by Jane Roser
“Embracing weirdness means a mumble-out-loud celebration of that great and terrible burden of being human.”
I read this on J Roddy Walston’s website and love that quote because on one level or another, I think that we can all relate to it. As writer Jenny Lawson said, “you are defined not by life’s imperfect moments, but by your reaction to them.” Walston reacted to a nervous-system disorder that causes his hands to shake by writing one of the best rock and roll albums I’ve heard in years and naming it after this affliction.
The band (consisting of Walston, Billy Gordon, Logan Davis and Steve Colmus) released it’s third album, Essential Tremors on September 10th and it has gained glowing reviews from both critics and fans. Billboard Magazine said “The group’s ATO/RED debut Essential Tremors entered Heatseekers Albums at No. 5 four weeks ago. This week [October 18th], lead single “Heavy Bells” marks the act’s airplay chart bow, as it starts on Alternative at No. 40. WZNE Rochester, N.Y., led with 24 plays last week.”
Walston grew up in a musical family and sang in the church choir when he was young, “if I showed any interest in music, my parents would get me lessons, but how I really learned to play was through writing. I would be writing a song and I couldn’t get through it, so I practiced and practiced to get to the point where I could perform it, but I approached it differently and learned to play instruments specifically so I could write my songs.”
J Roddy Walston And The Business began eleven years ago in Walston’s hometown of Cleveland, Tennessee and relocated to Baltimore, Maryland after their debut EP Here Comes Trouble was released. Their first full-length album, Hail Mega Boys, came five years later and so did a whole lot of touring, having played Lollapalooza, Austin City Limits and Bonnaroo and performing shows with such iconic bands as The Black Keys, Lucero and the Lumineers.
I asked Walston if there was one show in particular that was memorable to him, “our Baltimore show was pretty special. About 1100 people came out for it, it was a massive show for us. We had new fans and old fans; the energy in the room was completely insane, it felt out of control. When you’re touring, you generally only have those kinds of moments once or twice.”
Philly can look forward to a kick-ass show tomorrow night when the band performs at Union Transfer with Deer Tick. “Philly is one of three cities that we did a weird concept tour of. We wouldn’t be back for 6 months to a year, this time we’re playing staggered dates in DC, New York and Philly,” says Walston. “We get to meet some great people and are talking to the same people every week and can teach them how to be your audience. We want that interaction. Philly is a pretty rad city with kindred spirits of the same heart.”
Walston doesn’t use a sound engineer for his live shows, so it’s “unique every night, even if we wind up playing the same set, something different will come out and it feels real. If we’re not hitting our cues, it’s totally fine, you definitely make what you want out of it. It’s the same mentality as how you listen to our music. It’s weird hitting the basic human elements in our shows- the physical and spiritual- all coming together. People can feel safe and lose themselves and connect with us at our shows.”
When I mention a review I read in which a fan states that “seeing them live will change your life,” Walston is amused and says, “well, maybe they have a much needed primal scream to release. Maybe our shows can be week changing, or month changing, but not necessarily life changing.”
“Marigold” is one of my favorite tracks from Essential Tremors. The lyrics are witty and the tune is pure old fashioned rock and roll. “That was one of the first songs we finished,” says Walston, “it had this vibe and we nailed it down for this record. As far as lyrics go, the song is about being frustrated, about living in Baltimore and how these people with trust funds would see moving to a poor area of the city as sort of an adventure. I would meet them going to art school and while most people in this city have struggled, these others are just having fun with it. It drove me nuts.”
Walston spends a lot of time writing lyrics so they are “not getting in the way of the melody and the melody is not getting in the way of the lyrics. I’m really proud of these songs, but maybe on this album I was a little more open. People are connecting with this record in a pretty awesome way. I felt like I was taking a risk when writing this. Songs are like acting out a very good question and it’s ok if fans come up with a different answer [as to their meaning].”
2014 looms just around the corner and Walston would like to tour Europe for the first time, “we have a lot more touring to do and I’m hoping this record does well. We’ll keep playing shows, we’ve been touring non-stop for three years, but we don’t want to be three to five years between every record.”
Now based back down south in Richmond, Virginia, Walston lists classic writers such as William Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor as major influences in his songwriting. “I don’t think our band or our music is particularly Southern, but our sense of storytelling and use of language is very much aligned with a more Southern way of life,” Walston says in his bio.
Flannery O’Connor once mused, “The writer can choose what he writes about but he cannot choose what he is able to make live.” If you go to Walston’s show tomorrow night, scream out loud until your voice goes raw, lose yourself in the moment and feel what it truly means to be alive, because although you only live once, if you do it right, once is more than enough.