Try to find something written about TW Walsh that doesn’t reference his collaboration with David Bazan (Pedro the Lion, Headphones), you won’t have much luck. For better or worse, Walsh’s partnership and eventual split with Bazan have always been and will likely continue to be the touchstone for his own music. Walsh is also in the liner notes of many of your favorite indie albums. Not as a contributing musician but rather as a mastering engineer for records by Sufjan Stevens, Benjamin Gibbard, The Shins, Cold War Kids, Starflyer 59, Kristin Hersh, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and Damien Jurado.
What most reviews and blog posts written about Fruitless Research (his latest release) fail to mention, is that TW Walsh was writing and recording his own albums before he played a single show as a member of Pedro the Lion. He has released 5 full length albums, an EP, and a good number of singles under his own name and The Soft Drugs (all except Fruitless Research are available on his Bandcamp as a “name your price” offering). Anyone who has been paying attention to Walsh’s solo releases over the past 15+ years will tell you that each of these albums exhibit growth, insightful songwriting, heavy grooves, and sonic experimentation. Walsh’s latest release is no different, and is getting a good amount of buzz. Those familiar with his prior work will hear a noticeably more new-wave influence in these tracks.
In his interview with OpenEars, Walsh talks about influences, meditation, the differences in collaborating with Bazan vs. Yuuki Matthews, and jamming and skating with his kids.
OE: For someone who has followed your earlier records this one is a significant sonic departure. To open the album with a track (“Public Radio”) with almost indiscernible vocals it really signals for the listener to get ready for something new. What were some of the influences of this new direction and feel?
TW: Musically? Well, I haven’t really changed my listening habits very much. The older you get, the less you seek out “new music”. Some of the influences would be rock and roll, folk, krautrock, dub, new wave, 80’s and 90’s hip hop, punk, post-punk, soul. The influences are exactly the same, I just got a little closer to the sound in my head. Many thanks to Yuuki Matthews for helping me get there.
OE: I was fascinated to hear that you were exploring eastern religions and meditation practices at the time you were making this record. How much of an impact has that had on your life and how much did it seep into this record both musically and lyrically?
TW: It would be difficult to overstate the impact that meditation has had. I’d even say that my entire life was leading up to my introduction to the Indo-Tibetan Buddhist essence traditions. It has seeped into my songwriting by allowing me to lead a more authentic life and to express things more directly, even if superficially, they come across as more obtuse.
OE: I’ve read a lot about your collaboration with Yuuki Matthews on this record. As someone who was a longtime collaborator with David Bazan for Pedro the Lion and Headphones, how would you compare and contrast those two collaborative experiences?
TW: Dave’s a genius…with him it was more about me serving his vision. While we were working together, he was always trying to reinvent the wheel. Things were often difficult. He worked very cerebrally and talked everything through in detail. There was a lot of pivoting, hand-wringing, and trying different approaches. This environment did not foster a lot of confidence in our abilities. I felt I had to prove myself all the time and to come up with new, innovative ideas, knowing that we were probably going to throw them out anyway. It produced some interesting results but there was not a lot of intuition at work. We always took a really circuitous route to get wherever we were going.
He’s more of an intuitive writer/arranger now and I like to think that my influence might have had something to do with that shift.
Yuuki is a genius too. Working with him was different. They were my songs and I work more from the gut. I didn’t want to over-think things. I would do my arrangement, usually kind of minimal stuff. Not a lot of tracks. I’d hand it to Yuuki and let him do literally whatever he wanted. Sometimes he reworked it from the ground up. Sometimes he barely touched it. I rarely asked for changes on anything he came up with.
OE: I understand you work as a mastering engineer, how much of the music you’re exposed to through that job seeps in and influences your own songwriting and recording?
TW: Not much of it, except in the cases where I’m working with friends and peers. But occasionally I’m pleasantly surprised.
OE: Any plans to tour behind this release. Or do I need to get a plane ticket to Boston?
TW: I have a few things booked:
2/12 in Boston at ONCE Somerville
3/19 in NYC at the Cake Shop
4/21 in Seattle at Barboza
I’m going to be booking some other stuff here and there. No tour booked as of right now. Indie rock doesn’t pay anymore and I’ve got to work for a living.
OE: I’ve gathered from your social media that your kids have interest in music and skating. What are some records you and your kids enjoy together? Do you skate?
TW: My oldest son plays guitar, bass and saxophone and he writes songs. My second son plays drums and piano. They play together all the time, every day. I often jump in and play too. One record I could call out that we all like is Smoky Wilds by Andy Fitts. They basically listen to my iTunes collection, so we’re all into the same stuff.
I skated when I was a kid. Now I just cruise around a little. I broke my elbow on my bike a while back, so I’m a little gun-shy.
OE: Speed round….
What are you reading right now?
TW: Recently: Petty – Warren Zanes, The Meaning of Hitler – Sebastian Haffner, Dreaming Yourself Awake – B. Alan Wallace, The Bone Clocks – David Mitchell
OE: What are you watching (television and/or film)?
TW: I just finished Schitt’s Creek. I re-watched Stanley Kubrick’s Boxes. Beauty is Embarrassing. Song of the Sea. Lady Snowblood. Chelsea Does… Master of None. The Force Awakens. A Field In England.
OE: What music are you listening to these days?
TW: Bob Dylan. Full stop.
More Info On TW Walsh:
TW Walsh’s new album Fruitless Research is out today, February 12th, 2016 on Graveface Records.
Links to listen/stream/buy:
01. Public Radio
02. Shallow Water
03. Young Rebels
05. Fundamental Ground
07. Counting Cards
08. The Bright Void
09. Chocolate Milk
10. The Glow