J Roddy Walston and the Business is always on heavy rotation at the shop. We can’t get enough of J’s wailing piano and frenzied rock and roll. Our conversation with J Roddy gets into the new album, Cincinnati, and how he manages to keep the energy turned up to 11, night in and night out, for an entire tour.
You’re going to be working with Noble Denim later this year. How did that come together?
We’re gonna come in and spend some time at his shop, get some jeans, maybe play a song or two. I’m really good friends with photographer Jon Willis there in Cincinnati, and he’s been working with them. So it all just came together naturally. I like stuff that’s well-constructed and American-made.
One of the reasons we started Article was to highlight high-qualty people, places, and products that guys in Cincinnati need to know about. We’ve highlighted Noble Denim in the past and plan to work with them more in the future. What are your thoughts on the resurgence of American-made goods?
To some extent, I think it ties in to our generation. It has become cool to start making things again, and I’m fine with that. Many people are starting to realize that what you eat matters, and where your food comes from matters. Whether it’s your clothes, or your shoes, or your car, people are starting to ask themselves – has this been done well, where did it come from, will this last, was this done in an ethical way? It’s hard for people to say, “I’m going to support ethical food practices, but I don’t care where my clothes come from.”
For me personally, I’m stoked to come into Noble Denim because I want to know how jeans are made. A lot of times, I’ll deconstruct clothes when I get them anyways if the fit’s not quite right or something needs to be patched up.
What’s the most ambitious tailoring project you’ve ever tried?
I changed a pair of old Levi’s that were bootcut into a more slim fit. That was an intense endeavor. Not that it was all that extreme, but I guess just the risk of it was. And my dad gave me his old letterman sweater from college and the sleeves on it were way too baggy – I’m sure he was a much more muscular man than I was at that age. I was really worried that I’d totally screw that up. Actually, I guess the most ambitious thing that I’ve ever tried, and my least successful, was to change the sleeves on an old leather jacket. I don’t know what human leather jacket sleeves are made to fit. I mean it’s like, hey this body fits perfectly but the arms are, again, ridiculous. I learned the hard way that the stitches have to be really far apart on leather or you just end up perforating it. Plus the leather was really dried out so it was a double whammy. I mean, the jacket still exists, but If I try to do anything but stand there and look cool in it, the whole thing just explodes.
What do you do, in-between shows, on the road?
At some point on tour there’s only so much record-shopping, or sitting at the club you can do, so I end up going out looking at weird junk stores or furniture.
Is there a store in particular city that seems to have the best junk shops?
Obviously cities like Austin or the regular hotspots like Brooklyn are cool, but they also end up being really expensive because it’s almost like part of their tourism. I’ve found some really cool stuff in Denver. I think Denver – I don’t want to say is completely unheard of – but I think it’s way radder than most people expect. Last time we spent like two or three days there on a stop-over on tour and had a great time. Chicago too. Chicago’s got lots of really great stores in a bunch of different neighborhoods. A lot of the time I’m just trying to go and see, almost to distract myself. There’s been a lot of times where I’m like, this is the coolest couch I’ve ever seen, but I’m six weeks from going home. I think if I tried to convince the guys to let me put a couch in the trailer, they’d basically just shoot me in the face.
You guys keep a pretty relentless tour schedule. How do you keep your energy up for every performance?
Touring is a weird thing. You’ll hear bands complain about it, and they’ll make the “woes of touring” record about being on the road or whatever. And it is exhausting to some extent, but really, I mean, I only have to work one hour a day. You’re really blown out tired. You’re not sleeping. At this point we’re still driving ourselves and loading in all of our gear so you have to do some of that kind of stuff. I don’t know how anybody actually gets to the point where they are actually just riding in a bus and all they do is show up a couple minutes before they go on stage.For someone to complain about the actual performance part of touring is crazy. I love – all of us in the band – love to get up on stage and perform. To some extent, it’s easy, but you still have to approach each performance fresh every night. Even if you end up moving around the same way or trying to get the audience into it the same way – you have to have in the back of your mind, like, “maybe tonight I’ll fall down or trip over something” (laughs). You know just to keep it different or whatever.
Is there an art to getting the crowd into it?
No doubt there are little things that happen where you’re like, whoa, that mechanism worked and it conveyed what I was trying to convey to the audience – and then they gave something back. That’s the thing, with us, is interaction with the audience. The worst shows for us is when we are playing with a bigger band that needs to have a barrier in front of the stage. That four to ten foot gap is pretty weird for us. In Cincinnati, in particular, we’ve had some pretty gnarly shows at the old Southgate House. Upstairs at the Southgate House with the crowd on top of you, in your face, basically there’s no separation between you and the crowd at all and that’s a great show for us.
You’ve been coming here for a good while. What’s some of the best shows you’ve played in Cincinnati?
Definitely the CincyPunk Fest we played was crazy. Cincinnati was one of the first places we really started playing. We probably played a good 10 to 15 or even 20 shows before anybody actually started showing up. The first time I played the Comet was really exciting because it was one of the places I would hang with my friends, and it was one of the coolest places I had ever been. We had a pretty rad time once Northside opened up that back bar. That’s a pretty rad room. Cincinnati has always been, to me, one of the more awesome rust belt cities. I’ve been waiting for it to officially hit the map as one of the radder places for young people to live. The stretch of towns – Cincinnati, Lexington, Louisville, Pittsburgh, Cleveland – is the first place we felt like we were actually getting traction anywhere. We’ve been to all of those cities so much, both on and off the radar, that we can pretty much drive around without a map or GPS at this point.
Why are bands afraid to rock nowadays? Have you thought about that at all?
I’ve actually thought about it a lot, and I think there’s a loss of the thought that being in a rock and roll band is an artistic form of music. I think that most bands just haven’t directly been saying anything that people actually care about. It’s kind of like running a car. You have to have the right mix of fuel and air. You can’t be so literary that people are having their minds blown off, but at the same time, you have to say something – and you also have to be able to dance to it (laughs). I don’t want to say we’ve mastered that by any means, but I think we’ve found something where people can say to themselves . . . “I can completely get lost in this and dance around and go nuts with my friends or I can sit by myself and listen to this on my headphones and lyrically be intrigued or moved.” I think a lot of bands, and people in general, discount the working man as someone who just gets up, goes to work, eats, and doesn’t think about anything – like mindless worker bees – and that’s just not been my experience. I think that’s what rock and roll has lost is the full connection with human beings. It only plays up one side of it, like, “we’re into drinking and drugs!” I think it just stopped being “artsy.” So when an artsy kid is coming up the last thing they’re thinking is that they should start a rock and roll band.
You grew up in Tennessee. How many of your songs are inspired by real-life events?
Everything is launched off of bits and pieces, whether they are personal or observed. And then generally I’m like, “well that’s kinda a weird or bad thing – what if I made it absolutely bad or weird or intense?” I’m trying to turn everything up to the most extreme final point it could hit and then step back and see what that can teach me about humanity. I continue to believe that the south is one of the last untamed places in the America. You have to take the good with the bad, but I love it. Even as a kid, there were a lot of times that I was like – I don’t understand what’s going on here, but I’m going to put this away in my brain and use it later in life.What do you do when you’re not playing music?
Fortunately for the last two years, music has been full time, and I haven’t had to have a day job. My wife and I bought a house last year – so I’ve been gutting that thing. Really though, writing this record has taken up the last year. As an escape from the record now and then, I’ve been working my way through figuring out how to work on the house.
Is there a release date set for your new album, “Essential Tremors?”
Not yet. We’re going through the mixes right now. I’m assuming it will be sometime late summer, but I don’t know exactly when that will be. I’m super excited about it. I can’t wait to have everybody hear it. That’s the fun part of a record coming out is that moment when you realize that people have fully taken it in, absorbed it, and they start singing it back at you. I think people are going to be way stoked on it. It sounds really awesome.
What kind of energy can we expect from the new album? Does it feel similar to your last?
There’s always going to be energy on our records. If you go back to our previous recordings you can see that our band is not locked down to one particular style. Our influences probably remain pretty evident, but I think the songs are a lot better on this record – catchier, more fun, but also lyrically a lot darker. I feel like every record has gotten darker and darker, but the darker the lyrics, the poppier and catchy things have to be. You don’t want to fall into some weird, depressing sadness pit. It definitely is still rocking and from what I can tell in the mix, it still sounds really fun, really aggressive, big and rocking. It is some of the most aggressive stuff we’ve ever recorded, but there’s also a track that’s just me and a piano. So, it’s a much broader record. If you liked our last record, I think you’ll like this record, but not because it sounds the same.