[Interview] No Country Chats Backstage with J Roddy Walston

J Roddy Walston. Photo by Matt Cairns.J Roddy Walston. Photo by Matt Cairns.

We’ve already been gushing about last Thursday’s incredible high energy rock show at Exit/In, and how headliners J Roddy Walston & The Business made sparks fly out of our ears, but you might not have heard about our little micro-adventure. Already having been interviewed by Lightning 100, squeezing in time with his family, and being mere minutes away from showtime, J Roddy Walston was classy enough to invite us backstage for a chat and a quick portrait.

Follow the jump to check out a casual conversation with a modern rock ‘n’ roll legend.

NC: We know that you are from Cleveland (TN) and the last time that you were at Exit/In your family came. Do you like when your family comes to your shows, or is there anything during your show that you wish maybe your family would step out to the bathroom or something?

JR: They’ve seen a lot of what goes on and my mom has seen a lot of our shows on the internet so I don’t know if there is too much thats been hidden from her. But, no, no. Honestly, there’s this thing where you invite all the people that you love in your life to come for one day, and all the sudden, depending on how big your circle of your family is, there’s 50-200 people and I would like to spend all day with each individual one. And thats kind of like your wedding: like going up to those people and being like ‘hi thank you for coming’, and moving on. So that’s the only thing with my parents and brothers and sisters, but particularly my parents. The thing with Nashville is you gotta do an interview or talk to your booking agent or something. So, you know, its just that thing. Anxiety. I don’t have that much anxiety, but like ‘am I taking care of everybody?’

NC: Are your parents here tonight?

JR: Yeah, yeah! I’ve gotten a little better. I used to just be like, ‘alright we’re coming to town, but I don’t think we can hang out. We could get to talk a little bit and see you after the show.’ My brother lives in town so we’d go stay up there. But I’m getting slightly better and better with just being like ‘ok I’m gonna do my thing’. It was more like I was afraid that I was going to miss something I was supposed to do, rather than always having something to do.

NC: Yeah, so being from Nashville we’re around awesome music all the time. The radio is always playing a new song and it gets kind of overwhelming. So, it’s always cool to ask people like you who have been out and around a lot more if you have any recommendations to check out any bands that you’re listening to right now?

JR: Yeah, there’s this band called Sleepwalkers; a band from Richmond that we’ve been traveling with and they’re probably my favorite band right now. There’s a lot of great bands in Richmond right now. Avers, the band we’re playing right now, is awesome. Matt White is from Richmond. A couple of the guys from the Head and the Heart are there. There’s a just a lot of really great bands in Richmond right now.

I guess I’m kind of the classic musician guy that’s the hard sell, and its not just like ‘hey check this band out they’re great!’ You hear about about it and listen and it’s like, ‘Man! I’ve been missing out!’ Oh! Broncho have you guys heard that band Broncho? They have a couple records out. Their latest record is called Just Enough Hip to Be a Woman and it’s really good. Every song on it is just… it’s probably one that’s just outside of most people’s radar. I mean, I think they kinda got some buzz in some places.

J Roddy Walston. Photo by Matt Cairns.J Roddy Walston. Photo by Matt Cairns.

A lot of my go-to stuff is older. It’s a bummer, because I used to only like new bands because I would go see them live. I’ve been a fan of The Features for forever. We saw them play five months ago and it was just like ‘these guys are sick.’ It’s crazy.

NC: I saw them at Live on the Green and it was totally worth it. We wanted to ask you about a new album because your self-titled album was in 2010, Essential Tremors was in 2013, and now it’s 2015. We noticed a pattern in your releases. So, does that hint that you’re working on something new maybe?

JR: Yeah, so basically, I thought we were going to be done touring at the end of 2014, but here we are! So January and February I spent building this studio in this old grenade factory that’s just some blown out warehouses in Richmond. I wasn’t ready to start writing but I didn’t want to just be doing nothing. I just didn’t have anything to say. I’ve just been on a two and a half year talking-about-myself. Or like a night like tonight, like ‘ok a party for me,’ like a completely unrealistic life.

NC: Would you say you’re looking for motivation or a subject to talk about?

JR: Yeah, just wanna plug back into being a regular person. Like ‘Oh I have to get up but I don’t wanna get up but I have to because I gotta go do something but I don’t wanna do it.’ Which, we did with this building. We were building this thing during the coldest two months on record and there was no heat and it was just like ‘I am completely numb.’ Like full-on Mt. Everest beard.

NC: With icicles and stuff?

JR: Yeah, it was just freezing. It was so miserable and I hated it. I would get home and just be like ‘ugh, I’m gonna sit here and thaw out and go to sleep.’ I was kind of looking for that moment, when instead of feeling like someone was saying, “Hey, you’re off the road it’s time to produce,” but more like you’re sitting on the couch and its your day off and you see a guitar and you think ‘oh if I pick it up whats gonna happen?’ Instead of like ‘well I gotta pick that up because it’s my job and I gotta do something.’

NC: More of a creative passion and not a job?

JR: Yeah, if I had started writing in January or even November or December, it would have been because it’s a smart business move and to try to capitalize on the momentum. We’ve never had that before. We never had something to capitalize on. So it’s always been like ‘oh well now that we’re inspired lets write songs and records, and whatever we love, whether or not someone is gonna hear them or not.’ So, I guess I’m kinda wanting to get to that same place.

NC: Do you have any other outlets that you can use creatively? We’re big fans of “Brave Man’s Death” and “I Think of You” (the bonus track off Essential Tremors), its really great poetry, imagery and storytelling. Do you have any other outlets that you get that out?

JR: Yeah, you know there was awhile where I was really interested in trying to put together short stories. A lot of times, I would write and try to mind that a little bit, and then take something that was around 1,000 words. Then I would try to boil it down to one song. That’s 75 words at most. I don’t know, I never really thought about how many words are in a song.

NC: Do you think that’s why there’s a lot of imagery and analogies in your songs? Like great stories because you have that big idea and you’re trying to put it back down because each word means a lot?

JR: Yeah, I definitely enjoy the challenge of whether or not I can say this in a way that still feels artistic and thinking ‘do I need this or this word? If I take this out, do I have to say it in a totally different way or do I kinda have to keep it the same?’ Also, I’m big fan of Paul Simon. Say there’s a whole thousand foot narrative. He drops you 250 feet in, and then cuts you off at 400 feet. And he acts like ‘You know the beginning and the end but here’s this. And if you don’t know it you gotta make it up.’ So yeah, I don’t feel any obligation to give people context because then they gotta make it what they want. People will be like, ‘Man, that song about your mom is so dark’ and I’m like ‘yeahh, which one?’ And they say which one and I’m like ‘sorry about your mom, brother.’

NC: We have our own interpretation of “Brave Man’s Death” and what it seems to be about. A lot of it is pretty dark! We were wondering if you have a completely different meaning of it. For example, the line, “I had a women, she had some kids, she said she loved them, I never did.” I feel like, if that’s based off of a true story, that it would be really hard to say. Especially on stage, over and over.

J Roddy Walston & The Business, Photo by Matt CairnsJ Roddy Walston & The Business. Photo by Matt Cairns.

JR: Yeah, it’s not necessarily about anyone. When I write, I feel like I tap into something. But, I do know people that I would say that’s true about them. Whether its their kid or its a relationship and it’s like ‘Well, I like this girl but she has these things that came along with her’. I think there are things about people that are lot better than people admit or realize. Though, I also think people are a lot worse. Thats where those dark comedy moments come from. Judd Apatow, for example. Not that all his stuff is that insightful, but just like [in This Is 40] ‘is it wrong that I fantasize about her dying every once in a while?’ And everyone in the theater is cracking up! It’s like you don’t want them to die but you think about it a little bit. But then you actually think about them being dead and its the worst thing that could happen. But yeah, I think the characters in my songs will actually say the things that people only think about in their darkest moments.

NC: Like human emotions, but personified.

JR: Like let out the beast!

NC: Is there anything that you wish you could talk about more in interviews or something that you’d like to be known?

JR: I feel like a lot of times people just focus on that its party music, but even the songs that are faster or lighthearted I worked pretty hard on the lyrics. We work pretty hard to make it straightforward. I’ve never been someone to say ‘let me tell you why I’m good’ or ‘you should like this song’. Interviewers, a lot of times will say ‘It sounds like you guys drink a lot.’ If anything, it seems like the lyrical part kind of goes over people’s head [more so than I had assumed]. When I say people, I mean interviews or critics. I think our fans get it though. They come out and they’re screaming things back at us and they’re getting something out of it. We’re not like KISS, I mean I love KISS but… I’m sure there are a lot of people that come and do have that KISS or AC/DC experience but I’m fine with that, but if it was the whole crowd…

NC: That’s not the point for you, right?

JR: That’s not the total point. I mean, I love those bands and I wish there was a band that could do that for me right now, but, for the most part, there’s not. I also love Randy Newman and Bob Dylan; where they just drop a lyrical hammer. I get that more from authors than from songwriters though at this point. Which is nice because books don’t necessarily have a freshness date.

NC:  I think that music is also more easily accessible than writing.

JR: Right, right. I don’t have any friends that are truly authors. It’s like stand-up comedians, I can’t imagine doing that, like ‘Hey, I’m funny.’

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