Detroit often gets a bad rap. The city's public school system is in shambles, and the Motor City often ranks as the poorest in the country.
But for Detroit-born singer Jax Anderson, who fronts the electronic/synth pop act Flint Eastwood, the city has plenty to offer. After moving away for a few years, Anderson actually moved back about four years ago and has embraced the community of artists and musicians who call the place home.
"It's a cool city," she says via phone from her recording studio there. She performs with PVRIS at 7 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 23, at House of Blues
. "Growing up around the city was interesting because it's so self-sufficient. The community aspect ran really thick for that reason."
Anderson says she "always wrote songs and played guitar" even though she initially pursued filmmaking while growing up.
"I wanted to make music, but it took me a while to actually do it," she says. "Flint Eastwood is a continuation of a band that I formed in high school with my brother. I kept changing the names. It was originally Apple Trees and Tangerines and then Power. My brother only does the production side of things now. The project is just me. It's just evolved into that. I took it by the horns and made it into something more than what we had going on, but my brother is still always involved in the creative process."
When she left Detroit, Anderson moved to Los Angeles and then Atlanta before relocating back home.
"I had a couple of years where I bounced around a bit," she says. "I lived near Atlanta. Detroit was always where my heart lies. I just felt like I needed to come back home and start investing back into the place where I grew up. [Despite the recession], the spirit of Detroit, and that goodness never left. There's always been that sense of community and looking out for each other. It's a no bullshit city. People here don't wait for the government. They just step in and make it happen."
She says her latest effort, last year's Broke Royalty
, shows her "evolution as an artist."
"I take what I'm feeling at that moment and channel it into my art," she says. "It helped to start [the collective] Assemble Sounds. It's some artist friends and I who put our money together and purchased a Detroit church from the 1870s. We renovated it and created studio spaces and opened it up to the community, so Detroit artists could work together. Broke Royalty
is my way of paying homage to the space and getting my friends involved. The artists who work there influenced it in lots of ways. The name was talking about how we didn't have the money to do any of this but we created our own kingdom."
With its hushed vocals and interludes of spoken word and manic rapping, the opening number, "Queen," comes off as a righteous anthem. "I'm a queen not a soldier," Anderson defiantly sings.
"'Queen' was written about the first time I was asked about what it's like to be a woman in music," says Anderson. "No one had ever asked me that question, and I never considered it any different to be a woman. It was almost said as if, 'You're different and I want to point out that you're different.' I've always been the boss and the one in charge and the one who controls my art. There's no one above me pulling the strings. I am the one who has the vision and makes the choices. I want to empower people and let them know that's not that rare to be the person who is the master of your art and calling all the shots. It's totally an option and something you can do."
Anderson teamed up with Detroit producer and electronic artist GRIZ on "Rewind," a clubby tune that features a catchy refrain.
"Oh, man, he's the best," she says of working with GRIZ. "He's such a genuine guy. He's so passionate about what he does and so open-minded. He was looking for a track for his record. It was this last-minute instrumental he had. He wanted a vocalist for it, so he sent it my way and I recorded some vocals for it. He liked it a bunch, but it didn't fit the vibe of his record. He thought it would fit my project. He's great."
With its rattling percussion and howling vocals, the Lorde-like "Glitches" sounds appropriately ominous — the passing of Anderson's mother inspired the tune.
"I went through this season of grieving that all of my songs were about that subject," Anderson says. "It was so heavy for me. It's this idea that I would go to a coffee shop and write lyrics all day that describe my surroundings just to distract myself. I wanted to give myself a different thought. I took those lyrics and mashed them up with an instrumental. The chorus is about how with all these distractions, I'll always go back to what my mom taught me. She was grateful for everything. And she was so empathetic. She was the kind of person would walk into a room and find the one person who wasn't comfortable and talk to them and make them feel comfortable. I wanted to write a song about how she's always on my radar."
Anderson also wrote the flinty "Monster" about her mother.
"It's about the nights that were really dark and really troublesome," she says. "It's my way of telling myself that things would be normal again. I wanted it to have an optimistic feel to offset the darkness."
With three EPs under her belt, Anderson says she's currently at work on her first full-length. While Broke Royalty
features the kind of sonic density that might be difficult to recreate live, Anderson says she doesn't try to simply duplicate what's on the album when she performs live.
"Any time you play a song live, it will have a bit of a different vibe," she says. "But I love when I go hear a band play live and it sounds different. My show is high-energy. I want to get the audience involved. We're not acoustic, so it's in-your-face. We just have a party."
PVRIS, Flint Eastwood, 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 23, House of Blues, 308 Euclid Ave., 216-523-2583. Tickets: $25, houseofblues.com.