WALKER - Signs to Cooking Vinyl Records / Plays one-off Irish Gig with La
Rocca in Dublin's Crawdaddy 3/12
“Landed” (Cooking Vinyl) - debut album released February 2005
“Understated and raw, his songs are laid-back,” observes a reviewer for Milesofmusic.com. “But Walker add as an edge of desperation in a breathy rasp that is similar to E of The Eels or fellow Bay Area band The Mother Hips”. Still, the writer also called Landed “the perfect soundtrack for a very lazy Sunday afternoon”. This owes not only to Walker’s gift for under the skin melodies but to acclaimed producers Joe Chiccarelli and Tony Hoffer and the musicians who helped craft this musical photo album: guitarist-keyboard played Kay Bennett from Wilco, drummer Joey Waronker (REM) and bassist Justin Meldal-Johnsen (Beck).
Landed is a handful of polaroids still drying, fanned out to reveal a cast of shadowy characters, some real, some imagined, some Walker, some not. Most long for solid footing atop ever-shifting ground. They seek connection but remain separated – by distance, by drugs, by dysfunction.
Growing up in Boston and later, the Bay Area, Walker began his music career on piano. Influenced early on by artists as diverse as The Beatles, Led Zepplin, The Descendants and Dead Kennedys, he later fell under the sway of Neil Young, who inspired him to pick up the guitar.
Walker felt a tremendous sense of belonging when he joined his first band in high school, playing rhythm guitar and singing backup. He wrote songs for that outfit and subsequent college bands- he studied art at the University of Colorado at Boulder – then switched to lead guitar. Eventually he gained enough confidence to express himself fully and stepped out in front.
Upon graduation, Walker moved to San Francisco and devoted himself to music full time. After a period spent producing demos, he found himself collaborating with Chiccarelli (Frank Zappa, U2, Café Tacuba) and Hoffer, celebrated producer of The Thrills, Beck and Air, who added grit to the still-coalescing album.
Walker notes that onstage, the songs are tougher than they appear on Landed, explaining : “The record is very tight, live there’s a lot of openness. And the guitar solos are longer and more … well, someone who saw the show paid us the ultimate compliment recently by saying we reminded them of Crazy Horse.”
Asked why he called the record Landed he alludes to his role as story teller : “Thinking about these characters, traveling through these experiences, the different themes – addiction and what it means to not be grounded in your life, loneliness, the nature of beauty … Landed means that at the moment, when you’re listening to the record, I’m back from the top, I’ve landed. I’ve seen all this on my travels, and its time to show you what I’ve seen.”
Peter Walker will be doing a one-off Dublin gig (with Dublin's own La Rocca) as he kick's off a European Tour :
“There’s so much crap out there, but there’s so much beauty, too. And so many things that are totally simple – everywhere – so inherent and instinctual that you might not even notice them. I want to bring those out, take snapshots of them,” says Peter Walker of his compulsion to write songs. “Any given moment or observation, you don’t even have to blow it up or shine a spotlight on it; you just have to grab it, do it, be it.”
Walker’s music lives in these moments, fearlessly, in songs like “Dream Away,” about which he says: “There are tears of struggle, but it’s a celebration of life, the darker things in life that shouldn’t be swept under the rug.”
“Dream Away” appears on Walker’s forthcoming album, Landed. The disc is a handful of Polaroids, still drying, fanned out to reveal a cast of shadowy characters, some real, some imagined, some Walker, some not. Most long for solid footing atop ever-shifting ground. They seek connection but remain separated – by distance, by drugs, by dysfunction.
Their stories are crafted with no-bullshit candor. “My singing and guitar playing – there aren’t a lot of bows and ribbons on them,” Walker says, illustrating his tendency toward the direct. Landed is transparent, like emotion stripped to its essence and somehow made sound. Acclaimed producers Joe Chiccarelli and Tony Hoffer made sure the songs were fully realized, with all the intimacy, immediacy and sonic invention envisioned at their creation.
Among the recruits advancing this mission were guitarist/keyboardist Jay Bennett from Wilco, drummer Joey Waronker (R.E.M.) and bassist Justin Meldal-Johnsen (Beck), Walker’s “dream band.” Walker sang and played guitar, bass, keyboards and percussion instruments (he is the only performer on the standout “Different Kind Of Romance”). Pedal steel, cello and saxophone burnish the organic textures.
Though he is now more closely associated with the guitar, Walker began his music career on piano (rather than follow in the footsteps of his grandfather – a banjoist). “Both my parents play piano,” he informs. “And my three siblings and I were required to take four years of lessons. After the four years, I kept doing piano. There were times it was hard, but I always had fun playing.” He says of his first forays into composition: “One of the songs we all knew was ‘The Entertainer.’ There was a part in it that I always forgot, so I just made up my own part to fill in there. I still play it that way. It’s wrong, but it works. I did that with a lot of the classical pieces I learned, too. I began to realize I had this opportunity to control how the music came out.”
His mother, an artist, and his father, a professor of business, were fans of The Beatles and The Beach Boys. His older brother, 13 years Peter’s senior, left a drum kit and a collection of LPs, including Sgt. Pepper’s and plenty of Led Zeppelin, down in the basement when he went off to college. Peter made the most of this treasure, even using the LPs as canvases for chalk drawings. This perhaps presaged his skate-punk years, when he listened to The Descendants and Dead Kennedys and “got into vandalism” and other delinquent activity.
As high school rolled around, he fell under the spell of Neil Young, whom he says is a huge influence. “I had begun to listen to music more closely, trying to dissect it,” Walker recalls. “I was hearing things I’d never heard before that were really exciting. And the guitar was the go-to instrument in a lot of that, so I started playing it.”
The teen surely found solace in music, having come through an extremely difficult period. He confides: “When I was 11, my dad took a job in Palo Alto, California. It was only supposed to be for a year, but I was still pissed off. I didn’t want to move. And then my parents loved California and we ended up staying. The summer after that first year, my dad, who was my Little League coach, and I had a bunch of important, end-of-season games. So my mom and sister went back to our house in Weston [Mass.] and moved us out. They decided what to keep and what to trash. I’d always been a pack rat – the walls of my room were plastered with posters. They got rid of all my stuff; I lost everything. That was a time of really big change. When I look back on it, I see that it really affected me.”
This was compounded by the creeping realization that something else was going on. “My mom’s been sober for six years, and my sister’s been sober for nine years,” Walker says. “Around the time we moved, my mom started drinking more. The move was hard on the family. These experiences have stuck with me through being a kid and a teenager and right up to the present day. It has a lot to do with my perceptions of people and how they live. There are so many levels of denial and miscommunication. As a songwriter, there’s so much for me there.” The songs “I Came Around,” “Invitation” and “Gone Away” all owe something to Walker’s hard-won insights in this area.
It’s little wonder that when he joined his first band, he felt a tremendous sense of belonging. “I jumped into this band called Jack Tripper, playing rhythm guitar and singing backup. The guy who played lead, his mom let him take over the garage. It was a really cool scene; people would just come and hang out. The first time I played with those guys, it was incredible, a whole different thing for me. We went off on instrumental jams. Everyone was so excited. That was a really good thing for me because they were all happy I was there.”
Jack Tripper suffered from serious Grateful Dead damage, something Walker is a bit chagrinned to admit because of the cartoon-y nature of the deadhead phenomenon. But he does cop to hearing something expansive and compelling in Jerry Garcia’s artistry, something that spurred him creatively. He remained in the Bob Weir position, however, in this particular band (admiring the rhythm player’s work as well and taking a certain pride in Weir having gone to his high school). “All I really knew were barre chords,” Walker concedes, “but I started to believe I had more to offer.”
In fact, after penning a “totally rocking, kind of bluesy drinking song” with a buddy, he began writing material for Jack Tripper and subsequent college bands (Walker studied art at the University Of Colorado at Boulder). Then he switched to playing lead guitar. “I think I was seen as the best writer and guitarist in the bands I’d played with, but I wasn’t supported as a singer,” he notes. “I thought the songs sounded better with someone else singing; I thought that was best for the band. But the fact is, I just didn’t have the confidence to be out front all the time, and the other guys didn’t care to help me out there either. After five years of playing with this same bunch of people, in three or four bands, I had to kick everyone out to be able to do my own thing. I knew I wanted to express myself, and this was the next logical step, something I had to do. Once I found a little bit of my voice, I knew it was magic for me – there was definitely something there.”
After graduation, Walker moved to San Francisco and devoted himself to music full time. Of his next creative milestone, he says: “A friend of mine who was an engineer and I rented an old scooter shop, basically a warehouse, in the Mission. We built a little skate ramp and brought in a bunch of equipment and spent four months recording.” Some of this material became demos for songs that would eventually find their way to Landed.
“I love recording, and I have a real desire to make great records,” Walker relates. “The process is so inspiring. I knew I wanted to work with a producer who shared my vision of what my music could be.” Enter Joe Chiccarelli, who’s worked with artists as varied as Frank Zappa, U2 and Café Tacuba. Chiccarelli had gotten ahold of one of Walker’s demos and given him a call. “I really liked how he talked about the music,” Walker remembers. “He said something about doing a darker, sort of broken thing, and I was like, ‘Totally: darker, broken – take me there.’ He brought in Justin, Joey and Jay. They were the perfect band for this record. After those guys became involved, everything went really quickly; we just whipped it together.”
For his part, Tony Hoffer, celebrated producer of The Thrills, Beck, Air, Supergrass, among others, added a bit of grit to the album, capturing another, more aggressive side of Walker’s work. “Tony had a different approach,” Walker confirms, “and I wanted this record to reflect different moods. I played more acoustic with Joe; with Tony, it was dirty, electric rock (note particularly “I’m Through”). I used some messed-up guitar licks and weird little vocal nuances that didn’t feel right on the Joe songs.” Among Hoffer’s contributions: the hushed power of “Neighbor.” “On that song, the piano and vocals were recorded live,” Walker continues. “I wasn’t sure I could pull it off, but Tony was extremely encouraging, and it turned out really well.” Producer Jason Carmer (Third Eye Blind, The Donnas) oversaw the childlike “Pluto,” the imagery of which came to Walker in a dream. The song, recorded in San Francisco – the rest of Landed was recorded in Los Angeles – also features Primus drummer Brain.
On stage, where Walker is joined by a keyboardist, bassist and drummer, the songs from Landed are receiving a different treatment. “It’s more raw, and completely free,” he attests. “The record is pretty tight; live, there’s a lot of openness. The songs really go places. And the guitar solos are longer and more … Well, someone who saw the show paid us the ultimate compliment recently by saying we reminded them of Crazy Horse.
Asked why the album is called Landed, Walker first discusses some of his protagonists. Though he doesn’t like to exclude the listener’s own interpretation, he will say that “I’m Through” takes its point of view from a husband abandoned by his wife mere days after an elaborate wedding. “She must have known it was all a farce,” the songwriter says. “But she went through with it anyway. She was living a lie. What’s real vs. what’s fake turns up a lot in my music.”
“I Came Around” unfolds through the eyes of an addict who wanders back into his lover’s life only when he wants something. “That’s the story of a horrible relationship,” Walker understates. “Neighbor,” on the other hand, shifts in perspective, starting out with, “There was a man in love with his neighbor / He didn’t know her name / On her own upstairs in the window,” then adopting the first person: “I think we feel the same.” “Writing lyrics has always been a really fun part of what I do. I like to get into character and describe an instant in someone else’s life, a glimpse,” Walker remarks. “But I guess I’m always coming from myself at some point. ‘Neighbor’ is about some weird stalker-type guy.” After a pause, he comes clean: “I used to live across the street from this woman. She was a mystery. I’d look up there and see her and imagine what was going on in her life.”
He winds his way back to the meaning of Landed when it becomes clear that who he may or may not be in a song is immaterial; what matters is his role as the storyteller. “Thinking about these characters, traveling through these experiences, the different themes – addiction and what it means to not be grounded in your life, loneliness, the nature of beauty … ‘Landed’ means that at this moment, when you’re listening to the record, I’m back from the trip…I’ve landed. I’ve seen all this on my travels, and now it’s time to show you what I’ve seen.”
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