Manhattan-based PT Walkley is a musical renaissance man walking the fine, seldom traveled line between mass entertainment and deeply personal songcraft. An accomplished composer for film and television, Walkley has also displayed a rich, melodic indie rock-cum-singer-songwriter repertoire through a string of critically acclaimed full-lengths and EPs.
Like many modern composers, his early days were spent in bands traversing the congested NYC rock club circuit. A chance encounter with actor/director Ed Burns at a Lower East Side guitar shop led to the two becoming fast friends and Walkley becoming Burns’ go-to composer for a decade and counting, including work for Burns’ upcoming ‘60s cop drama Public Morals (TNT). An adventurous composer, Walkley also writes all the music and voices several characters for hit Nickelodeon series Team Umizoomi and has crafted original music for Sesame Street.
In 2012, Walkley composed original music for two prominent Super Bowl commercials – the cinematic grandiosity of “Journey” for Bud Light and rollicking New Orleans jazz of “Parade” for Ritz. The two pieces were written and recorded within the same week, epitomizing the sonic versatility Walkley has come to be known for. The two EPs that followed (What’s What and The Ghost of Chivalry), marked a return to his ‘60s rock roots and led Wall Street Journal to call Walkley “a power-pop singer-songwriter in the tradition of David Bowie, Alex Chilton, Elvis Costello and Paul McCartney.”
Though Walkley’s full-time composer gig makes touring virtually impossible, his live bona fides include opening for Coldplay at Madison Square Garden and Weezer at Hammerstein Ballroom as well as playing at the last All Points West Music & Arts Festival.
Walkley’s forthcoming LP, Shoulders, marks his most personal work to date. Teaming up with Grammy, Emmy and Tony award-winning producer Bill Sherman, Walkley channels the divergent emotions of a bittersweet year – from the birth of his son to the death of his best friend – and delivers an inspired song cycle rooted in indie rock with a heavy dose of classic R&B.
Ghettoblaster caught up with to discuss Shoulders, which will be self-released on February 18. This is what he told us about it.
When did you begin writing the material for Shoulders?
October 25th 2012. That’s the day I lost a very close friend, Nicky Kulund, to Leukemia, and “Blindsided” poured out. It had a decidedly 60s Soul, Stones-tinged vibe, partly as a tribute to Nicky, who was such a Stones guy, and my drummer for years. From there I found myself writing from that soulful place.
What was the most difficult song to take from the initial writing stage through recording and mixing? Why was it so troublesome?
There were a couple songs that just didn’t make the cut. Some of them needed more of a hip hop or electronic element to survive as a recording, and they just didn’t fit on this record.
More to the question- being such a big production, there are ideas that came up after initial tracking, which is inevitable. The initial drummer (Tim Keiper) is fantastic, but once I heard “It’s Alright” and “Sirens” more fleshed out, I realized I needed to re-cut the drums. This is very hard to do, but thanks to a killer drummer (Aaron Steel sat in for Keiper, who was out of town) and a wonderful mixer (Trina Shoemaker), both tracks came out better for it. But those were the two that took the most work because of this can of worms.
Which of the songs on the record is most different from your original concept for the song?
“Silver Dollar Pancakes.” This was originally going to be a peppy little shuffle with drums and a rock band behind it. But it wound up hitting harder as a simple story song- especially as a little sonic breather after the heaviness of “Eat You Up”.
Did you have any guest musicians play or sing on the record?
Lots of people played and sang on this thing:
Tim Keiper, Aaron Steel on drums
Matt Rubano on bass
Michael Aarons played many guitars
John Deley on organ and piano
Chris Jackson, Moeisha McGill and Angie Grover on BG vocals
Joe Fiedler, Tony Kadleck and Jason Marshall on horns
Who produced the record? What input did that person have that changed the face of the record?
Bill Sherman. Fantastic producer, music director and all around team player. We actually grew up together as kids, then found out a couple years ago that we were living in the same neighborhood on the lower east side of NYC, but we had very similar careers, both doing lots of work for kids TV (he’s music director and lead composer for Sesame Street, I do same for nickelodeon’s Team Umizoomi.)
I told him my vision, he put the band together. charted out the tunes. one day of rehearsals, two days of live tracking. Couple weeks of overdubs, couple more for mixing, then done. he fully understood the vision and helped me execute it, and then some.
Is there an overarching concept behind the music that ties the songs together?
Well, aside from having a decidedly soul and blues vibe, there are recurring themes that pop up through the songs. Clearly Nicky Kulund’s death had me thinking a lot about loss and mortality and appreciating those you still have around you.
My son was also born this past year and there are many joyous moments on the record, though I tried to steer clear of getting too “I just had a kid and I’m gonna write a song about it”….
I also went through a brutal falling out with someone I trusted too much… Lots of venom in songs like “Eat You Up” and “Lost My Way”.
Finally, a family member let me and the rest of our family down in a monumental and profound way.
There are songs I’d been writing about infidelity and its ripple effect and the importance to not give into certain things and stick together with family and others you care about… particularly “Sirens”. I had no idea what I was writing about at the time, but it proved to be quite poignant in the end.
Have you begun playing these songs live and which songs have elicited the strongest reaction from your fans?
I have not. I hope to get a show together for late February or sometime in March. Will be lots of fun to play with a big band again.
(Visit PT Walkley here: http://ptwalkley.com/.)