- Posted on Mar 2nd 2011 3:30PM by Tina Benitez-Eves
Walston will join his bandmates -- guitarist Billy Gordon, bassist Logan Davis and drummer Steve Colmus -- in playing multiple shows at this year's SXSW, and before heading to Austin, the singer talked to Spinner about growing up Southern, singing gospel music and touring in a church van.
How did growing up in Tennessee shape you as a musician?
Even before I was performing, I was playing at people's birthday parties, being shuffled to the front. It was a weird world, too. We'd go to this hotel. One side of the hotel was a ballroom, and on the other side, they would have bands coming through. So Friday night was that, and then Sunday morning was gospel, so it was all mixed in my head. I wish everyone could experience it growing up.
You moved to Maryland when you were fairly young. Do you ever miss your home state?
I do. I'm living in Richmond, Md., now, and I see things that I never would have seen if I'd stayed in Tennessee. It definitely gave me a taste for living in a bigger city. I still have elements of the South, and living in Richmond is not complementary. Initially, living up there, I was walking around asking for sweet tea, and people were just like, "What is he talking about?" Just little things like that make you think, 'Whoa, I'm not in the South anymore."
Compared to your debut, how did you approach the writing and recording of your new album?
This album was much more a band [effort]. It was still basically me saying I've had this group of songs for a while and just putting them out there. This album was a reaction to being on the road all the time. Part of it was doing whatever we wanted. Live, it's not like it is on the record at all. It's high-energy stuff. I just wanted to make a record that was high energy and at the same time thoughtful. The first record was fun, the second more lyrical.
Tell me about the gospel-rock single 'Full Growing Man.' What influenced this song?
That one came around really fast. I was just sitting around the piano and came up with the chord progression. I thought, "What would the first couple of Weezer records sound like if they were doing old soul or something?" and all these big gigantic bubble ideas came in my head. It's less subdued, soulful and more old-school. The next two sounds in my head just came out. It's kind of this weird shooting back and forth for a few minutes, then this idea of the song was formed. That song was actually the major point in starting to write the new record, like, "This is the direction we should go." It's weird gospel. I also like to test the limits of the male vocal chords.
Your touring vessel, a white Ford Econoline Club Wagon, used to be a church van. How did this become the band's tour bus for the past 10 years?
I got it when I was living in Tennessee a few years before I moved up to Baltimore. It kind of bounced around between different churches and has followed us on many limitless adventures. It's crossed the United States three of four times. I never thought it would even drive across the Mississippi, and here we were driving down Mulholland Drive.
I guess no one will bother a band in a church van.
We've gotten away with quite a few things. It's funny -- every time I'm in the car with my wife for a long trip, I get a ticket. I've spent, like, 30,000 or 40,000 miles a year in that van and never got a ticket. It definitely camouflages. Even if you're going fast, it looks slow. No officer is going to say, "I should give that guy a speeding ticket." At some point, we'll have to upgrade. We have to come up with a bigger church theme.
When did you know you needed to make music?
Led Zeppelin hit hard in high school. I think around junior high or the seventh-grade year, every kid in my school did a Nirvana cover. It was the year that Kurt Cobain died, so your band played Nirvana songs. All the ninth and tenth graders were like, "We have to start a band right now. This is the coolest thing ever."
Do you have any future, or hopeful, artist collaborations in mind?
It would be cool to work with somebody like Jack White or the Black Keys. I like writing slower songs, so I have to find someone with a nice voice who can do the slower stuff I've been working on.
So what's next for J Roddy and The Business?
I think we're just trying to stay alive. SXSW is a pretty intense experience if you're actually playing in it. You're doing six or seven shows in a three- or four-day period. I mean, that's ... I don't know. There might be something crazy.
Catch J Roddy Walston & the Business' SXSW Sets on Thursday, March 17 at Soho Lounge (217 E 6th St.) 1AM, and Wednesday, March 16 at Stubb's (801 Red River St.) 9:55PM.
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