On the run with Ian Andersonby Chris Roberts, Minnesota Public Radio
If you consider yourself a busy person, this story may redefine for you what that term means. Ian Anderson, 21, of Minneapolis has somehow managed to become a force in local music while maintaining a schedule as a full-time college student.
Minneapolis, Minn. — Ian Anderson leads a hectic student life. He's a senior and English major at St. Olaf College in Northfield. Not only is he a teaching assistant, he's also editor of the school newspaper, "The Manitou Messenger." While that workload might be a stress inducer for some students, it describes only a small portion of Anderson's endeavors.
He's also a local music mogul. At the unofficial headquarters of Afternoon Records, Anderson quickly checks his mail. His mom, Pamela Nettleton, helps him leaf through it. She's not his secretary, but his landlord. It's her house and his old bedroom upstairs now serves as his office and warehouse.
Afternoon Records is Anderson's music label. He started it just out of high school. This summer he unveiled "Sliver" magazine, a Web site he hopes will eventually compete with the online indie music bible, "Pitchfork." He's starting a music booking company. He's in two indie rock bands. As if that weren't enough, he's also carved enough hours out of his week to work two part-time jobs: as a bookkeeper at a Minneapolis record store and a soda jerk at a local rock club.
It's no coincidence that all of these extracurricular pursuits serve Anderson's personal mission.
"My whole life I've taken great pride in being that one guy that found out about that one band before everyone else did," he says. "I always liked finding that band and telling everyone I know about it."
Yes, but did you have to launch multiple careers just to be a tastemaker? How is all of this humanly possible?
Anderson comes across not as "type A" but as a quiet, friendly, gentle kid with bangs hanging over his glasses. Family members shrug their shoulders. His mother, Pamela Nettleton, says being an uber-multi-tasker is part of his makeup.
"It's who he's always been. 'But is he doing his homework?' is the real question that I have," she says.
Anderson's answer is yes, in between picking up newly pressed CDs, scouting bands, writing one-sheets, editing newspaper articles, serving pop and practicing with his bandmates. He started the jagged, abrasive punk band Aneuretical when he was in his mid-teens.
Anderson's newer band, "One For the Team," lets him express his pop side and sing.
"Aneuretical is a lot of fun but it's really hard," he says. "It's diffcult to play. There's a lot more thinking involved. And One for the Team felt like, as lame as it is, I just wanted to rock."
Both groups join 13 other bands on Afternoon Records. Anderson's philosophy is to give them all complete creative freedom. He believes being in the business of helping musicians realize their dreams is good business.
"If I love your band, I want to do anything I can to help you succeed and accomplish your dreams too, because it's not mutually exclusive," he says. "Our dreams could be the same."
Anderson's online music Web site "Sliver" magazine reflects his lifelong desire to be a music writer. He and a fellow student at the newspaper decided if they're so opinionated, why not pretend their opinions matter?
"So we started this glorified blog, basically preaching what we think is next, what we think is great," he says. "And for some reason, it's working."
Sliver has four regular writers and several contributors. It also features something unique in the blogosphere: playful critiques of other bands' MySpace pages. The magazine is already generating more traffic than Anderson expected.
"I'm even selling ads," he says. "Go figure."
All of Anderson's duties add up to one incredibly busy day after another. But he prefers to keep as many balls in the air as he can.
"Focus has always been kind of a problem for me, he says. "I always like to do as many things as possible, 'cause I like doing a lot of things."
Does that mean he never pauses to daydream or stare vacantly out a window?
"Before I go to be every night I definitely have to have some decompression time. My biggest thing is watching 'Star Trek.'"
On this day, election day, it will be a long, long time before Anderson finds his intergalactic solace. On his list of things to do (and this is typical): pick up the new CDs of one of his bands, restock the bins of the local record stores that carry the Afternoon Records catalog, drop off a new T-shirt design, write a press release for a band he hopes to sign, stop off at his engineer's studio to remaster a few tracks, vote. It all has to be done by 4:00 p.m., which is when One for the Team leaves to play a gig in Duluth.
"And then later tonight while at Duluth, I have to interview So Many Dynamos, who are a band from St. Louis that I'm writing a feature on," he says. "I have to write my column for the week. I have finish up a flyer for Haley Bonar's release party on November 25, and I have to finish the Mouthful of Bees one-sheet so I can send it out by Friday."
Anderson piles into his cluttered silver sedan, one hand clutching a cell phone and reaching for a CD, the other on the wheel. He usually drives to and from Northfield four times a week, which means approximately eight hours on the road. Anderson doesn't mind. It gives him time to audition the dozens of CDs he receives and turn his commute into a listening session on wheels.
Mouthful of Bees, the band Anderson mentioned earlier, comes on the stereo. He's hoping to sign them to Afternoon Records because, in his opinion, they're unique and they rock.
"I mean not only are the riffs great and the drumming is creative but his voice is really captivating," he says.
Members of Mouthful of Bees are also young. In fact, you won't find many musicians older than Anderson on his label. He deliberately seeks out young bands because, as he puts it, they're not jaded.
"All their songs are genuine," he says. "They're not contrived. They not, 'Oh, I want to make it so let's sound like this.' That's really what I find interesting about about young artists. Plus, these guys are 20. By the time they turn 25 think about how great they're going to be."
Anderson's methodical approach and vision are starting to pay off. Record sales are steadily rising. Anderson recently signed a deal with a national distributor that will get Afternoon Records music into Best Buys across the country.
He was working on that flyer for Haley Bonar because the acclaimed Minneapolis singer-songwriter is Afternoon Records' most recent addition. Bonar probably could have chosen a larger, more commercial outlet, but opted for Afternoon Records and Ian Anderson.
"He seems like a really hard worker and he's very passionate about the bands that he does put out," Bonar says. "I just admire somebody that has that kind of work ethic and determination, so that made me trust him."
What will Afternoon Records and Anderson's other ventures look like five or ten years from now? That's simple: "Basically what we're doing now, just bigger," he says.
What worries Anderson's mom, Pamela Nettleton, is her son's frantic pace. Nettleton is grateful she has a son she can describe as a nice, sensible, squeaky clean, Disney sort of a kid who happens to be an extreme over-achiever.
"I'd rather have those kind of problems," she says. "And there are some problems. I mean he does too much. And he's too tired. And he gets stressed out. And he should get better grades than he gets. He gets okay grades, but he should get great grades because he's got enough of a brain to do that. But that would mean doing one thing and he's just not wired to do that."
Nettleton says her son will need to focus more when he graduates from college.
Anderson agrees. Given that he wants to start a journalism career independent of his music empire, he concedes, with a straight face, that after graduation he'll probably have to quit his two part-time jobs.