Cha-Cha-Changes; An interview with J. Roddy Walston of J. Roddy Walston and The Business

Destroyers of the Soft Life, the fourth LP by J. Roddy Walston and The Business hit the streets September 29 via ATO Records and found the band pursuing a brighter, more nuanced sound that teased out the band’s latent pop sensibilities without skimping on energy or attitude. Helping the band realize a new vision for its music was veteran producer Phil Ek (Built To Spill, Father John Misty, Fleet Foxes), who came in to apply some finishing touches after JRWATB completed most of the record in Virginia.

The “bar band” sound of the past has been replaced by an aspirational, booming cacophony that could fill stadiums. And throughout Destroyers of the Soft Life JRWATB melds engaging, melodic songwriting with sharp observations about American culture that take on a new kind of power in light of the 2016 presidential election. Walston’s world was also rocked by a huge life-changing event — the birth of his first child.

Ghettoblaster recently caught up with Walston to discuss the new sound, his newfound role as a father and more.

Your band deftly walks the line between intimate bar band and arena rockers. Do you prefer one setting over the other? Is part of being an artist being agile enough to do either well?

I like both really and at this point we are still doing a little of both. They are two different animals one you can literally reach out and touch people and the other you have to project yourself out to make people feel like you have seen them or touched them even though they are hundreds of feet away. I think it is tough to be good at performing in any size venue and being able to adjust what you do and how you do it to fit the venue is maybe not what makes you and artist but perhaps makes you a professional

What are the predominant lessons you’ve learned or changes you’ve made to the way you make music between your debut and your fourth LP?

My/the band’s process is always changing. there have been times where the only thing I had to write or demo with was a four track cassette machine. Later I did all the demos to my iPhone, this time around we built a full blown studio.

In the end, the major lesson I have learned is it doesn’t matter what equipment you use to write with, it matters if you are writing a good song. We have been around a long time and we haven’t had anything like overnight success, but we keep going and people keep coming to see us because we have real songs that people have carried with them for years. We aren’t a one time use throw away cup kind of band. We invest a lot of time and thought into everything we do musically and it turns out that people react to that with real passion and long term dedication.

Were there specific things you were hoping to accomplish or communicate with Destroyers?

Creatively we were trying to go to some places we have never been before. There are some sonic elements and some songwriting maneuvers that I think we own now. I think we are starting down a path that people will see that we are our own band and with our own voice not just some easy to pin down genre hardliner i.e. Americana or rock and roll or whatever it is that people think they can assign to our band.

The new record hints at some feelings you may have about the current political climate. Was it impossible to avoid tackling some of that subject matter?

I am completely disturbed by where we are as people and a country….but that’s not new. Seems like people are more sensitive to the subject right now. I don’t look to politics or politicians as the problem or as the answer. Politics and political parties to me are just another was of dividing and sub-dividing us. There is no ‘us vs. them’ in my mind. I am the problem we are the problem. We can choose to make things better, but in the end we are human and there will always be flaws in the way things work.

I think my hope is that the general trend is a movement towards generosity, courage, and grace rather than what seems to be a the current climate of inward looking, fearful, vengeful attitudes of mainstream Americans.

What were you hoping Ek would bring to the endeavor? What did you learn by working with him?

Not sure we had any specific things we wanted out of working with Phil. He has been a part of some really amazing records and we were stoked to see what he might add to what we had already done.

Really we needed someone that we and the label would trust as far as helping us say that the record was done. It was a really long writing/demo process and I think everyone was just a little too close to see it clearly anymore.

I think the main thing I took away from working with Phil is that I hope I am as excited about trying and hearing new things in the studio as he was everyday. It really made me want to be someone who has their head in the game when I am in the studio. Phil was never checked out, and he either loved something or hated it. It was great.

Have you found that you are less and less comfortable with relying on classic rock as a predominant muse?

Not just classic rock, but in general, I think musicians/visual artists/architects etc need to be driving forward. I am sick of being a part of the generation of imitators and recyclers.

What is one thing you think your band does better than any other band?

Harmonize while yelling? Hard to come up with just one thing.

What are your proudest accomplishments to date? What are your loftiest goals for your career?

As an artist I would say navigating producing this record was a serious trial and coming out the other side seemed like it might not happen at some points along the way. I wanna be somebody that doesn’t have to think of making music as a career, but can just make the art music. Otherwise I want to make and follow whatever inspirations may come.

I want to live a life that a career has nothing to do with why I do what it do.

Given current events, what are your feelings on the tragedy in Las Vegas? And the loss of Tom Petty?

Las Vegas is a tragedy I am not sure what I can add or how I can speak to that situation that would help.

Tom Petty was a guiding light for me. I am sad that he is gone but he burned bright for a long time and I think he did a great job with his time on this planet.

I became a first-time parent at 39. How has becoming a parent transformed your life?

I kinda view it as not so much a transformation, but a straight up trade. That person I was before having a kid is gone. There isn’t room for him anymore.

If anything there are brief moments where my wife and I vacation to a place where we get to pretend we are those people. I think my kid was the final push over the edge as far as my paradigm shift on nostalgia etc.

What are the most important life lessons you are hoping to impart to your child?

Be grateful, be humble. Be forgiving. See everything. Stay open to change.

(Visit J. Roddy Walston and The Business here.)

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