Interview: J. Roddy Walston and The Business

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The inbox of an editor or writer for any sort of music publication gets inundated with thousands of e-mails per week. It can be overwhelming at times, to the point where you could literally spend a whole day doing nothing but listening to digital downloads, watching YouTube videos and reading press releases without ever typing a single word.

So, sometimes releases and advances fall to the wayside and you end up missing out on something absolutely, utterly amazing.

Like J. Roddy Walston and The Business.

For years the name has come across our desk and with all good intentions, we meant to check them out, but like they say the road to hell is paved with good intentions, right?

Yet, when we did finally dive into their 2013 release Essential Tremors, saying we were blown away is putting it mildly.

We’re saying this right now, without any equivocation or hesitation — J. Roddy Walston and The Business is the band you should be putting at the top of your must-listen list. This band is quite possibly one of our favorite new music discoveries of the past two years.

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The Baltimore-born band produces this wonderful sound that beautifully blends the soul-shaking spirit of Southern revival jams with dirty, sweaty, freewheeling rock ‘n’ roll. It’s a sound that could span across generations — play this in a mix with any of the electric blues-influenced classic rock bands from the ’60s (without any knowledge of who the band is) and you’d think they were a long lost band whose name was mistakenly left off the Monterey Pop Festival. Play them on any FM radio station right now and they’ll fit in perfectly between any modern rock outfit or the indie alternative band of the moment.

Simply put, J. Roddy Walston and The Business is rock ‘n’ roll to its core. It’s alive, electric, soulful, melodic, fierce, brilliant and bombastic. The praise we could heap upon them is endless. And the timing of our discovery of the band lines up perfectly — we want you to catch onto this band now, not because it’s the cool thing to do, but because we believe that you will love this band as much as we do.

Pop-Break caught up with J. Roddy Walston himself as the band rolled through the mountains of Tennessee on the way to another stop along their non-stop of tour soul shaking rock ‘n’ roll. We discussed playing before big crowds, jaw-dropping moments and the J. Roddy Walston & The Business experience.

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Pop-Break: With summer right around the corner that means only one thing — festival season. The band recently played Coachella and will performing at: Bonnarroo, Wakarusa, Lollapalooza, The Newport Folk Festival, Bristol Rhythm & Roots and Austin City Limits. How do you perform to such a sea of humanity, where tens of thousands of people have their eyes on you. Is it hard to connect with an audience?

J. Roddy Walston: When you’re playing a 1,000-1,400 person room or something of that shape or size, they’re [the crowd] amazing and you can connect with them. We played The Barclays Center (in Brooklyn which holds 18,000) for the Super Bowl [weekend, opening for Red Hot Chili Peppers] and you end up performing for the first couple hundred people. After that, with a really big band, then only way you can see the music [in massive arenas] is the big screens and that point you’re not really seeing them. Generally you’re performing for the 400-500 in the audience, the rest is pretty tough to connect to.

Photo Credit: Eric Ryan Anderson
Photo Credit: Eric Ryan Anderson

PB: With that amount of people at a huge festival is it easier for you guys to disappear in the audience, when you’re not performing, in order to hang out and catch performances of bands you really want to see perform?

JRW: Yeah, at Coachella we saw Neutral Milk Hotel which is one of my favorite bands of all-time and they hadn’t toured for forever. I got to go see that and it was pretty amazing. It’s especially easy at festivals as opposed to a show. If we’re traveling with bands we like and we’re the headliner, we wanna go out and watch a band, but we you can’t. People love our band and if we go out, people are going to want autographs or to take pictures, which I totally get, but it’s definitely easier at festivals to get lost or put a hat on and blend into the crowd.

PB: We talked about the slew of festivals you’ll be playing at but you’re also going to be doing a pretty extensive tour with Foals and Cage the Elephant. You guys are driving the tour in your own van, there’s no buses or planes. What do you do to keep yourself sane on these long, grinding drives?

JRW: It’s a lot of downloading TV shows and burning through them on the drive. We end up having a lot of friends in different cities having toured for so long and having to crash with people forever. It’s out necessity that you end up meeting people. Sometimes they end up being nuts but sometimes they end up being serious lifelong friends. So it’s cool to get together and connect with your friends in different towns. And eat nice food too. (laughs). We plan out a good meal when we can. It’s either feast or famine that way. You’re either eating just complete garbage and you can’t sit down at a table for four days to eat dinner or you have the night off and have friends who are chefs in pretty nice places. We have these moments we’re like “Oh we’re going to run into that guy” and we plan to have an awesome meal and chill.

PB: You grew up playing piano and it’s one of the many instruments you play in the band. We’ve spoken with many artists who use the piano as the starting point for creating their songs. Does the songwriting process begin behind the ivories for you?

JRW: I’ll write from anything really. Sometimes it’s guitar or piano, other times it’s for the bass and drums. I don’t have any one particular process or path. But, for a long time if I was playing piano on a song, I wrote the song on the piano or if I was playing the guitar on the song, I wrote it on the guitar. There’s not one particular process I go through when I’m working on a song. If I can though I try to finish writing a song in one sitting. I work on all day on song, not just brief moments.

PB: You guys are really blowing up these days, performing at huge fests, hooking on to bigger tours, getting radio play. With all the recent success, can you tell us about those recent big “wow” moments that have happened that have totally blown your mind?

JRW: There’s been so many. We’ve been on Letterman and Conan, we did a World Cafe session with NPR which is one of my favorite shows, so that was amazing. Looking from the outside, I grew watching Letterman and Conan, so being on them was just baffling to me. And then there’s the last tour in the fall when we were headlining and we were just getting going for real, we headlined the 9:30 Club. That’s such a revered spot. It was at the end of our tour and things were starting to escalate…that was one of the best shows I’ve ever played and it was at a venue where I’ve seen countless bands I love play. Definitely we were all like “What the heck is going on here?”

Photo Credit: Robin Laananen
Photo Credit: Robin Laananen

PB: We’ve heard stories about your live performances, like the time you chucked a stool into the river while on a boat concert in New York. For those who might catch you guys this summer, can you put into words the J. Roddy Walston live experience?

JRW: It’s alive. If the vibe is right, room is right and the crowd is right…it’s pretty explosive. Everyone’s dripping in sweat. It’s like that moment when you’re hanging out with friends and you have the right cocktail of a great meal and drinks and putting on your favorite record and dancing your brains out. [With us] it’s like doing all that with a band. (laughs). When everything comes together we’re all in concert together — the audience and the band. We’re hugging it out with the crowd, everyone’s screaming their brains out and we’re all sweaty. It’s wild. No one looks good coming out of our show.

J. Roddy Walston and The Business performs tonight in New York City at Terminal 5 with Cage the Elephant and Foals. Click here for tickets.

Bill Bodkin is the gray bearded owner, editor-in-chief and co-founder of Pop Break. Most importantly, he is lucky husband, and proud father to a beautiful daughter named Sophie. He can be seen regularly on the site reviewing The Walking Dead, Doctor Who, and is the host of the site’s podcast, The BreakCast.┬áHe is a graduate of Rutgers University with a degree in Journalism & English. Follow him on Twitter: @BodkinWrites

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