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tw walsh

TW Walsh's Blue Laws is one of those albums you put on when you don't mind daydreaming. Lush, comforting and relatively subdued, Blue Laws makes idling away an hour of the day an easy task. Since its release last summer, Blue Laws has become the record I put on at night when I want something more engaging than television, but don't feel like turning on the lights to read a book. It's perfectly suited to my end-of-day mood.

I had a chance to talk with Walsh before his recent Chicago performance with Pedro the Lion and Damien Jurado. Walsh, dressed in a blue polo shirt and jeans, comes across as a pretty normal guy. He might write some rather bewitching songs, but he's also a regular guy; he even took a moment before I started my recorder to beseech Jurado and his band, who were within earshot, to not make fun of his answers to my questions. Once the heckling settled down, we discussed the job market, his songwriting and his plans for the future...

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Splendid: Is Seventh Bend (a recording studio built by Walsh and partner Jason Thomas Cammarata) going to be a full-time job for you now?

TW Walsh: Yeah. I was a software engineer, and I lost my job. I was laid off.

Splendid: Sounds familiar.

TW Walsh: Did you get laid off too?

Splendid: In January.

TW Walsh: Were you working at a software company too?

Splendid: No. A television production company.

TW Walsh: I lost my job, so then I was able to work on the studio. Then I got a new job, but then I was laid off again after a couple months. Right now, it's like a full-time thing. I'm just trying to work on songs and record other bands occasionally.

Splendid: Is that a direction you want to go, producing and engineering other people?

TW Walsh: I'd like to. It's difficult because I have a family. It's a lot to sustain a family on the kind of money you can make doing that, because you have to pay for your own medical insurance and things like that when you work for yourself. I hope, between working for other bands and engineering, that I might be able to do it full-time.

Splendid: Do you think it's easier for a musician to have two careers? You were doing that.

TW Walsh: I think so. Up until recently, I wouldn't have considered music a career at all because I wasn't making any money at it. Now that I can occasionally make some money at it, it's easier to see it that way. Up until recently, while I was working, I always thought of it as a hobby, a serious hobby. Even an obsessive hobby some times, but... I would work on stuff every day. I would come home from work, have dinner, and then when my wife went to sleep I would go work on music. It wasn't easy in that at eleven o'clock at night you don't have a lot of energy to be creative, but I tried to be diligent with it and have a good work ethic. It was rewarding for sure. Now it's amazing -- the contrast, the rate I can work at now. My songs and my engineering are getting better because I can put so much more time into it. If I end up having to work again, it will be kind of a tough transition to working at night, especially since now I have kids and stuff. Time is really hard to come by.

AUDIO: William Henry

Splendid: How old is your son?

TW Walsh: He's ten months old and we have another one coming.

Splendid: Are you almost at a point now where your music can support you?

TW Walsh: It depends. It's not very dependable. You can't really plan out your year in advance. Jobs just come up. Sometimes they're small and sometimes they're big, so I'm just trying to take it a few months at a time. If I can look three months ahead and say, "Okay, this is the amount of money we need to make," and if I feel like I can do it, I can make it happen, then I do it. If not, then it's time to get another job. I've been really encouraged lately and felt like it's more a possibility than ever before.

Splendid: Good to hear. You've made reference in a couple other interviews that you are "on" Truckstop Records, although your Pollensongs EP was released by My Pal God. You were clear that Truckstop is your label. Why Truckstop? What is it about Truckstop?

TW Walsh: The first record label, Made in Mexico, just stopped existing. If they were still around, I could have kept putting records out with them. Truckstop was nice enough to offer to put out my second full-length, and I've been really happy with they way they handled it, with what they did with the record. A friend of mine who runs a label in New Jersey, My Pal God, asked if I had any material that I wanted to release as an EP on his label. I thought it would be fun and interesting to put out an EP. But I still have my agreement with Truckstop to put out more full-lengths.

Splendid: Is it a handshake agreement or a written contract?

TW Walsh: I don't have a written contract, but I consider it to be a serious agreement. Contracts make me uncomfortable to a certain extent because it is such a legally binding agreement, whereas the handshake deal... I only deal with people who I feel are honest, that I am friends with. That's good enough for me. Contracts also benefit the artist in a lot of instances where if a label ends up doing a band wrong, they have a legal leg to stand on, but I'm not really that worried about it. I just felt more comfortable with a handshake deal.

Splendid: Since you brought up the EP...reading your weblog about the making of Pollensongs, an EP that took an extended period of time to record, I wanted to ask -- are you a slow writer, a slow recorder or a combination of the two?

TW Walsh: I used to be a fast writer and a fast recorder, but as I learned more about music and engineering, I started to get more picky. I started to hear sounds that weren't as easy to get. I was starting to hear sounds in my head that weren't as easy to achieve as the sounds I used to get. That was also a period where I was working full-time and we were about to have a child, so I was really busy. I wouldn't get to work on the record for long periods of time. It was more the fact that I was busy and didn't have time to work on it, but I was also getting pickier about the sounds I wanted to put on it.

Splendid: A lot of reviewers make the Neil Young comparison. Is that something you are comfortable with?

TW Walsh: I'm a big Neil Young fan. I think the largest thing we have in common is our voices. I don't really have much control over what my voice sounds like when I sing; it just sounds like that. It certainly is flattering to be compared to him. I feel like he has influenced my guitar playing, too. But the biggest thing is our voices. Like I said, I just sing how I sing and that's what it sounds like.

Splendid: Are you comfortable with your voice?

TW Walsh: Um...not really. I think on the first record I really couldn't sing at all. Some of those songs I really cringe at. But when I was making that record, I didn't really know that I was making a record. I was just making recordings for myself. When it came time to make the record, I chose to use the recordings that I had. Now I think I have gotten better at singing. I would also prefer to hear other people's voices on my recordings. It's kind of weird; some people hate the way my voice sounds and some people think that is one of the better aspects of my songs. I guess it's like an uneasy resignation that I have arrived at with the way my singing sounds.

Splendid: What is your reception like outside of the States?

TW Walsh: Actually, it's kind of interesting. My records aren't distributed that well in Europe, so I don't have a way to know how well they sell. But I seem to receive as much e-mail response from Europe and the UK as I do from people in the States. It seems like listeners over there have received me well, but I don't know how the record is selling there. I would like to play over there, just to feel it out. A friend of mine's band, the Willard Grant Conspiracy, said that when they were on tour in the UK and Europe a lot of the clubs were playing my record in between sets. That was really surprising to me because I don't have a label over there. I'm trying to get hooked up with a European label for future releases so maybe I will have an opportunity to tour there.

AUDIO: The Wages of Dying Is Love

Splendid: What does your web site do for you? Is it just about having a form of direct communication?

TW Walsh: I think of it in different ways. A lot of the time it's more of a scrapbook for myself. I don't really have a way, another place where I put ideas or memories of the things I've done musically. So I kind of think of it as a place to put things I've done for myself. But also, early on, I found out that a lot of people had found out about my records from my web site. That was pretty encouraging, so I decided to keep it going and make it as informative as possible. I really appreciate when people email me from the site and read the journals, the tour journals and recording journals, because it feels like, when it's a long time between (projects)... I feel like people, at least a few people, are keeping up with what I'm doing. It's nice to have that feedback.

Splendid: Related to that, you did a tour journal with Adam Voith a couple of years ago during your first national tour with Pedro the Lion. In one entry, you are talking about David Bazan doing interview after interview, as this was the time that Pedro the Lion was starting to pick up steam. Do you think that maybe you are entering a period like that yourself, where your audience is starting to grow larger?

TW Walsh: I think so, but I don't really know. I've definitely gotten a better crowd response (on this tour) than on any other tour I've done. Sometimes I have to remind myself that Dave is becoming really successful, and I am really happy for him, but he did several years of touring with a much smaller response. He has done 90-120 days of touring a year since he was 19 years old or whatever. It's taken him a long time to get to this point. I don't really do that many interviews, but the reviews are starting to happen more often. Pollensongs has gotten a bunch of reviews, and Blue Laws got some good press. I feel like I am in a good place now, as far as that stuff goes.

Splendid: I read a comment you made on your web site, where you took offense at the label "singer-songwriter" being applied to you. Why?

TW Walsh: I think that immediately conjures up an idea of what the music sounds like. When I hear "singer-songwriter", I think of someone strumming an acoustic guitar and singing. I like a lot of music like that, but I don't think that's necessarily what I do. I've made recordings that have that sound to them, but... an important aspect of what I do is writing arrangements to songs and playing the parts. I enjoy playing drums on my recordings and playing bass. A lot of the time the thing I'm going for is a band sound. It's kind of a bummer, too, to get lumped into a folk category or a singer-songwriter category because I don't think the end product sounds like that very often.

Splendid: Do you think that's why (tourmate) Damien Jurado now has a band?

TW Walsh: No, I think Damien has a band because he's not necessarily interested in playing the other instruments (besides guitar) or engineering his records. He really enjoys playing with other people and seeing what other people can contribute to his music. I really enjoy that too, but for whatever the reason, I've grown into a way of working where it's mostly just my own contributions. I also think that when you think about a singer-songwriter, when you call yourself that, you are kind of locked into a way of working. If you use a band identity, then you leave things way more open and you can work with other people. It's not an unexpected move. I think that the singer-songwriter thing is kind of a single track, whereas I would like to try other things.

Splendid: Is How We Spend Our Days (Walsh's first album) being re-released?

TW Walsh: Yeah. There was a plan to do it this year, but it was put off. We don't know when we're going to do it, but I've started to remix the recordings. Like I said, a lot of those songs were done when I didn't know that I was going to be able to put out a record. I didn't go back and remix any of the songs (when the album was set for release); I just had whatever mixes were done for them. Now that Made in Mexico is no longer around, I have the opportunity to go back and fix some things -- not in the performance, just sonically, in the way it sounds. I also have recordings that, for whatever the reason, I decided to not put on the record, but I now think would fit really well. So there will be a bunch of bonus tracks as well.

Splendid: Songs from the same period?

TW Walsh: Yeah. Those songs came from around a year and a half of work. There are at least three times as many recordings, so I'm going to put some of them on the re-release. I'm not exactly sure when that will come out. Hopefully next year or early 2004. It also depends on how my next record does. I don't want to just be putting records out if no one is going to buy them. I want to see if there really is interest in a new version of that record.

AUDIO: Gullwatching

Splendid: Are you still planning on doing an EP for Burnt Toast Vinyl?

TW Walsh: I plan to. I haven't spoken to that guy in a while, so I don't know what the status of it is.

Splendid: What are you planning, just four or five songs?

TW Walsh: Yes, it will be a little less than half a record's worth of material. I really like what Damien (Jurado) did with that series. The songs are really great; the arrangements and recordings are really cool. I'd like to be able to do something that I think is as good as that recording, but I don't feel like I am in as strong of a position as he is, where I could put a bunch of my better songs on a record that is a limited release thing. I feel like I have a little more to lose. He's been really successful and is a great songwriter, where as I don't feel like I've proven myself nearly to the point that he has.

Splendid: Jurado is also really prolific.

TW Walsh: He really is prolific. He writes, even now that he has slowed down... I was talking to him yesterday and he said he probably writes 50 songs a year. I have a lot of fragments of songs, but lately I've been having trouble finishing them. Now that I'm working on it full-time, maybe I'll be able to finish them.

Splendid: Are you comfortable being associated with David Bazan and Jurado? It seems like you get lumped together with them a lot in reviews and press.

TW Walsh: Sure. I consider them really amazing songwriters and great people. I feel a lot of the time like I don't really deserve it. It's more like they are just friends of mine, and we, especially me and Dave, just enjoy hanging out together. I definitely feel lucky to be able to spend time with them. I kind of think that it is a little unusual that people lump us together because I haven't accomplished nearly as much as they have. It's flattering, because Pedro the Lion is one of my favorite bands ever. I feel lucky to be playing guitar with them (on this tour) and working with Dave in any capacity.

Splendid: Do you write your lyrics out by hand or on the computer? Do you see a difference?

TW Walsh: By hand. I do a lot of scribbling things out. I write in a kind of stream of consciousness way where I just scribble something down and look at it. My mind really doesn't work in a way where I can be thinking about something and then type it out. I also like to see all my revisions so I can decide if something I wrote and replaced is better than something I replaced it with. If you're writing on a computer and you just erase what you're replacing, you can't do that as easily. I really like writing things out by hand. I usually, when I am done writing things out, will type things out to see how they read.

AUDIO: Top of the Food Chain

Splendid: Do you have a process for writing songs?

TW Walsh: It has changed a lot. I used to just play acoustic guitar around the house and hum along with it, then when I stumbled upon something that sounded good I would take it upstairs into my little studio and work on it longer. When I started playing piano, I really got into computer recording, so I use a lot of those tools now. While I've come up with some cool stuff, I feel that it's harder for me to finish ideas and see them all the way through just because of the number of options and the number of tools I have at my disposal. I think I'm going to go back to writing songs with just a guitar and my voice, and then flesh out those ideas with piano, software sequencers and computer recording. I think that will be a pretty good way for me to work. I think I've spent a lot of time over the past year and a half learning computer recording and sequencing -- learning how to use my synths and samplers. Hopefully, if I can get back to writing songs in a simpler way and finishing them with all those tools, they'll be pretty happening.

Splendid: What do you use for recording? Digital Performer? Pro-Tools?

TW Walsh: Yeah, Digital Performer. I have some software sequencers, samplers and synthesizers that integrate well with the recording software that I have. I have a lot more sounds at my disposal and a lot more ways of manipulating the music than I did even up until a year ago.

Splendid: So does that mean that the next full-length is going to have a sparser sound, similar to your first album, or a really lush sound like Blue Laws?

TW Walsh: I think it will be more lush, because I enjoy using keyboards a lot now to make things more atmospheric. Also, my life has changed a lot, and I'm writing different kinds of songs. I think there won't be as many sad, slow songs as there were on Blue Laws. I've also become a much better recording engineer, so I think I am going to try to experiment a lot in that area. That ought to change the sound from Blue Laws. I think Blue Laws is a really great recording, but it's also a really straight recording. I'd like to experiment a lot more with the recording process.

Splendid: When do you think the next recording is going to be out? Do you have a date in mind?

TW Walsh: I did originally. I was going to try to finish it by the end of this year. Now I don't think it will be done until the middle of next year. I've been imposing deadlines on myself, but I don't think my work has gotten better because of them. I want to see what I can do without deadlines. I think it will be a lot better for my work. I'd like to study more music theory -- study some more piano and guitar. In the meantime, maybe make some records for other people and perhaps learn more tricks as far as recording goes. There are some things that I'm hoping to put together for the next record that are going to take some time to figure out. With this one, I want it to be something special. I know what I need to do to get that done so I'm just going to take as much time as I need.

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Read Splendid's reviews of Blue Laws and Pollensongs


Seventh Bend, Walsh's studio

Walsh's current labels -- Truckstop and My Pal God

Buy TW Walsh stuff at Insound.

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Jason Broccardo is another unemployed deadbeat twentysomething.

[ graphics credits :: header/pulls - jason broccardo | photos - jason broccardo :: credits graphics ]



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