In order to understand Flint Eastwood, you must first understand Detroit. And not the crumbling and derelict caricature of Detroit splattered across the national news, but the real Detroit.
And the songwriter, voice and driving force behind Flint Eastwood, Jax Anderson, is more than willing to talk about that particular realness. Born and raised in the Motor City, Anderson spent a lifetime witnessing the city undergo several metamorphoses. She won’t deny that her home town has hit especially difficult times over the last decade – city officials filed for the largest municipal bankruptcy in American history in 2013. Still, she can’t jibe with the vision of Detroit as depressing and neglected.
“There’s a narrative that we don’t have anything,” she says. “But you go into the neighborhoods of Detroit and the way they look after each other is super-inspiring. The community and the spirit of Detroit has always existed and has always been a positive thing. It just hasn’t been in the light.”
That’s not to mention the city’s mind-bogglingly rich musical legacy. Seriously, just try to pick one game-changing moment of its sonic history: a hub for blues and jazz in the early twentieth century, the home of the Motown sound, the birthplace of techno, a veritable hip-hop mecca (Eminem or J Dilla, anyone?), a punk and hardcore breeding ground throughout the ’70s and ’80s, and the home town of an all-star artist roster that includes Jack White, Sufjan Stevens, Diana Ross, Bob Seger and Smokey Robinson.
None of this is lost on Anderson, who refuses to predict where the Detroit sound will go next.
“The beautiful thing about Detroit is that anytime an artist pops up, they always basically create their own genre,” she says. “We’re landlocked, so we can only take from where we know and where we’re from.”
And what she and her fellow Detroit musicians know is that they’re drawing from a city that’s gritty, passionate, brutally honest, and proudly lacking in the glamour and narcissism of the coasts.
So it follows that Detroit serves as the backdrop for her varied and encompassing new EP, Broke Royalty. The sleek seven-track offering is technically indie pop, only not quite. Assisted by her brother and producer Seth Anderson (aka Syblyng), Anderson deploys twisted hip-hop beats without hesitation and enlists a full brass section to make the hook in lead single “Queen” extra regal. Detroit-based producer GRiZ infuses the sweet-as-pie EP highlight “Rewind” with a measured dose of affable funk and euro-pop, creating something that sounds like Charli XCX discovering trip-hop while on ecstasy. “Push” doubles down on Anderson’s ferocity with Tunde Olaniran in tow, his choirboy-gone-bad voice rising to the rafters while Anderson tosses couplets that affirm her boss-bitch status: “I’ve given up taking the scenic/Gas to the floor ’cause I mean it.”
It’s a lot all at once. The hip-hop rhythms may be the most obvious connecting thread throughout Broke Royalty, but Anderson spends the EP defying expectations to stick to a single style or sound.
“I like good songwriting, so that doesn’t hold me down to one genre,” she says. “One second I’ll write a hip-hop track, and the next second I’ll write a folk song. I’m very much about good songwriting with an honest message, and I think that transcends genre.”
For all the Detroit-versus-everybody grit that inspired and powers her songwriting on Broke Royalty, there was a time in the not-too-distant past when the city no longer appealed to her. She bounced around the country for a few years, landing in Los Angeles for a while before eventually returning to Detroit. Uninspired and frustrated with the lack of opportunities she found upon her re-arrival, she started planning to move to Nashville with Syblyng.
Then something about Detroit just clicked into place.
“We were thinking about places we could go, and then we stepped back and were like, ‘Why are we trying to go to these other cities when the Internet exists and we can do what we want from anywhere?’” she says. “We just noticed that there were so many talented artists here who all just create in their bedrooms. Our solution was to create a space where people could make stuff.” That idea manifested in Assemble Sound, a church built in the 1870s that Anderson renovated into an artists’ space and “open-door studio.” (It is, for the record, not the church featured in her video for “Queen.” That particular church is Assemble Sounds’ “buddy church,” another renovated artist space owned by Anderson’s friends and located on the opposite side of the city.)
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It was at Assemble Sound that Anderson wrote and recorded Broke Royalty, relying on the newfound creative community she managed to gather under one roof for inspiration and assistance. At least three backing vocalists featured on the record are Assemble residents, and she and Syblyng reveled in utilizing the talent in the immediate vicinity.
“Anytime anybody is like, ‘Hey, this would be cool,’ we immediately point them to the microphone,” says Anderson. “Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. But the majority of the time we at least end up keeping it as a background piece.”
Now, with a successful seven-showcase run at South by Southwest in the bag and a fast-rising profile on the indie circuit, it’s not unfair to wonder if those bicoastal hubs nonetheless beckon. Anderson, however, seems uninterested in trading her Motor City for anywhere else.
“Detroit has a lot of potential. I’m very intrigued to see what happens with Detroit,” she says. “None of us really know. We’re all just creating and putting it out there and seeing what happens.”
And she has every intention of being in the room when it does.
Flint Eastwood, Saturday, May 20, Project Pabst, Larimer Street, between 27th and 28th Streets, $55.