AUSTIN: Seth Walker Interview by Abby Owen

Posted on 12/19/2009 by Abby Owen

Tuesday, 11/24/2009 – Texas Blues writer Abby Owen interviewed Seth Walker of Austin, TX for American Blues News.

Seth just finished up a weekend of shows. He played Antone’s in Austin TX on Friday night, and followed up with House of Blues in Houston TX on Saturday.

I caught up with him the following Tuesday at McGonigel’s Mucky Duck in Houston, TX, which by the way, had its name, albeit a different spelling, LONG before Maggie Smith’s character in Harry Potter.

Abby: So how was the show at House of Blues?
Seth: Oh it was great! I was with Ruthie… y’know Ruthie Foster?

Abby: I have heard of her.
Seth: Oh, you should, she’s fantastic. A fantastic soul. She’s a gospel, blues singer, soul singer. She’s a natural, y’know…from church. She’s fantastic. So I played Friday night with her, Friday at Antoine’s in Austin, Saturday at House of Blues in Houston. So yeah, a good weekend. Back in Houston.

Abby: So, tonight you’re doing a solo gig I take it. It’s not the full band?

Seth: No. We’re doing a songwriter’s thing, with Lisa Morales & Troy Campbell. Just a little songwriter…kind of swap. A song swap.

Abby: Just comfortable and low key I guess.
Seth: Yes. A ‘living room set’.

Abby: Well, let me just fire off the first question here then.
Seth: Okay.

Abby: How does the music come from you and find it's way into a song? Is it the lyric, a great melody? What tends to fuel your…creativity?
Seth: Spark something? Forever it used to be a melody. I’d always work off melodies. Driving down the road I’d hear a melody and sing ‘em into my phone or something. But as of late it’s been words. It’s just been reading.

Abby: The lyrics then?
Seth: Reading and lyrics, because that is really…I just love that. I love connecting with a lyric. It’s a very powerful thing, and it’s a challenging thing. So as of late, after working with Gary Nicholson who produced my last album, he’s the word man. He is...”You’re not going anywhere unless we get the words right”. And that’s a whole mode that I’m moving more towards.

Abby: Because you’re a storyteller. You’re telling a story.
Seth: It is a story, and it’s important. It’s not just about the singing and the playing. It’s the hat trick.

Abby: Who’s been the greatest influence on you musically, [musical style], than any other recording artist?
Seth: The influences range from Sam Cooke, Ray Charles, B B King, Tom Waits, Dylan, Guy Clark, John Prine, the great singers like Anita Oday, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald

Abby: Is there one that you can just zero in on?
Seth: Ray Charles.

Abby: Ray Charles?
Seth: Without a doubt. I think he was just a complete inspiration to me in every way.

Abby: I can understand that.
Seth: I don’t think there are many people who can’t. He was a storyteller.

Abby: Did you ever meet him?
Seth: I opened up for him, but I didn’t get a chance to meet him. I have a poster that says Ray Charles, then all these other acts, and my name is right on the bottom!

Abby: Awesome! That you have that poster!
Seth: It is pretty cool. Pretty cool. I’ll take it!

Abby: What do you feel is your strongest point as an artist?
Seth: That is an interesting question. I think it’s…well, something I aspire to do is to break down the wall between myself and the listener and allow them in.

Abby: Make a connection?
Seth: Make a connection, and allow them in. Because a lot of times there’s…it’s easy to put a wall between it. And knocking down that thing can really, y’know it’s a reciprocal thing. It can really move both parties involved if it’s achieved.

Abby: I know exactly what you mean. I know other artists that have difficulty with that.
Seth: Yeah, you got to open yourself up, and it’s a vulnerable state. You have to just trust.

Abby: What would you like to improve upon as an artist?
Seth: Aw, man. It’s never-ending. I want to be a better singer. I want to be a better songwriter... Definitely. It’s a craft.

Abby: So you’d pick songwriting if it were one thing?
Seth: Well, they’re all pretty close to the top. They all sort of work in concert. For me, singing, performing, songwriting…and the whole thing. The presentation of this music, y’know how it’s presented. Everything, to answer your question.

Abby: Tell us about your newest CD.

Seth: The CD "Leap Of Faith" came out in March of 2009, and was recorded in Nashville. It was produced by Gary Nicholson who is a Grammy Award winner, a producer and a great writer, and now a dear friend. We met through a mutual friend who’s a radio promoter out of Nashville named Al Moss. When we met it was just a kindred thing we had, and one of those situations where I’m relaxed with Gary, but I’m also ‘On Pointe’ with Gary. That’s the perfect combination with any one you work with, with any relationship you have. When you can be yourself, but want to be better. It was natural. We have the same sensibilities, and the same sense of humor. He’s a world class person. First it was merely songwriting collaboration, but then we were like, hey man; we need to do a damn record! So that’s how it spawned, and here we are. He co-wrote about eight of the songs, out of the eleven, with me. It’s been good.

Abby: How did you come up with the title “Leap Of Faith”?
Seth: That was actually one of the last additions to the album. It was actually a song he wrote. I didn’t write that song. Glen Clark and Gary Nicholson wrote that song. We went over lots of titles, but it was a leap of faith for me. It really was. It was the first time I had done a record not on my own terms, out of my comfort zone. I had done all of my previous records my own way. I went to Nashville, and had a new group of musicians, new producer, new bag of songs collaborating with a different writer that I’d never worked with, and lots of y’know…it was an investment emotionally & financially to do it, and so I thought that would be a good title.

Abby: It works. That’s great.
Seth: And it’s a great song that they wrote.

Abby: You’ve recorded many of your songs in the studio. How much of what you do in the studio works out? Do you throw some of it away?
Seth: Sure. Sure. There are some. For instance on the Leap of Faith record we had about…probably 14 or 15 tunes that we thought were contenders, that we actually cut. There were other contenders that we didn’t cut, but 14 or 15 that we actually cut. And then we just kind of look at them to see if the performance is there, or the strength of the song is going to carry it, to be on the record. So, yeah. There are a couple of lonesome little straggler songs that never saw the light of day. But I enjoy working in the studio. It’s a different thing obviously than live. It’s a controlled environment, and you have lots of options. It’s wide open. It’s a very creative process and I enjoy it. But there’s something to be said for live performance. I mean the energy that you get back from an audience.

Abby: Do you have any plans to do a live CD coming up?
Seth: It’s something I…it’s on deck. I don’t know when. I don’t know if it’s going to be next record, but it’s something I’ll do in the next couple of records.

Abby: Did you work closely with the sound engineers?
Seth: On the record? Oh Yeah. Yeah, we cut it in Nashville. But yeah, that’s the way it always goes. There’s always a few that never quite make it. But maybe we’ll re-visit them the next time around. It’s also that the songs have to go together, in theme too, y’know?

Abby: Yeah. It has to make sense.
Seth: Yeah. It’s an album. They need to flow together. And that’s one of the things, when they go to the cutting block, that’s some of the reasons why they don’t make it.

Abby: What is your favorite song on the album?
Seth: I like ‘At Least I Got a Song’. It’s one that just kind of spilled out of this y’know…

Abby: I like that one. I think that is my favorite.
Seth: Yeah, it’s one of those that you just …y’know

Abby: Yeah, you can relate to it.
Seth: Garrett actually wrote a song called ‘Some Days The Song Writes You, and Some Days You Write the Songs’, and that was one that wrote us.

Abby: Wow. Gives you chills.
Seth: Yeah.

Abby: What song posed the biggest challenge?
Seth: That one. It took the most work. The concept came quick, but it’s a complex chord progression, and we had to kind of figure out what’s the best way to get around it. It took about three or four days to finally nail it down, about how we wanted to present it. That was the most challenging one for sure.

Abby: So, not so much the singing, but the playing of the song?
Seth: Well the singing was tough too, because that song actually reaches a new range for me that is… on the bridge it goes real high for me where I never sang in that register, so we had to work on that as well.

Abby: Do genre considerations come in to play when you write a song?
Seth: Yeah, y’know. To an extent. I mean I’m fully aware of the genre that I’m in. I like all genres of music. I really do. Being this is my 6th album I’ve been able to explore the different platforms, and I know this is what suits me the best. This style. But yes, that does play a factor, but it’s really all about a concept. A concept to a feeling is what inspires me. I’ll get an idea of how a tune could sprout y’know? A lot of times it comes…having a cup of coffee…

Abby: Through experiences.
Seth: Through experiences. Shoot, there’s been plenty of that! But sometimes it comes through a phrase. Through a passing phrase, or if you’ve read a book and there was a phrase in it, like I read a lot of Jack Kerouac, y’know? Obscure writers…well, not obscure but…

Abby: Edgy?
Seth: Edgy, with a little twist on a word, and that *snaps fingers* usually gets it going.

Abby: You’re predominantly a guitarist, but many have said it’s your voice that they enjoy the most. I would be one of those…
Seth: Alright. I’ll take it.

Abby: Do you prefer the job of guitarist or vocalist?
Seth: Definitely Vocalist. I mean, I’m an accompanying guitar player, and I enjoy playing it and I can do it, but the voice? I feel like I have my own unique…my own little way of doing it whatever that’s worth, but I enjoy that… breathing a lyric, y’know? Singing a lyric and breathing it…it’s like y’know…

Abby: So you feel that’s your creativity, more than the playing?
Seth: Well, it’s all together, because it’s all one thing. Getting back to the question earlier that relates to some of the other questions you had about recording…I have to sing and play at the same time. I’ve been doing it for so long, or playing live gigs for so long…

Abby: So, you mean in the studio when your recording vocals, you’re playing?
Seth: On ‘Leap of Faith’ I’m playing guitar on all that, and singing it. It’s the only way I know how, because they’re all connected. Like walking. You got to use both legs to walk. Of course there are sometimes when I use over-dubbing on the vocals where I didn’t nail it, y’know? Singing is very therapeutic. It’s the thing that connects. I’m never going to be another B B King or T-Bone Walker, y’know? They got that right the first time. And that’s where I stand on that.

Abby: Do you prefer acoustic to electric?
Seth: I’ve always played electric. I have an Archtop electric guitar that’s an old cool box that I’ve played for years, but as of late I’ve been doing a lot of solo shows like I’m doing tonight and I play acoustic guitar, and I’m really starting to enjoy that acoustic…it’s great for solo, because you can get that sort of percussive thing, but for the most part, to answer your question, my experience has been with my Archtop electric guitar.

Abby: So you’d say that that is your favorite? I know it’s a hard decision.
Seth: If I had to choose, I’d go with that.

Abby: How many guitars do you have?
Seth: I have one, two, three, four. I have two acoustic, and two electrics. It’s a good number.

Abby: Yeah. Gives you a little choice.
Seth: I’ll take it.

Abby: Do you play any other instruments?
Seth: I play cello. I grew up on the cello. I’ve played cello since I was four to sixteen. Both my parents were classical musicians.

Abby: Oh? Well, that helps.
Seth: Yeah. They’re classical musicians. I grew up in North Carolina, with music all around me.

Abby: Yeah. Brothers & sisters?
Seth: I have a sister, but I grew up on a Quaker commune actually. I don’t know if you read that in the bio. Yeah. I grew up with another family. My folks and another couple met early on and decided to build this house together, so we lived as one… communal program. Nine of us. Pretty interesting, I mean definitely, definitely unique.

Abby: Do your parents enjoy your music?
Seth: Yes. They’re my number one fans for sure. They’re unbelievably great, talented people.

Abby: There was a lot of music in that house, I would imagine.
Seth: The other family was not that…they weren’t musicians at all but Jim, my other kind of ‘quasi-dad’ loved Texas country music. He loved Willie and Jerry Jeff Walker and Gary P Nunn and Jimmy Buffet and all these guys… Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt. So that music was kind of instilled in me from a young age, and I didn’t realize what an impact it had made on me until much later in life, because I was into classical mode, and I was being a kid, being a teenager, runnin’ around drinkin’ Busch Light out of a can, y’know. Then as I started to get…especially when I came to Texas, I was like…[shoot]…

Abby: Yeah! A good fit. Part of your make-up.
Seth: It’s kind of like my DNA, yeah.

Abby: Well, I have to ask this, because I think it’s one of the first things that someone notices about your music, and that is that you have such an authentic blues sound, and it makes me want to ask you…how does that happen with a young guy…
Seth: ...a white guy?

Abby: No, a young guy that couldn’t have had that many troubles in your life, but you’ve tapped in to that feeling of the blues. How do you explain that?
Seth: Well, uh…when I first started playing the guitar, when I first picked up the guitar in college a bluesy sound was always what…it was a natural thing for me. Like, to bend a string. With a cello…you don’t bend strings with a cello. It’s a very Caucasian proposition…in a good way! I love classical music. It’s beautiful. But with the guitar I was like…you could y’know, bend the string. And I was like, whoa! I just loved that feeling. I don’t know, I just connected with that thread, and I just went with it, and of course plenty of… plenty of mistakes along the way to inspire many blues songs. I’ve made…a couple. Just a few. It’s not something that I have to manufacture or fabricate.

Abby: It just comes out.
Seth: It just comes out. I don’t feel like I’m an imposter with it.

Abby: I don’t get that feeling either. It just seems so natural. Like you’ve really tapped into something that’s real.
Seth: That’s why I continue to do it. I mean I think I would know. My heart and soul would would tell me…You know buddy? I know you like the blues, and I know it’s cool, but you probably shouldn’t go there.

Abby: If you weren’t singing the blues what would you be doing?
Seth: I’d either be writing…creative writing, or painting. That’s two things that I do on the side. I have paintings here tonight actually that I did on the side.

I went to art school at East Carolina University, studying graphic art and creative drawing. I like that, but I really love to write too. Creative writing is one of my favorite things to do. I have a blog on my web-site you can read that’s kind of…

Abby: I’ll have to read that!
Seth: Yeah, it shows that side y’know...its fun. I’m no pro at it but I really enjoy that. So, I’d be a starving writer…

Abby: So what’s next for you?
Seth: …sleeping on your couch. (laughs)

Abby: (laughing) Besides sleeping on my couch, what’s next for you?
Seth: What’s next for me? Spending a lot more time in Nashville.

Abby: Sounds like a good plan.
Seth: Kind of basing my hub there. It’s going to be a kind of hub for me, and touring out of there. And writing…I’ll be doing a new record in the next year, at some point. And continuing the press of touring. The full court press, which is always on…y’know?

Abby: Yeah, work.

Seth: Yeah, busting rocks with that, and I enjoy that. But I’ve been doing a lot of solo work, which is a new thing for me, and I really enjoy that. It’s become a necessity out on the road because it is so tough. It’s tight. I mean, it’s tight. So, solo’s been a vehicle for me to do, and I’ll be doing more of that. I’ll be doing band stuff of course as well, but I’m keeping my options open.

Abby: Last question.
Seth: Yep.

Abby: What would you like your audience to know about you that hasn’t been said?
Seth: That hasn’t been said? Well, I really am humbled to do it. I really am. I mean I really have to stop and think, because when I start to moan, I have to remind myself that I’ve been given the gift to play music and sing and to move, to create positive energy and affect peoples’ lives. I say that’s a beautiful gift, and I’m humbled to do it.

Abby: Good answer!

Seth: Cool!

To wind up my visit with Seth Walker, I would just like to say that he really was a very humble and pleasant person to meet, and I wish him all the success he deserves.

I also can’t help but think that Seth’s most valued predecessor, Mr Charles is up there in the ‘great gig in the sky’ looking down on young Mr Walker (for surely in heaven, Ray Charles can see), and soaking in the music of this bright talent so dedicated to keeping Blues music alive, and doing it very well I might add. What’s that Mr Charles? What’s that...”I’ll take it” he says, and smiles like only Ray could.

Copyright © 2009 - Abby Owen. All Rights Reserved
Interview Photos: Copyright © 2009 - Brian Smith. All Rights Reserved.
Photo from 'October Biscuit Tour 2009': Copyright © 2009 - Seth Walker.
Opening Photo by Kaysie Dorsey (Pixel Peach): Copyright © 2009 - Pixel Peach. All Rights Reserved.

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