By Timothy Dwenger
The music business is a fickle mistress; she showers praise on some long before their time, and others who may be far more talented, she forces to slog through stale beer, hump their own gear, and sleep on ratty couches as they wait for a chance to shine. Sure this model keeps some of the best dirty little rock clubs in the country in business, and it keeps smiles on the faces of those in the know as they catch their favorites in intimate spaces night after night, but it’s hard on those guys up on stage who put in grueling hours with the constant belief that one day their time will come.
For Richmond, Va. based J. Roddy Walston & The Business, that time seems to be upon them, but to date the workload has been just as grueling. Formed 12 years and thousands of shows ago, the band announced last March that they had signed with Dave Matthews’ ATO Records and in September they released a stellar 11 song collection called Essential Tremors.
“The record came out almost exactly a year ago and I think in the last 365 days we’ve been gone something like 190 or 200 days. It’s way up there. It’s been a good year for sure, more people know about our band, more people are showing up to shows, but I don’t know if I’ve had a solid two weeks home all year,” said front man and piano banger J. Roddy Walston in a recent interview with The Marquee, as he got ready to head back out on the road for yet another two-month stretch of shows. “I think the longest I’ve been home is like one week, but I always feel weird complaining about that kind of stuff because people want to see our band — which is amazing. To say to someone who works a 9 to 5, ‘Oh, life’s so hard, people want to see my band’ just doesn’t seem fair.”
While Walston clearly gets that what he does for work is a dream for many out there who are working for the weekend, paycheck to paycheck, it’s still tough on him and his band. “For so long we all felt that we had to take every opportunity we could get and it’s not to say we feel like we have completed the journey or are where we need to be for the rest of our lives, but we have started to explore the idea of balance as of the last six months,” he admitted. “It went from people saying ‘Oh my god I’m losing my mind,’ to ‘All right we have to actively talk about future planning and express what we are feeling to our management and booking agents.’ Basically, we are going to tell them what we feel we can handle and not lose our minds and then try to make that the standard.”
Given that Walston isn’t comfortable writing on the road, things are going to have to slow down a bit if the group wants to release a follow-up to Essential Tremors. “I just think the road is so disconnected from reality. Ninety-nine percent of the time, 99 percent of the people in any given room I find myself in on tour are there to see me. Whether that’s five people or 500 or 1,000 — that’s not normal. My internal struggles are things like ‘I don’t want to talk about myself today’ or ‘This guy asked me a question I didn’t like,’ who cares about that stuff? That’s not something that’s universal at all, there’s nothing for people to relate to,” he said. “I’d rather write at home where I’m getting frustrated fixing my truck or talking to my parents about the struggles of taking care of my grandparents or any of those things. That’s real, people can relate to that.”
Clearly, now that more people are getting exposed to J. Roddy Walston & The Business, whether because of the exposure provided by ATO or their constant touring (or a combination of both), people are relating to and loving the passion and energy that Walston and his band pour into their music. Their raucous Southern-tinged blend of punk and rock has graced the stages of several major festivals this year and even landed them a slot on the legendary Austin City Limits TV show; something that Walston is particularly proud of. “It was an amazing experience. Everyone there was very professional and they had actually done a lot of research into our band,” he laughed, before acknowledging that isn’t always the case around the country.
“I tour with a 300-pound upright piano and there were times early on when we would play basement clubs with ladders and I would have to have the guys put it on my back. If they let go I would have died,” he remembered. “There are still situations now where we say, ‘If anything goes wrong everybody jump out of the way,’ but back then I really could have died.”
These days, even with the business smiling on them, the band is still their own crew most of the time and while death isn’t as much of a risk, Walston admitted that he routinely gets mistaken for a roadie. “If there is a 6 a.m. load-in for a TV show or something like that, the guys often talk to us like we are just hired help and say things like ‘No, I think the band is gonna want it over here.’ Finally after an hour or so we are like ‘We are the band!’ and they say ‘Oh never mind, I’m sorry. You’re old school huh?’”
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