Because we have a history of setting off the fire alarms when cooking, I decided to meet my former roommate, occasional somnambulist and East Brunswick, N.J., native Anthony Fiumano … er … I mean, musician Anthony Walker, for dinner. To my surprise, Anthony has never delved into Indian food, so we caught up at Hoboken’s Karma Kafe to catch up.
Ilona Pamplona: Anthony, I have to be honest … I’m having trouble adjusting to the new last name. Why the change?
Anthony Walker: I think long-time fans and friends see the whole thing a little differently. I can see how it’s a little weird. During this whole “adoption,” I was going through the most productive and creative period of my career and it just felt like it made sense. I don’t have any regrets or feel like it was impulsive, but hopefully, in the future, many more people will know me and my music as “Anthony Walker” than as “Anthony Fiumano.”
IP: What has the reaction from the rest of your fanbase been?
AW: Mostly death threats and hate mail — just kidding. I was surprised that this was kind of a big deal for some people. Mixed reactions all around. At the end of the day, I’m standing behind all the work I’ve ever done and as it’s improving, I’m still proud of all of it. I think in the beginning, maybe some people thought I was trying to re-invent something, but in the last few months, I think I’ve shown that’s not the case. I’m staying on course, it’s just a different name on the concert poster or album cover or whatever.
IP: Okay, now that we have the straightened out …
Music Past, Present and Future
IP: I got my first MP3 player for my birthday two months ago. While prepping a session of music uploads, I found some of your old demos and couldn’t believe it’s been more than five years since first I saw you play the Saint in Asbury Park, N.J., opening for April Smith … and before you were of a legal drinking age. What have been some of the personal highlights of your music career thus far?
AW: There’s been a bunch. I have a lot of fond memories playing music and met some really incredible people. It’s kind of changed the course of my life, so I don’t really know where I’d be had these five years or so gone differently. Going to SXSW was great fun. Putting out When Strangers Say Hello and the new EP. Tons of great shows. Getting a lot of satisfaction out of writing all those songs, playing them, sharing the stage with great musicians. It all kinds of bleeds together. It’s one experience to me. The good comes with the bad, but there’s nothing else I’d rather do.
IP: What are some of the bands you’ve most enjoyed sharing a bill with?
AW: I’ve played with hundreds of bands and songwriters. A lot of them were great, some not so great. It was awesome to play with songwriters like Ingrid Michaelson, Griffin House, George Wirth, Rick Barry, April Smith. Bands like The Chilling Details, Railroad Earth, The Gay Blades, The Cinnamon Band. I’m lucky to be in a situation where I’ve usually been able to play with the artists I want to, so there’s many more beyond that. Most people don’t realize that the random floating talent out there matches some of what’s in their record collection.
IP: You released The Sea Goes On Forever … this summer. People I play it for have often mention it has quite the cinematic feel to it. I mean, I can totally see it on a soundtrack for some great indie flick a la Garden State. Is that what you were going for?
AW: That’s been the general response. I can’t say I was “going for it.” It’s not something that I think about really when writing. It more or less just ends up happening. Joanna Burns and Amanda Duncan had a lot to do with that. They’re great arrangers/producers/engineers. When you make something with a strong “vibe,” it tends to lend itself to those “cinematic” situations. The new record seems to have gone in that direction as well, but in a very different way.
IP: Joanna Burns and Amanda Duncan produced this album for you. Many of us know them as musicians in their own right. Was this their first foray in to the production side, and how did this collaboration come about?
AW: I’m pretty sure that outside of their own work, this was the first album they worked on. We’ve become friends over the last few years, toured a bit together, had a few picnics and played shows. Working with them was a pleasure. They make a good team. Great energy and excitement. Recording can become tedious at times, but their positively kind of negates that. Never a dull moment. Not to mention, they’re both way talented at all the things they do. They have a production company now called “please N thank U productions” and they’re working on a few other projects right now and I’m looking forward to hearing them. I’m sure they’ll be fantastic.
IP: I was happy to see that Kickstarter sent me a friendly notification the other day with the track listing for the new album. Why did you decide to try Kickstarter, and do you have any tips for other creative types looking to fund their projects this way?
AW: I think Kickstarter is revolutionary. It puts power back into the hands of independent artists from all walks of life. Times are tough on a lot of people, and unfortunately, artists are the keystone in this situation. We’re the first to feel any kind of widespread strife. People cut their “entertainment” first, and when you’re the “entertainment,” it makes it harder to make a living, let alone having the money to take on big projects. Kickstarter to some extent is a solution to this. Since doing Kickstarter, I’ve received emails from other artists looking to do what I did and I’m happy to pass along my experience and give them the advice to conduct a successful campaign. I took a lot away from all of that, but I’m also excited about giving a lot back to all the backers.
IP: Looking back on the Kickstarter experience, is there anything you would go back and do differently?
AW: I’m happy with my Kickstarter campaign. I accomplished what I set out to do and tried to make it as inviting and entertaining as possible. Kickstarter can feel a lot like a charity, but I worked hard to give back what I could during the course of it, and obviously everyone who supported the project will be getting their money’s worth as the release gets closer. I was amazed at the excitement from our backers. It’s not everyday someone gets excited and proud to hand you their money. I’m really proud of the new record, and everyone who donated is a part of that. They should be proud of being a part of it, too.
IP: Who is working with you on this album, and can you tell me more about the sound of it? Can we expect something similar to When Strangers Say Hello?
AW: It’s different from When Strangers Say Hello in its vibe and flow. It reminds me of a modern-day Neil Young record. When making this record, Eric (the producer) and I talked about not only recording the best songs, but creating some special moments. Those little instances during a record that hold a lot of power. I feel like this record has a lot of them. A little more reserved than my last record, but listening to it, I think that’s for the better. It’s more cohesive. It has more soul. A lot of it is sensitive and intimate, but there’s parts that prove we can rock hard with the best of them. I feel like it’s the right balance and it came out like I hoped it would.
IP: “Sundowners” is going to be on the new release, and I have to admit, I love this song. If I’m not mistaken, it’s about Vampires, right? Did all the new trend in Vampire movies/TV shows inspire you?
AW: Yes, vampires. I wrote this song on a challenge. I played a show hosted by Rick Barry, where I had to write a whole set of new material in a few weeks and then play it. At the time, the vampire craze had not hit. When I was writing it, “Sundowners” just felt very dark and primal and a little lustful. It felt like someone biting your neck. So it became a vampire song. Unfortunately, vampires are like the hottest thing going in TV and films right now, so the idea of the song becomes kind of cliché. But that’s the way it goes sometimes.
IP: “The Movie Universe” is another song that just stands out at your live shows and really seems to connect with your audience. To me, this is another track that really has a licensable sound. Are there plans to shop your music around to TV or movies?
AW: “The Movie Universe” is a tune that’s always been fun to play. When we started playing it at rehearsals, we actually referred to it not by it’s title, but as “The Fun Song.” We recorded it last year as kind of a punk tune. We redid it for this record with a more grooving feel. Think of it as, “The old version makes you want to bob your head; the new version makes you want to shake your ass”. Having a song in a movie or TV show or commercial or whatever is never a bad thing. I’m okay with that. There was a time I was against that because I saw it as over-commercialization. But my opinion has changed. I’m very into the idea of my art being a part of someone else’s art. That’s kind of the point. That being said, integrity counts for something. You’ll never hear one of my songs in a Starbucks commercial.
On eating Indian food for the first time …
IP: Why have you never tried Indian food before?
AW: Indian food is kind of alien to me until now. The opportunity never really presented itself before. It has an “intense” reputation that has maybe put me off in the past, but I’m glad we went.
IP: What did you order? Was is what you expected?
AW: I had Chicken Kadai. Chunks of grilled chicken, peppers, onions, in some kind of spicy sauce — who knows what it was. It was served with basmati rice and a lentil-esque soup. Indian food has a lot more flavor and zest than what we’re used to as Americans. I guess that accounts for the notorious cooking odors. But it was a cool introduction into a different kind of food. I really didn’t know what to expect. But I walked away happy with a full stomach. Nice place, great food.