J. Roddy Walston & The Business, who formed in 2002 in Walston’s hometown of Cleveland, Tennessee, forces the oft-clashing worlds of art and rock-and-roll to make nice. The band (including guitarist/vocalist Billy Gordon, bassist/vocalist Logan Davis, and drummer Steve Colmus) deals in a scrappy yet sublime sound that honors both their Southern roots and punk spirit. On Essential Tremors (which borrows its name from a nervous system disorder that causes shaking in the hands of the band’s frontman), J. Roddy Walston & The Business builds off that formula with a mix of heavy hooks and elegant melodies revealing their affinity for artists as disparate as Led Zeppelin, pre-disco-era Bee Gees, The Replacements, Randy Newman, and the Southern soul outfits that once populated the Stax Records label.
Co-produced by Matt Wignall (Delta Spirit, Cold War Kids) and Grammy-winning producer/engineer Mark Neill (The Black Keys) at Neill’s own Soil of the South Studios (a Valdosta, Georgia-based facility where J. Roddy Walston & The Business were the first to ever record), the follow-up to 2010’s much-acclaimed self-titled sophomore album also finds the band crafting lyrics that ultimately serve as a secret language to the initiated listener.
Ghettoblaster crossed paths with Walston shortly before the band kicks off a massive run of tour dates (below) to ask him about the group’s third album. This is what he told us about Essential Tremors…
When did you begin writing the material for your most recent album?
We started writing about a year and half ago, whenever we had a small break on tour, and then we took the last nine months off to write. I don’t write on the road, so touring really gets in the way of conjuring up songs for me.
What was the most difficult song to take from the initial writing stage through recording and mixing? Why was it so troublesome?
Almost every song on this record had some struggle to it. We were really getting outside of our box on all these songs. “Sweat Shock” was a really tough one because it’s pretty much the format of a dance or funk song. Finding a melody that worked over it was pretty tough. I was listening to a ton of Michael Jackson for guidance on that song.
Which of the songs on the record is most different from your original concept for the song?
“Tear Jerk” was something I originally wrote in a more Randy Newman way. Then I sped it up and was thinking more boogie. Then Billy kinda pushed it into the full blast freak out. “Heavy Bells” was also completely different. It was just one groove that kept building no chorus.
Did you have any guest musicians play or sing on the record?
Erick Nieto, percussion; Ikey Owens, synth; Matt Wignall, percussion; and Jeremy Long, pedal steel.
Who produced the record? What input did that person have that changed the face of the record?
We had two people co-produce the record: Matt Wignall and Mark Neill. We had most of the ideas pretty nailed down song wise before we went to record. They helped peel back parts to their essential elements. When you write and rewrite songs for a year you start to lose perspective. They came in with fresh ears and helped us find our way back to being stoked on the songs. Mark definitely likes things to be sweet and heartbreaking vocally so that crept in. Matt helped get some of the more dancey songs to flow and be a little sleazier.
Is there an overarching concept behind your new album that ties the record together?
When I first started writing the songs for Essential Tremors I actually was thinking more of a concept album, but eventually I abandoned that idea. The whole record was about the world’s most jacked up family (there were 20 something songs). In the end I think concepts get in the way of just writing great songs. There is too much agenda and pretense eventually the melody or lyrics suffer under the weight of it all. Even though I abandoned the concept, I wrote a lot of the songs inside the concept so there is still the ghost of it connecting them.
Have you begun playing these songs live and which songs have elicited the strongest reaction from your fans?
Yeah. “Heavy Bells” is pretty immediate and powerful. “Midnight Cry” kinda sets people off. The real power of a song doesn’t really kick in until people have the record and are dying to hear it.
(Catch the band on tour at one of the following dates:
8/10/13-Davis, WV-Canaan Valley Resort
8/11/13-Wilmington, DE-World Café Live at the Queen
8/17/13- Portsmouth, NH- Redhook Ale Brewery
9/5/13-Cleveland, OH-Beachland Ballroom and Tavern
9/7/13-St Louis, MO-Loufest
9/9/13-Minneapolis, MN-7th Street Entry
9/10/13-Milwaukee, WI-Club Garibaldi’s
9/11/13-Madison, WI-High Noon Saloon
9/12/13-Chicago, IL-Double Door
9/14/13-Cincinnati, OH- PNC Pavilion at Riverbend
9.20/13- Baltimore, MD- Rams Head Live
9/24/13- Pittsburgh, PA- Club Cafe
9/25/13-Louisville, KY- Waterfront Park
9/28/13- Kansas City, MO- Czar Bar
9/30/13-Denver, CO- Hi-Dive
10/1/13- Salt Lake City, UT- The State Room
10/3/13- Portland, OR- Mississippi Studios
10/5/13- Vancouver, BC, Canada- Biltmore Cabaret
10/7/13- Seattle, WA- Tractor Tavern
10/10/13- San Francisco, CA- The Independent
10/11/13- Los Angeles, CA- Troubadour
10/12/12- San Luis Obispo, CA- SLO Brewing Company
10/13/13- San Diego, CA- Soda Bar
10/15/13- Phoenix, AZ- Crescent Ballroom
10/18/13- Austin, TX- Stubbs Jr.
10/19/13- Dallas, TX, INDEX Festival
10/21/13- New Orleans, LA- One Eyed Jacks
10/23/13-Birmingham, AL- Bottle Tree
10/24/13- Atlanta, GA- Terminal West
10/25/13- Athens, GA- Georgia Theatre
10/26/13- Nashville, TN- Exit In
10/28/13- Charleston, SC- The Pour House
10/29/13-Raleigh, NC- Kings Barcade
10/31/13- Richmond, VA- Strange Matter
11/2/13- New York, NY- Bowery Ballroom
11/4/13- Boston, MA- Great Scott’s
11/6/13- Philadelphia, PA- Theatre of the Living Arts
11/7/13- Washington, DC- 9:30 Club)