Different Futures: A Conversation With Marisa Anderson & William Tyler

Photo by Eli Johnson

Marisa Anderson and William Tyler as a collaborative duo simply makes sense. Their album, Lost Futures, is a heavy yet hopeful listening experience created in the ashes of yesterday. Talking to them in mid-September, their thoughtfulness and humor stand at the forefront. The idea of ‘lost futures,’ at least as written by Mark Fisher, isn’t exactly a cheerful one. Yet, when Anderson and Tyler talk about avoiding interstates and traveling back roads to see places and times so many have forgotten, a deeper understanding of what a ‘lost future’ is begins to emerge, and they know that being lost isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Opportunities for new futures loom.

In the end, we barely discussed the album and that’s okay. I wrote about it here and all the credits are on the release’s Bandcamp page. It’s a beautiful record, but without really talking about it, I ended up learning more than I expected about it.

I guess in the one sheet of the album description, it talked about how you guys played the David Berman commemoration show, and that was kind of where the idea to collaborate started. I’m just curious what it was for each of you that drew you all to want to do something together?

Marisa: Hmm, no, one’s asked that question yet.

William: I don’t want to say this like I’m name-dropping, but I was actually hanging out with Georgia and Ira and Marisa had just done a show with them.

Marisa: We played a festival.

William: I was really feeling like I was hitting a wall emotionally with where my headspace was in terms of my own ideas, so to speak. And Marisa was the first person that I thought of that I wanted to try to reach out to. So that David Berman thing in Portland, it was almost more just a synchronic timing thing. And it was right before the shutdown.

Marisa: Well, it was the first time we had ever really hung out. I mean, we knew each other, we were acquaintances. We knew who each other were and had met and been at shows together and stuff, William stayed in town for a couple days after that show, and we hung out for a day, and played and went record shopping and whatever. That really solidified it. I’d been wanting to expand beyond solo performance, and William was definitely on the shortlist, based on some pretty obvious things that are out in the world, like what we both do and how we do it. Also, William has a greater online presence than I do, so I know what books he’s reading and stuff like that.

William: I just share a lot more. When you say greater online presence, you mean just like volume of content? [laughs]

Marisa: It was useful for me. “Yeah, I can hang with that guy.”

William: Yeah, because I post everything. [laughs] But actually, I’m glad you mentioned that, Brad, because we had a pretty deep hang that Portland trip, which was in January of 2020. First of all, when we played, when we actually jammed together, there was a flow there that was pretty cool. I think we both were like, “There’s something here.”

Marisa: Yes, for me too.

William: But I remember, and this might have actually been post-COVID, but we had a text going about some history nerd stuff and I thought, “I don’t have that many people in my life I can talk to about this kind of stuff.” So I was thinking, “If we can tap into this as well as the music, there’s definitely something here.”

Marisa: That’s true. I think at the beginning we talked more about nerdy history stuff than we’d did about music.

William: Absolutely. We still do!

What kind of nerdy history stuff? So I’m married to an archeologist. So nerdy history stuff is a big part of my life. [laughs]

William: I feel like there was some initial conversation about the Northwest and heritage and geography. I mean, it’s evolved a lot since then, but I would say something I feel pretty strongly about, and one of the reasons I actually do like touring, is going to other places in America, really. I mean, hopefully, overseas again, but just feeling a connection to a place, and then trying to understand as much as you can about it, even if you’re only there for 24 hours. History can be a part of that.

Marisa: I also think that we share a penchant for not taking the interstate freeway.

William: Yeah. We both like back roads.

Marisa: We both will go an hour out of the way to not ride on the interstate, which is part of that curiosity and love for place and process, and wanting to dig a little deeper wherever you find yourself, and be like, “What is this place?” I don’t just want to see the Chevron and the McDonald’s while I’m in my car, listening to my own, curated iPod situation. You know what I mean? We both love radio, love small roads, try to make a connection about place and process. I also think the conversation that developed early in 2020, was just reaching out, trying to make sense of what’s going on.

Obviously, it’s not a vacuum. There’s just years and years and years of policy decisions or mistakes that lead us into this moment. So just trying to like unpack a little bit about that, you know?

So obviously this was January 2020, and then everything shut down. So what was the compositional process?

William: It was like, “Yeah, I’ve been at home for seven months. I don’t want to keep being at home. If there’s a reason that I can go to somebody else’s home or recording studio, that’s rad.” That’s how we made a record. We could have made a different kind of record remotely, but it probably wouldn’t be cool. I don’t know.

Marisa: We booked dates and moved them, but they ended up being about a year ago, early September 2020. And William came out four or five days or a week ahead of the dates, and we just hashed it out, just started playing, and came up with about nine demoed-out songs, which definitely surprised me. I thought that we would do more just improv, but in the end, these nine songs just kind of demoed themselves and we went into the studio with Tucker [Martine], “Here’s what we got,” and built them.

So a year ago… I’m trying to think of all the things that were going on a year ago.

William: Dude, there was a lot.

The fires were a big thing a year ago. I still remember… I was talking to somebody about this the other day. I don’t remember who it was. Somebody had posted a picture from their studio – it might have been Chuck Johnson – and the sky, it was just red. It was the creepiest thing. Then there were also the protests and stuff going on. It was a heavy time. I mean, it’s still a heavy time, but I guess how did those things, when you were in the studio and all these things are going outside, did that impact the sessions?

Marisa: Oh for sure. I mean, those things weren’t just going on outside. I was out in those protests all summer, was living in that air that… The fires were happening. It wasn’t separate from… You make things out of material, which is your life.

William: That was a pretty jarring immersion for me, as a southerner who had spent enough time on the West Coast to know about the fires, but that was pretty extreme. It put me in a very observational headspace the whole time I was in Portland. It would’ve been interesting to make that record somewhere a little more remote, even because I think the thing about being in the kind of studio situation we were in, was, first of all, was really expensive. So it was nice. I mean, I don’t want to over-dramatize the contrast, but it is like those things in those movies where everybody’s hiding out in the embassy, drinking high balls and everything’s falling apart outside.

I think we were both aware like, “Wow, we have five days at this dude’s studio, and we need to make it count. But also, there’s air conditioning and there are lights and expensive guitars and pianos, and we don’t have to wear a mask.”

Marisa: And it doesn’t smell like smoke.

William: It doesn’t smell like smoke. We didn’t have titles for these pieces. And like Marisa’s said, I think it was the first thing we recorded. It was definitely the first day because that was when the sky was getting really creepy, for lack of a better word. And she was like, “This is like hurricane light.” That resonated with me a little bit, just because I have so much family on the Gulf Coast who always go through these things. Hell, they just went through another one.

I’ve been thinking about this. We’ve talked about this very recently because we were just on tour together. Brad, you’ve lived in this world a lot. How you contextualize instrumental music is a really interesting thing for the observer or the listener. If we had called this record something more ambiguous and like Leaf Pattern and all the titles were like-

Marisa: “Movement One” or whatever.

William: It would contextualize it differently.

It’s always really interesting to me, as someone who also makes music, to hear how other people interpret it. Obviously, we have these ideas and whatever in our heads when writing a piece or recording a piece, but it’s always really interesting to hear how other people interpret it. And then, like you’re saying, you can contextualize it in certain ways from the titles or the story behind it, but people are going to hear what they need to hear. That was actually one of the things I to ask about, was the Mark Fisher “lost futures” idea and that book and how that became the name of the record.

Marisa: William was reading the book. I never heard of him. And he just mentioned the phrase, and I was like, “I like that phrase.” I didn’t really know much about it. Now I know a lot more about it.

William: Yeah. So my friend Ben, who’s my manager, lent me that book because I had been talking about being interested in hauntology. I was listening to a lot of that kind of electronic music. But that’s not the title of the book. The title of the book is Ghosts of My Life. And “lost futures” is just a phrase he threw out there. So, yeah, I had it with me in Portland and I don’t even think I had read it at that point. It was just a similar thing. It was just like, “Oh, that’s a cool phrase.” And you know, I think that’s as deep as it goes into it.

I do think from the artwork perspective, though, there is maybe a little more of a connection to some of that. The cover that Sam [Smith], the artist friend of ours did, I think is a little informed by, I think maybe more European-type movements, so to speak. And then the back cover, which is Marisa’s photograph… It’s funny because it’s Louisiana. So it’s an abandoned theme park. But when I think “abandoned theme parks,” my head immediately goes to Eastern Europe, for whatever reason. But I thought that that was a cool move, because, I don’t know, there’s just a lot of different ways to interpret what that photograph is, and where people think it might be taken.

Lost Futures is a great title. I think it’s one of those things too, that’s contextualizing. So I mean, obviously Fisher…

William: I just want to add, just because I actually have read it now. I had not read the book when we were doing the record, just to be totally transparent. So we were on almost basically equal footing of just like, “Hey, that’s a cool phrase.” There’s no loaded context to it from that. But I will say, having read that book now… He died by suicide, and he’s not a very hopeful person in his writing. And I don’t want to speak for Marisa with this, but so she should jump in. But I think we wanted to re-contextualize something about the concept of lost futures. There’s an opening there rather than a closed door.

Marisa: There are some cliffs that we’re headed towards that we could avoid. A lost future isn’t necessarily a tragedy.

Photo by Eli Johnson

I was thinking about something similar the other day, of how the future that I thought I’d have from even two years ago, that’s history. It is lost, but it’s caused me to really self-reflect and figure out a new path. And it’s good, it’s been the best decision in a lot of ways. Especially with everything been going on, it’s like you said, it’s an open door. This is an opportunity to rethink, “Okay, we see this is not working. Look what’s going on.” And it remains to be seen if we take that opportunity.

William: But it’s a lot of individual decisions and… Yeah, I don’t know. There are macro and micro ways to engage your decision making and your new futures, or your new paths or whatever, it doesn’t have to be super dramatic. Personally, because there was such a drastic linear shutdown in 2020, and the contextualization of it also happening with Trump and everything else… Very little of that is different, in my opinion, right now. 2,000 people a day are still dying of COVID. Probably would be more if there weren’t vaccines going around. When people say, “We’re not out of the woods yet.” I’m like, “We live in the woods.”

We literally are camping for the rest of our lives in the woods. So it’s just going to be different places to camp in those woods. You know?

Yeah, for sure. I mean, in the context of music, I was talking to somebody whose record I wrote about and they said, “Oh, I really appreciated like you didn’t say this is my COVID record.” I was like, “Everything’s a COVID record. Everything and nothing is, because this is where we are.”

Marisa: Well, and that’s… To your earlier question about what it was like to make the record in the context of the fires and the protests, that’s exactly the answer. That’s just making the records in the context of life. That’s what was happening. It’s not separate. There’s not a parallel reality where I am a recording artist who makes physical works out of thin air. And I’m also in the middle of fires and protests and plague. Those are stitched together.

William: I made an album seven years ago about a lot of this stuff. It was just before Trump was elected. And that’s what Modern Country is about. Modern Country is about the twilight of American singularity, or whatever you want to call it. So when I wake up and I’m like, “Man, I’m personally surprised that things are really bad right now.” It’s like, “What did you think? You read about this 10 years ago.” But part of that is also that I’m a 41-year old white dude. It’s what she said. There’s no parallel reality. It is a spiritual, cultural ecosystem that is embedded into the fabric of everything else.

Marisa: I think your choice is to be integrated or to be disassociated.

William: Yes. Or as a therapist once wrote, everyone is either neurotic or has a personality disorder. You know what I mean? You’re either integrated or you’re dissociated. That’s a good way to put it.

But see, I feel like the fascinating thing about America is this whole… I guess this was more of a 2016 realization for me personally, but one of the reasons I felt like Trump was going to win the whole time, was because I was avoiding the interstates as much as possible when I was touring. So I was going through all these rural parts of America that there were… I grew up in the deep south. So yeah, you expect to see guns and American flags and Trump things. But when I started seeing it in Maine, Michigan, central California, I was like, “Okay, so this is like the Grateful Dead for people that don’t like people that aren’t white. So this is kind of a national phenomenon.”

It is interesting. So my wife was born in the western side of Washington, but when she was in high school, they lived in the Tri-Cities. And she always talks about how that when everybody thinks of Washington, they think Seattle. And they think all of Washington is Seattle. She’s like, “No, most of Washington is not Seattle. There are just more people there.” And that’s what we’ve talked about. Rural Washington, and rural Michigan, and rural anywhere isn’t a whole lot different than rural Oklahoma.

Marisa: It’s true.

And I don’t know what that means for the future, but so many people think there’s just this monolithic mindset in these places. It’s the whole blue, state red state thing.

Marisa: Blue states and red state says this whole state’s shared one opinion.

I get that all the time. “Why don’t you just move? Why do you live there?” Yeah, okay, our elections are like 65/35, but 35% of 4 million people is still a hell of a lot of people. And that doesn’t even take into consideration all the people who don’t vote.

William: Yeah, seriously.

Marisa: Well, and this is why community is so important. If you’re from a place, and you’ve got people that were like, well, “Trump got elected and I’m leaving.” It’s like, “Really?” That’s such a myopic and potentially selfish way. It’s like, “I don’t like that Trump got elected. It’s really bad for our immigration policy or our environmental policy. So you’re going to leave? Is that going to help any of the things that you say you’re so concerned about?” So that’s the bigger picture, right? So yeah, you’re part of a community that you care about. Leaving doesn’t help up anybody.

Right. There are tons of people in my neighborhood who, I know we didn’t vote the same way, but our kids play with each other, or we see each other and we talk about whatever. It’s not like we’re just yelling at each other about abortion rights. For most people, that’s not even on their first 10 things they’re thinking about in their day. So if they see me, they think, “Oh, that’s that weird guy, but he’s pretty cool.”

Marisa: “Our kids are friends.”

Exactly. Maybe there are inroads to be made.

William: I think the reality is that cable news and social media have… They’re more than just toxic. I mean, they’re – Marisa used the word myopic – I think that’s a big part of it. I thought about this when I was back in Nashville last year because I was living in a part of south Nashville that was a pretty equal distribution of Trump yard signs, and Biden yard signs, and Black Lives Matter yard signs, frankly too. And no one like got out every morning and started yelling at their neighbors.

Again, I’m aware I’m a white dude. But, he helped me fix my lawnmower. So it’s like, okay, we do have a shared reality now. But what do we do with that? Because we centrally disagree over what that reality means in a value system or I guess politically. But what Marisa was saying about leaving, it’s like, leaving benefits who? And also, where are you going to go? They probably don’t want you there.

Marisa: Well, also though, on the other side of it, if you can’t stand to stay, then you’ve got to go. And that depends on how impacted you are by the decisions being made.

William: Yeah, that’s true.

Here, and in most places, I would guess, a lot of the people who are probably most impacted can’t afford to leave, they don’t have a choice.

Marisa: Which is then why people who can afford to stay, should and hope to at least hold the ground, that’s a responsibility in some sense.

Yeah. I was telling you [before the interview] how, because of all the things going on here, we kept my daughter in virtual school, and we are very lucky to be in a position to do that. But that doesn’t mean that I’m not still yelling at the school board, because just because I’m keeping my kid home and not subjecting her to this situation, there are thousands of other families that don’t have that option, for a hundred different reasons. So I want everybody to benefit. I’m in a position that I can keep her home, but that doesn’t absolve me of responsibility to everybody else.

William: It’s interesting. We were driving back from Seattle a couple of days ago, and we were talking about the recall here in California, and Marisa and I were having a conversation about how, at a certain level, like governing a state or being a Senator, you have to be a narcissist probably, to want that job.


William: So then you start thinking about community and neighborhoods. And those are changes or accountabilities or active involvements, I think, that are psychically manageable for more normal people. But that’s also the world you live in most of the time. Like talking about the school board, Brad.

Marisa: We live daily lives, right? We go to things that are in our neighborhood, we know the kids that go to the school. We all live in villages in a certain way.

Photo by Eli Johnson

Yeah, that’s it really. I feel like if we can make these kinds of positive changes in our communities, in our neighborhoods, that’s where you can make an impact and maybe start turning things around. I really love this idea of taking the phrase ‘lost futures’ and turning it around.

William: I think there’s a certain kind of pessimism that is very prevalent among privileged dudes. I’m at an age where I recognize it in myself, and I’m trying to not engage it. But there’s a certain kind of pessimism that privileged dudes have.

I love Chris Hedges, but it’s like, “Dude, what do you tell your kids?” Mark Fisher’s kind of like, “There’s no future, we lost it. It’s like all about nostalgia and being lost in a web of nostalgia.” And yeah, there’s some truth to that when it comes to capitalism, but the world is evolving. Like Marisa said, we live everyday lives. Younger people have different ideas that people our age don’t understand because that’s what happens when you get older. And it’s our job to be stewards and guides, and also listen.

Americans and English people often have a very colonial mentality. “I’m going to tell you when the end of history was.” Like that book, The End of History. That was a really bold move, calling it that. Also, it’s not true, but you know what I mean? That’s not actually the way the world works.

Yeah, it’s like there’s this idea that I think a lot of – when you’re talking about the pessimism of white men, this especially applies where there’s this idea that this future’s already written, and now, if it doesn’t look this certain way, then it must be over.

Marisa: Yeah, try to tell a kid there’s no future. That doesn’t track, you know? Or try to tell a kid that the present that they’re living in is an illusion, built on nostalgia, blah, blah. No, it’s not. Today is a day, you do stuff in it.

Yeah. I mean, I take a walk every morning with my daughter. It’s basically the start of our school day. So we’re walking yesterday, and she’s like stomping on acorns and stomping on leaves and picking up sticks, rubbing them together, and she tells me, “I want to use these sounds on my album.” It was amazing. But yeah, let me tell her like, “Oh well, there’s no point in doing this because it’s been done already. It’s all over now.” Come on.

William: No, I agree. I don’t have children, Brad, but my friends who I’m close with, who have kids, we’ll have these sort of pessimistic conversations, which is just the way older people always talk to each other. I mean, there were people in the 1700s who thought Haydn was too dissonant. “You kids making that racket!” Or like the late Roman empire where they were like, “These vulgar Latin dialects in the provinces!” But they were just becoming Spanish and French. Anyway, the point is, life is change. And where can you offer hope?

I think hope is very powerful. Marisa and I were talking about this the other day, magical thinking is a phrase we used, that we talked about. She likened magical thinking and faith as being sort of analogous emotions. It was really cool to hear her say that because I think magical thinking implies delusion, whereas faith actually implies a lot of acknowledgment that you are sublimating yourself to the world, the universe. And that’s actually a pretty graceful thing.

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