Mike Anderson on his days as a touring musician
Published in 2020 Mountain States Super Lawyers magazine
on June 12, 2020
Updated on June 24, 2020
Mike Anderson’s band fell apart in the way most do: not with a bang, but a series of setbacks.
The Parr Brown attorney grew up playing piano and guitar, and, after his family moved to the Salt Lake area just before he hit high school, he spent his teens participating in a smattering of rock bands.
“Music appealed to me so much because the counterculture appealed to me,” Anderson says. “The punk rock scene probably kept me out of trouble because I was always busy. I always wanted to play shows and hand out flyers and go to shows. I was consumed by it.”
During his senior year, Anderson sang lead for a rock group—whose name he’d rather not say because others have since used it, and he doesn’t want to deal with trademark issues—that began to take off. They eventually recorded a demo in 2002, and were quickly offered a spot on the Warped Tour—then the longest-running and largest traveling festival in the United States.
So Anderson dropped out of the University of Utah and, for nearly three years, performed across the country. During that span, the group shared stages with anybody who would have them: acoustic acts, pop-punkers, and even hardcore and metal bands. “We did a huge tour for MySpace,” says Anderson. “We got to play with Death Cab for Cutie, Kings of Leon, Yellowcard.”
While opening for well-known musicians was incredible, most of Anderson’s time was spent in a van, travelling from stage to stage. Out of a growing boredom, he began studying again. “I started getting interested in philosophy and political science,” he says. “I paid out of pocket to take some classes, just to pass time.”
One night, Anderson was driving from a late gig in Louisville toward Nashville. “There’s heavy fog, and we hit the guardrail,” he says. “The cops were telling us we hit the only guardrail for miles. It totaled our van.
“We had no way to replace it,” he continues. “We were supposed to meet up with Senses Fail and do a big East Coast tour. We were all super bummed, and we ended up back in Utah.”
At home, Anderson picked up schooling full time. By happenstance, he enrolled in a law and journalism class his first semester back, and loved it. “I felt like a dumb band guy going back to school,” he laughs. “But I realized there are people out there that fight these fights.”
Anderson’s heart was still with the band, however, and he was holding out hope that a California-based label was going to sign them. He still remembers when they called, in the middle of an anthropology class. “I remember being like, ‘This is it. I’m going to remember this moment for the rest of my life,’” he says. Instead of bringing good news, however, the investors said they were a radio band, and they didn’t have the money to push them to radio.
Soon after, the group’s bassist revealed he had been offered a permanent gig in Oakland. “I now understand why that was really appealing to him,” says Anderson. “He walked into practice one day … and it was like the bottom fell out. We were all like, ‘Well, I guess this is it then.’”
Luckily, Anderson was enjoying his undergrad stint, which included some time at the University of Cambridge. Ultimately, he graduated in 2006, and managed some political campaigns in SLC before taking the LSAT. When he left for a J.D. from Columbia and a master’s of law in London, he thought he was out of Utah for good. But he came back from Columbia for a summer clerkship, and realized Utah was home.
Though the band hasn’t played a gig in more than 15 years—and though Anderson loathes the idea of getting back on the road—he admits they never planned an official final show. And that, in some way, keeps the dream alive.
“I can’t help but write songs in my sleep; if I’m daydreaming or something, a lyric will pop into my head. It’s always there,” he says. “Those years were so formative: From 7 to 24, it was all music, all the time. And it’s hard to take that out of somebody.”