J Roddy Walston & The Business

Infectious southern rock and roll

J Roddy Walston & The Business

Jonny Fritz

Tue, September 18

Doors: 8:00 pm / Show: 9:00 pm

Doug Fir Lounge

Portland, OR

$20.00

This event is 21 and over

J Roddy Walston & The Business
J Roddy Walston & The Business
Heading into Destroyers of the Soft Life, the fourth LP by J. Roddy Walston and The Business set to be released September 29 via ATO Records, JRWATB pursued a brighter, more nuanced sound that teased out the band’s latent pop sensibilities without skimping on energy or attitude. As you press play on the opening track “You Know Me Better”, anthemic guitars scream out of buoyant, hooky lyrics as Walston’s chugging piano supplies a persistent heartbeat. The “bar band” sound of the past has been replaced by an aspirational, booming cacophony that could fill stadiums.

Instead of the raucous bombast JRWATB manifested on their breakout hit album Essential Tremors, the band’s leader had certain rules he was determined to follow on Destroyers of the Soft Life. One was: “Speak/sing clearly, no hiding behind mumbles.” Another was, “D.I.Y. but hi-fi — record ourselves as much as possible but have it sound amazing and full.” The final, most important, rule was, “Nostalgia is a cancer — acknowledge that you are in the present.”

“We had never been a band where we pretended that it’s 1965,” Walston says. “But we ended up in situations with our records where those rules were imposed on us.”

On Essential Tremors, JRWATB inspired pangs of joy in music fans that yearn for the days of Bob Seger and early Bruce Springsteen. But when Walston returned home from touring in 2015 and began contemplating his next move, he no longer felt the same connection to that classic-rock sound.

“Loud rock and roll music has become less relevant because it’s just been on a loop,” he says. “If there was any rule on this record, it was, let’s be a part of music right now. I want to be part of living music in this moment.”

Helping the band realize a new vision for its music was veteran producer Phil Ek (Built To Spill, Father John Misty, Fleet Foxes), who came in to apply some finishing touches after JRWATB completed most of the record in Virginia.

“The thing with Phil is he is a servant of the song and that is my vibe as well,” Walston says. “Ego has no place in songwriting or the studio and we hit it off in that respect right away.”

“Is there any point to making a record that has real instruments (guitars, drums, piano etc.) right now?” he continues. “Is there anything left to be said by writing this way? Do albums matter anymore? Can I make something that I care about right now because it’s a manifestation of the fear/love/excitement/ I am feeling right now, not because is tickles some easy to reach nostalgic pleasure center.”

Lead single “The Wanting” boasts a shimmering, uplifting guitar riff and an impossibly huge chorus that belies the song’s thoughtful exploration of familial relationships and the fallacy of distilling complicated people down to archetypes. “Did you do right by us / best it could be,” Walston sings, addressing a prodigal father figure. “You’ve done no harm / but you’ve been no good to me.”

Throughout Destroyers of the Soft Life JRWATB similarly melds engaging, melodic songwriting with sharp observations about American culture that take on a new kind of power in light of the 2016 presidential election. Standout tracks such as the infectious “Ways And Means” and swaggering “Blade Of Truth” offer the uncompromised, salt-of-the-Earth perspective of a songwriter who grew up among the white working class and yet has enough perspective to see the ways in which those people have undermined themselves in the political realm. As Walston sings in “Blade of Truth,” there is now “a judgement on the herd / and your privilege will burn.”

Amid the torn-from-the-headlines commentary, Walston revisits the same question: “Is the truth a hard line, or it is a flexible line that can be messed with?”

“I got to straddle the line a bit with this record,” he says. “I hit a point in my life where I could pay my bills on time for the first time ever, and take a breath. I got to see the life you can have when you’re not living a life of desperation. But I was just outside that line of desperation.”

The band’s newfound financial security is largely the result of the band’s hard work on the road. Looking back on the tour cycle for Essential Tremors, Walston can only chuckle.

“We probably toured on it way longer than our contemporaries would,” he admits.

Of course, not many bands experience the sort of growth in prominence and audience size that Walston and his compatriots have witnessed in the past several years. Road warriors from the time they formed in 2002, JRWATB has long been an underground favorite, toiling away in clubs and bars and carving out its own niche outside of the rock mainstream. But the radio success of Essential Tremors opened new doors and fostered exciting opportunities, including invites to Lollapalooza, the Newport Folk Festival, and Bonnaroo, and a featured slot in an episode of the prestigious music TV institution, Austin City Limits. With every new experience came requests to play more shows.

“The train just kept rolling,” Walston says, until finally he hit a wall. “By the time I came off the road, I thought, ‘I’m toast. I don’t have anything in the tank.’”

Walston’s world was also rocked by a huge life-changing event — the birth of his first child. “I think having a kid made me care less of what people think of me,” he says. “I have one ultimate mission right now — keep a human alive. I don’t care if someone doesn’t like my pants or my hair or whatever. Being a parent makes you powerful in that way.”

Over the next year and a half, Walston committed to building himself and his band back up into a new kind of rock ‘n’ roll beast. But before JRWATB could get started on its fourth album, Walston decided to do some literal construction on a new space for the band where it could rehearse and record.

The only space available in the band’s hometown of Richmond, Va. hardly seemed promising — it was “a completely annihilated warehouse” that had been a grenade factory during World War II, says Walston, who decided to rent the place after the landlord offered the first two month’s rent for free. Perhaps the landlord expected JRWATB to eventually pack up and retreat. But that guy clearly knows nothing about this band’s work ethic, or affinity for lost causes. Instead of giving up, they gutted the place and spent the next seven months rehabbing the building until it was transformed into a suitable headquarters for JRWATB.

Why go to all the trouble of making your own space when there are any number of established studios where you can make your record? For JRWATB, like it is with so many things in their lives, building a personal studio was a matter of principle. When you’re renting studio time, it’s always somebody else’s time. For once, Walston wanted to make a record on his time.

“I don’t listen to our old records because I get so stressed when I think about making them,” he says, reflecting on how rushed the band was in the studio back then. “We’re taking the experience back.”
Jonny Fritz
Jonny Fritz
Nashville songwriter Jonny Fritz's work ethic and boldness have paid off in spades. It's been a big year for Jonny, with opening stints for Alabama Shakes, Deer Tick, Dawes, Shooter Jennings and rockabilly legend Wanda Jackson and kudos from CMT and Rolling Stone, among many others. He's signed a deal with indie label ATO Records (he actually signed the deal with gravy at Nashville landmark Arnold's Country Kitchen), and his third full-length album, Dad Country, is set for release on April 16, 2013.

Produced by Jonny and Dawes' Taylor Goldsmith, recorded at Jackson Browne's Los Angeles studio and finished up in Music City, USA, this is a breakthrough album, balancing Fritz's earthy trademark humor and unfiltered worldview with some of his darkest material to date. The album has a Nashville sound kept aloft on a sure Southern Californian wind, no doubt from the influence of his backing band: Taylor and Griffin Goldsmith, Tay Strathairn and Wylie Gelber of Dawes, Jackson Browne, and his Nashville band of Spencer Cullum Jr, Joshua Hedley, Taylor Zachry and Jerry Pentecost.

Dad Country is also his first release under his real name, Fritz, with Jonny ditching the "Corndawg" moniker he'd carried since his early teens.

Now a music veteran with a decade of touring under his belt, he's grown into an accomplished, mature voice in country music. Says co-producer Goldsmith, "Funny as they can be at moments, his songs access realities and experiences that we're all familiar with but sometimes fail to consider the depths of. I was really honored to work on the record. We tracked for two days and arranged the songs on the spot. Everyone really responded to each other's ideas and the whole experience was really inspiring and easy. I chalk it up to the quality of Jonny's songs on this record."

After nearly a decade spent on the road (since his late teens), it was well-earned luck that brought Jonny together with dream team that would bring Dad Country to life – including none other than Jackson Browne. Originally scheduled to record at another Los Angeles studio, Jonny and co-producer Taylor Goldsmith were left scrambling for a backup plan when their original producer flaked. As it happened, they were playing a show in Hollywood that week and Browne was in attendance. After the show, Browne approached Jonny and, learning of their troubles, generously offered up his studio. Just three weeks later, they were all holed up at Browne's, recording the new record.

Fritz and Goldsmith had rehearsed most the songs together, but the rest of the band had to learn them run-and-gun style in the studio, nailing many of the songs on the first time ever playing them together. In just four days, they pounded out 14 tracks in one long, inspired rush and this excitement pervades the results. "It was really spontaneous," Fritz says.

"We just pulled it out of our proverbial asses as we went along." Fritz later re-recorded two of the songs that had evolved significantly on the road since the studio session – the Red Simpson-esque "Fever Dreams" and down-home lament "Ain't It Your Birthday" – using his own band back in Nashville. With these, the record was ready and dead-on with Jonny's vision of Dad Country.

Like his songwriting heroes Tom T. Hall, Michael Hurley, Roger Miller and Clint Black, Jonny can turn phrases 'til you're dizzy, all while plucking your heartstrings or capturing a sharp, lonesome vulnerability that never seems lost or brooding. For Jonny Fritz is no tear-in-the-beer sap moaning over his lost love and troubles. He'd rather cry running marathons than sitting on a barstool. Rather than Outlaw Country, he prefers we think of him as "someone's weird Dad" and a musician of his own bent. He writes his every song with that deep country-music impulse to turn real experience into lyrical form.

Born in Montana and raised in Virginia, Jonny grew up in the middle of mountains and weirdos of every allegiance, developing a blind man's ear for the slightest turn in a tale or human voice. He dropped out of school and left home early, totally undaunted, and toured the country on his motorcycle, selling just enough music to keep his freedom and stay ahead of bitterness. "If I could sell three CDs a night, I would have enough for gas and to make it to the next town."

Cramming six lifetimes into six years and collecting triumphs and heartaches every corner of the globe, he eventually wound his way toward Tennessee. "Not because I wanted to break in over on Music Row and 'make it,' because I knew I didn't really belong there," he says. "I wanted to learn the ways of country music ... to get my education in this cool old world that exists only in Nashville."

While immersing himself in the music world, Jonny began running marathons from Philadelphia to Barcelona and pounding out his signature leather works- the dog collars and guitar straps- seen all over Nashville and half the musical universe. He found himself in NYC for year trying to save a relationship, and its slow, painful unraveling (and demise) inspired Dad Country's bleakest, heartrending tracks, including "All We Do Is Complain" and "Have You Ever Wanted to Die."

These days, life has never been better for Jonny Fritz. He's back in Nashville again and putting down roots- and has even gone and bought himself a house. "It just keeps getting better. Now, the band is getting paid, I'm getting paid, everybody's happy, and we're packing 'em in when we play."

"This is the dream life. I couldn't really ask for anything else."