Rising star Clayton Anderson, who hails from Bedford, Indiana, won’t dance around the subject when asked about his main musical influence. Because, as any loyalist from the Hoosier State will declare with disarming candor, there’s only one name to invoke: Indiana’s own John Mellencamp.
“If you’re from Indiana, you worship him,” says Anderson, who’s just released his six-track EP, “Only to Borrow.” “Mellencamp is definitely my biggest influence, but I would also say that Bruce Springsteen is another. On the straight-up country side, there are Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson and Garth Brooks.” The commonality there, of course, is the blue-collar, everyday people theme that works its way throughout their music. Anderson likes to travel the same path.
The title song from his EP, for perfect example, centers on a couple of small-town high school sweethearts. But lest you mistake it for a little ditty about Jack and Diane, “Only to Borrow” carries a slightly different philosophy. “It’s about young love when you’re in high school,” Anderson will acknowledge, “but you know it’s probably not going to go much further than that.” As the key lyric states, “It’s not meant to last, only to borrow.”
The grinding guitars and pulsating melody give “Only to Borrow” a rootsy, blue-collar-country feel. But the title calls for some introspection, and that was clearly by design. “I wrote it with Scooter Carusoe, who is one of my favorite writers in Nashville,” Anderson recalls. “He is all about the title. You want people to think about it, like what’s this song going to be? I think I brought in the idea about the two star-crossed lovers. We wanted to write about something pure and simple. And what is more pure and simple than high school love? I think ‘Only to Borrow’ is the favorite song I’ve ever written.”
Also featured on the EP is the current single “In the Dark” along with “All Over the Map,” which Anderson says “continues to grow on me.” Anderson will be playing those and other tunes he’s penned as he resumes his tour schedule in 2017. Though he’s not necessarily the sort who writes every single day, Anderson will allow that inspiration follows him almost daily.
He points to “Beer Tastes Better on Friday,” the first song he wrote in Nashville after moving to the Music City in 2011, which stemmed from an off-the-cuff conversation. “Me and a buddy I had met were trying to write a song,” Anderson recalls. “I was new to town and co-writing was still an awkward thing. We were sitting there at [Nashville restaurant] Tin Roof on a Friday and we cracked open a couple of beers and he said, “Man, beer sure does taste better on a Friday.’ We went back and wrote that song.”
Anderson recently wrapped his In the Dark Tour, which proved a successful run through Nashville and other ports of call. The road definitely appears to be his calling. “I grew up playing college towns all over the Midwest,” Anderson says. “I’ve always been out on the road. That’s where it’s the most fun. On this tour, people were singing along to ‘In the Dark’ and some others and that’s the best response you can get.”
Anderson describes the live show as “high energy,” owing to some of his more ostentatious rock influences who emphasized the concert experience. “My dad loved KISS and Aerosmith and all those bands,” he remembers with a laugh. “Their records were always playing around the house. I was also influenced by Jimmy Buffett and how fun his shows are. We like to have a good time on stage.” Tossing off a casual laugh, Anderson adds, “I can’t dance. I just kind of jump around crazy sometimes.”
Anderson picked up that all-important big break in 2008 when he entered Kenny Chesney’s Big Star competition and won a slot on Chesney’s tour. Now, he’s aiming for a major breakthrough with his just-released EP. “We’ve been playing these songs live out on the road,” Anderson says with enthusiasm. “We hope people will love the recorded versions, too.”