the lows while songs like Red Dress and Weddings hit more with the highs.

And tell me, how long did it take to record the album – what was that experience like?  Do you enjoy recording vs. playing live?

We recorded like we play live.  Fast and efficiently.  We did most of the music in two one day sessions.  We then went back in and did the vocals and guitar overdubs in separate sessions.  To be perfectly honest, recording isn’t my favorite part of the process.  I like the live interaction of a show.  I like the immediate audience feedback.  This record has taught me to be patient in the process.  We had the record done for a year before it came out so waiting to do all the support and press was a little trying for me but we did it.  I think the feedback has been way more positive than I ever dreamed at this point.

I still can’t pick a favourite, though big tracks for me are Miss Ohio, Lately, Honest, Lisbon Falls… what about you?  Do you have a favourite?

I’ve said this to people before.  It’s like trying to pick your favorite kid.  You really can’t because each one has a certain meaning to it.

If I had to though, I would choose Red Dress.  It captures so perfectly a moment with my wife that I will never forget.  When I think about it specifically I still get those butterflies.

So, what’s next for The 1984 Draft?

Be good dads.  Record more music.  Play more shows.  I think at this point we are all lifers in this so as long as we have the ability to share our art with people we will be happy.  I don’t have any grandiose dreams at this point.  I’ve gotten to do so much cool stuff because of music over the years that if it was done today I could be happy.  With that, we are very open to cool opportunities.

Finally, a few questions that aren’t specifically about The 1984 Draft…

What’s the last album you bought?

I bought a couple on Saturday.  I got a couple locally related releases, The New Old Fashioned and Neo American Pioneers, and then got two 7in from local label Rad Girlfriend Records – Pretty Boy Thorson / Lutheran Heat Split, and The Slow Death

And, what about favourite band?

If I had to choose a singular band it’s Jawbreaker.  If It was a singular catalog I would go with anything Bob Mould has been involved in.

What’s your favourite album of the year so far?

My favorite album is currently unreleased.  I got an advance of the new Extra Arms – Headacher record.  It is really really good.  Sounds a lot like an even more accessible Superchunk.  Super catchy.  The first single “Why I Run” is my current jam of the fall.  I also got an advance of the new Carriers record that is absolutely stunning.

Finally, are you a Sinatra man? (if so, favourite song / album?)

As an old show choir kid, I’ve had more than my fair share of exposure to Sinatra.  If I had to pick a song it would be “For Once in My Life”.

Thanks for sharing so much about yourself and the music, Joe – much appreciated.

**If you missed it, you can read my thoughts on Makes Good Choices here (to summarise, it’s one of my favourite releases this year).  You can find Makes Good Choices on iTunes, Spotify, and all those usual music places; however, I’d recommend that you head on over to their bandcamp and check out everything they have available.

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5 comments

  1. This is terrific J – like with Deke’s recent interviews, I really appreciate the energy/effort/thought you put into your questions.
    And considering he prioritizes family & name-checks the Weakerthans, I like Joe’s answers too!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. FANTASTIC, J.! Man that’s a great convo. As soon as he said Dayton, I was all “that’s home to Guided By Voices!” and then he went and mentioned them and then I knew all was right in the world. Y’all know I love me some GBV. Anyway, the way this all reads, I gotta get my mitts on this record!

    Liked by 1 person

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