By Walter Price
You know you’re onto something if you can’t easily slot it into a box and walk away pleased as bees with yourself.
The Walkabouts have more often blended genres, delivered richer, deeper, honest, trend-free, almost daunting to grasp albums than their contemporaries, weathered their early years in the monstrous seas of Seattle’s grunge movement and the band continually find themselves doing what they do the only way they know how even if it is more than fans or critics wanted to allow. But you know that already…
On 27 June Glitterhouse Records are poised to reissue deluxe editions the band’s two Virgin titles Devil’s Road (1996) and Nighttown (1997) as well as a limited box-set The Virgin Years. (Full details here)
Clearly Devil’s Road and Nighttown found the band moving to a major label and with the subsequent bigger budgets, they went for it, hooking up with arranger Mark Nichols and setting out to create a more dynamic, lush sounds with the help of full string arrangements; “I will never forget watching Mark conduct the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra of the Devil’s Road album. At first he started off a bit nervously, but he soon got settled and the look of bliss on his face is lodged in my memory. The direct sound of them playing in the studio was astonishing. Mark wrote lasting arrangements for us, full of mood and filmic images and completely absent of kitsch and false sentiment. He was a huge part of both of these albums.” Founding Walkabouts member Chris Eckman reminisces.
As far as reissuing for legacy preservation Eckman told us “For the most part I don’t think we are really “looking back” sorts of people. So it is hard for us to get our heads around the idea that we might even have a legacy to preserve. I think we look at these re-issues in the simplest way possible. The albums haven’t been available for a few years and this is our chance to rectify that. The value beyond that is for others to determine.”
I comfortably assume The Walkabouts will continue to expand their sounds repertoire and weave when you think they’ll sway but that is what keeps ‘em real.
Since I had Chris Eckman’s temporary attention I tossed him 5 ‘5 Things’ questions resulting in 25 things you probably didn’t know about The Walkabouts.
What are 5 Things people really don’t know about The Walkabouts?
- On our early tours we played a lot of miniature golf.
- Brian Eno once drank beer with us and simultaneously delivered a lecture on the history of the Hammond organ
- Our most played tour bus film of all time: the Metallica documentary “Some Kind of Monster”
- Four of us used to live in the same house in the Wallingford neighborhood of Seattle
- In the late 80’s our band van was a converted ambulance. It had a very loud air horn that often came in useful in city traffic.
Things no one but the band knows about Devil’s Road?
- Producer/engineer Victor Van Vugt shutdown production of the album for several hours after hitting the beloved mixing desk at the Conny Plank Studio with a fly swatter. A technician had to come and fix the desk.
- We spent nearly $500 during the sessions playing pinball and also played a lot of basketball in the driveway of the house. Injuries were frequent (from the basketball, not the pinball)
- We pulled the title track “Devil’s Road” off of the album the morning that it was mastered.
- The photos of the band used for the album were shot in a field near the Conny Plank Studio. I think Michael borrowed my jacket for the shoot.
- Carla and I slept in the room where they kept the master tapes of bands who had recorded there and fell asleep every night looking at 2″ reels from Neu!,Eno, Eurythmics and so on.
What are the 5 Things we should understand about the (original) making/recording of Nighttown?
- We had only a few months to write and rehearse the album and find ourselves a new bass player. The pressure was fairly overwhelming from Virgin Records, especially since Devil’ Road had had the minor hit “The Light Will Stay On”
- We tried hard and mostly failed (thankfully) to use some rhythm loops on the album. We even bought an Akai sampler which these days gathering dust somewhere.
- Baker Saunders equalized his bass amp like a dub bass player: treble all the way off/bass all the way up.
- It is the first record where I ever “played” piano (mostly a Wurlitzer electric)
- While Mark Nichols wrote wonderful arrangements for the album, Glenn Slater wrote the string parts for “Slow Red Dawn” and contributed to three other arrangements on the album. Glenn also wrote the string parts for our most famous song “The Light Will Stay On” from “Devil’s Road.”
5 Cool facts about The Virgin Years Box:
- It is not going to be light to carry. Be sure to arrange adequate ground transport when taking it home from the record store.
- Some of our best albums are going to be on vinyl for the first time.
- All five LPs have spindle holes.
- The box can also be used to store confidential papers if one gets tired of the music.
- The albums are not re-mastered. They were mastered perfectly to begin with.
What would you say are 5 misconceptions about The Walkabouts from over the years?
- That we don’t have a sense of humor. It depends of course on how you define a sense of humor. I think many of the lyrics have a funny twist to them, but almost no one else hears them that way
- That we actually care about the word “Americana.” Terrible name and idea for a genre. Can you imagine someone using the word “Icelandicana”?
- That we made a bad career choice by not jumping on the “grunge” bandwagon. The truth is, we would have been a terrible grunge band.
- That Europeans like us more than Americans. The fact is America never got much of a chance to weigh in on the subject.
- That we made a lot of money being on Virgin Records. We didn’t.
All for this, I will carry you home