In a far-reaching interview with Local Spins, Jax Anderson of pop’s Flint Eastwood opens up about her past, her love of Detroit and her mission to do “as much good as possible” with her emerging stardom.
THE ARTIST: Flint Eastwood
THE MUSIC: Empowering indie-pop
WHERE YOU CAN SEE HER: 8 p.m. Saturday at The Intersection, opening for PVRIS with Cherry Pools also on the bill
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It’s a Friday afternoon in Fountain Square, a hip, vibrant neighborhood in Indianapolis lined with eccentric bars and restaurants. Cyclists zip by and a single-file row of cars leads the midday charge into rush hour.
Above Fountain Square Theatre, fixed to a retro billboard and shaped like a Coca-Cola bottle cap is a clock set at 5 o’clock. Further up the street, looking over Virginia Avenue from atop an old brick building is a message for all who see it. Printed in bold white lettering and all caps are the words: YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL.
In the middle of all of it is The Hi-Fi, one of Indy’s premier music venues and the club where later on this particular day, Flint Eastwood will play a sold-out show.
Backstage a few hours before doors open, Jax Anderson, the driving creative force behind Flint Eastwood, erupts in excitement without any warning. The green room is small, but Anderson finds the space to jump up and down in a celebratory act while yelling excitedly (and explicitly).
She has ample reason to be excited: In the last year, Flint Eastwood has exploded onto the national (and international) spotlight with a commanding presence.
There’s the record deal she signed last year with Neon Gold Records. Or sets at Lollapalooza, SummerFest, Electric Forest and Sasquatch Festival. There’s the song placements on ESPN or for Ford’s 2019 Mustang reveal. Then there’s the recent whirlwind trip to Australia to support Foster the People and perform on the bill for Falls Fest.
And of course, anticipation is at a fever pitch for upcoming national tours supporting PVRIS and MisterWives. It’s clear that the Detroit artist has transcended from regional indie darling to promising pop queen.
But at this exact moment backstage at The Hi-Fi, Anderson’s excitement can be traced to one thing only: a pristine Nintendo 64 and a copy of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater that she finds tucked below the massive flatscreen TV.
“There goes my night,” she confesses.
GRATEFUL FOR THE OPPORTUNITY TO SHARE ‘LOVE AND EMPATHY AND KINDNESS’
It’s in this manner that a sort of unpredictable, soul-stirring excitement unfolds amid our conversation, winding and meandering from reflections on her musical journey to the most personal of sentiments.
“It’s been a really cool journey. I just feel so grateful for it. I feel like every single time I’ve taken a risk, it’s been leading to this year. It’s such a satisfying feeling and I’m really grateful for it because not every band gets this opportunity. So I’m trying to use what we have for as much good as possible,” Anderson says.
“Granted, I have a long way to go. My whole goal is to just help people. So in my mind the more the project grows the more people we can help. I wanna help people be themselves by me being myself and just kind of leading by example. I want love and empathy and kindness to be the underbelly of the whole idea of Flint Eastwood.”
Though Anderson has operated under the moniker of Flint Eastwood since 2012, as a teenager, she was already forming an interest in the arts as an escape and a way to reconcile being “a gay artist” in an “extremely religious household.”
“We went to church every Sunday. I learned how to play music in youth group. I was very involved in Christianity when I was younger. It definitely affected a lot of what I do. I think that’s the reason why I want to help people with music and I want to encourage people to be as open as they can be. Because I know how it feels to not be who you are and I know how it feels to keep that side of you hidden and not be able to fully express yourself.
“I just don’t want people to feel the way I felt when I was a teenager because I was very anxious. I had a hard time: I was very lonely, I felt outcast, I felt very much not a part of the group and ostracized, and I don’t want any kid to ever have to deal with that. I just want young kids to know, and anyone who’s questioning their identity and their sexuality, to know there’s nothing wrong with them, and they’re not gross, and they’re not bad, they’re not unholy, they’re not evil; I just want them to know that it gets better … like life gets so much better.”
Leaning into her creative outlets, Anderson began creating music with her brother, Seth, a producer who goes by Syblyng, and the pair fostered the beginnings of what would become Flint Eastwood. Anderson immersed herself in the arts, finding inspiration in other pioneering female artists along the way.
ART AS AN ESCAPE, WITH PASSION FOR DETROIT AND MICHIGAN
“Art was my escape and my way of really figuring myself out. Man, when I was 17 I bought a Rolling Stone magazine and I saw Tegan and Sara in it and read an article about how they were lesbian, and in my mind they didn’t fit what a gay person was supposed to look like and what I was raised thinking they looked like. That blew my mind,” Anderson recalls.
“I realized I don’t have to fit this image of what I thought a gay person looked like. I could be whoever I wanted.”
Years later, Anderson has a hope that she can use her platform to inspire others as well, especially those who don’t feel like they fit in, by being a voice of encouragement and consolation.
“I just want to be that for somebody else. If I can let one person know that they can be happy and they don’t have to fit some ridiculous stereotype that their family or their parents or their church tells them, I would be satisfied. I think it’s something that’s very important. And it’s something I’m still figuring out.”
Another formative influence for Anderson has been her city: Detroit.
In music videos for songs like “Push,” Motor City is a main character, muscular and confident, portrayed as a hero. It has a kind of attitude. An identity. Even with growing audiences and a widening national spotlight, Flint Eastwood has remained a proud Detroit artist, living, recording and performing in the city. For the release of “Broke Royalty” Flint Eastwood performed for a massive audience in the lobby of the iconic Fisher Building.
“Michigan to me is a very hard-working state. It’s really taught me as a musician to not follow trends as much. It’s taught me to be super passionate about what I do,” Anderson says. “People do what they’re passionate about instead of what they think is cool and that’s bled into my music as well and I’m really grateful for that. I’m really grateful that I was able to grow up and learn how to do my thing in Detroit.
TAKING AFTER A ‘GENEROUS, KIND, LOVING, GIVING’ MOM
When Anderson is home from tour, she tends to spend most of her time at Assemble Sound, a co-op studio housed in a former 1870s church — the testing ground for all of Flint Eastwood’s music (which Anderson says is something she’s always working on more of).
In addition to the studio, an affinity for coffee draws Anderson to Corktown’s Astro Coffee, a caffeine habit that transitions pretty seamlessly to tour life. In Indy this day, the coffee comes from Square Cat Vinyl – a nearby record store/music venue that also serves craft coffee. She takes short sips from the cup as she sits back comfortably on the sofa.
The room begins to rattle as soundcheck begins. There’s a steady pulse of a kick drum underpinning the cadence of our conversation, slowly intensifying (coincidentally enough) as we transition to a more serious, personal topic.
In 2015 Anderson released “Small Victories,” an EP of powerful songs inspired by her mother after she passed away. Anderson begins painting an image of the woman who raised her:
“My mom was one of the most generous, kind, loving, giving and just beautiful souls that … I have ever known. She was just one of those people that would come into a room, completely light it up, and find the one person that wasn’t fitting in and wasn’t talking to anyone and she would go and talk to that person,” Anderson says.
“She was very loving and I like to think that some of that has rubbed off on me. Man, she was just such a good person. But she also didn’t take sh** from anybody. She was one of those people that could yell at you and tell you off and be your best friend by the end of the conversation.”
Anderson stops, taking a moment for a deep breath. She wipes her eyes with her hands then looks towards the ceiling as though she can see right through it. After a moment she continues, but this time her eyes are gleaming and a smile spreads across her face as she speaks.
“You know, she was so real all the time and she laughed so much and she taught me so much about laughing at my failures. And not taking it as the end of something. She was so good at having empathy, having understanding, but not making things a big deal, like nothing is ever the end of the world,” Anderson says.
“Even when she was sick she handled everything like such a champ. She would still take care of people and make sure they were feeling OK. She was just such a genuine soul. She was a great woman. If I can be a quarter of what she was, I’ll be satisfied.”
INCLUSIVITY PART OF PERFORMANCES … BUT MAYBE NOT THAT HAT?
Through the walls of the small room we can hear the grand instrumental opening of “Queen,” a heavy-hitting, anthemic cut from “Broke Royalty.” Soon the venue will be filled with 400 fans – a sea of souls, pitching and rolling in unison with Anderson at the helm dancing wildly and carelessly.
Anderson’s onstage antics have built a reputation around her captivating live show. She has no qualms about calling people out in the audience who aren’t engaging. Unsuspecting concertgoers often find themselves on the other end of Anderson’s outstretched finger and stern glare. But the goal is never humiliation: It’s inclusivity.
“I don’t know what happens to us as we get older but we all get this idea that we have to reserve ourselves and we don’t want people to look at us and we don’t want to embarrass ourselves. But I think that’s ridiculous. Everyone should be free to express themselves the way they want to express themselves,” Anderson says.
“If you wanna dance you should dance. Every human knows how to dance. It’s just instinct. What you see onstage is just an amplified version of what I do when no one is watching. I think it’s my natural reaction to music.”
There is one piece to Flint Eastwood’s stage persona that is taking a hiatus: the hat.
Until only recently the face of Flint Eastwood was framed by a mane of red hair and crowned by a prominent wide-brimmed hat. It became Anderson’s trademark, an instantly recognizable ornament. But with the transition of a new season she’s opted instead for a simple beanie and Carhartt overalls.
“We were getting ready to go to Australia and we were gonna have 13 flights in 15 days, and that hat is massive and very thick and impossible to fly in an airplane with,” Anderson laughs. “And as soon as I did like one flight without it I was like ‘I think I’m gonna leave the hat at home for a little while.’
“I feel like the hat and the black outfit suited me for a long time, when I felt like I wanted to present more of a character. But creatively and artistically, I’ve been feeling a lot more casual and a lot more like myself these days.”
PVRIS’ North American tour stops at The Intersection at 8 p.m. Saturday, with Flint Eastwood and Cherry Pools. Tickets are $25.50 in advance, $27 day of the all-ages show. Get details and tickets online here; doors open at 7 p.m.
VIDEO: Flint Eastwood, “Monster”
Listen to the Flint Eastwood album, “Broke Royalty,” on Spotify
Copyright 2018, Spins on Music LLC