J Roddy Walston & The Business, Murder By Death

J Roddy Walston & The Business

The third album from J. Roddy Walston & The Business, Essential Tremors borrows its name from a nervous-system disorder that's long plagued the band's frontman. "It's this condition where my hands shake―sometimes not at all, but sometimes pretty bad," says singer/pianist/guitarist Walston. "I've referenced it throughout all our records in some way, but it made sense to be more open about it on this album, which is partly about owning and embracing your weirdness instead of letting it hold you captive because you don't even want to talk about it."
For J. Roddy Walston & The Business―who formed in 2002 in Walston's hometown of Cleveland, Tennessee―embracing weirdness means a mumble-out-loud celebration of that great and terrible burden of being human. Forcing the oft-clashing worlds of art and rock-and-roll to make nice, the band (including guitarist/vocalist Billy Gordon, bassist/vocalist Logan Davis, and drummer Steve Colmus) deals in a scrappy yet sublime sound that honors both their Southern roots and punk spirit. On Essential Tremors, J. Roddy Walston & The Business builds off that formula with a mix of heavy hooks and elegant melodies revealing their affinity for artists as disparate as Led Zeppelin, pre-disco-era Bee Gees, The Replacements, Randy Newman, and the Southern soul outfits that once populated the Stax Records label. Co-produced by Matt Wignall (Delta Spirit, Cold War Kids) and Grammy-winning producer/engineer Mark Neill (The Black Keys) at Neill's own Soil of the South Studios (a Valdosta, Georgia-based facility where J. Roddy Walston & The Business were the first to ever record), the follow-up to 2010's much-acclaimed self-titled sophomore album also finds the band crafting lyrics that ultimately serve as a secret language to the initiated listener.
"It seems like most bands write for either the animal side of people or for the side that's more in tune with the spirit or even just the psyche, but we tend to just smash all those things together," says Walston. "It's like we're writing religious songs for the animal side. We've got songs that feel like party songs but if you look at it closer, it's something more cerebral. So for the people who want to dig in and connect all the weird crosswires, the song can turn into something else." And because J. Roddy Walston & The Business is practiced in the art of subversion, he adds, "these are songs you can get away with listening to around 'the straights.' The danger is in what lies behind the codes and the prose, and how gently they unravel once you've digested them."
Endlessly shifting from snarling and stompy to warm and soulful—and often encompassing all of the above within the same note―Essential Tremors opens with "Heavy Bells," a powerhouse lead single that starts out breezy then gives way to a blistering chorus that threatens to rip Walston's sweetly ragged vocals right open. The album amps up that brutal energy on songs like "Hard Times" (an epic anthem built on a mercilessly driving bassline) and "Sweat Shock" (a track that comes off like dance-floor war cry for Native American metalheads), while "Marigold" keeps it blissfully catchy and "Black Light" offers a glammed-up bedroom boogie that could be the soundtrack to a metaphysical seduction scene. Even when turning tender (such as on the heart-on-sleeve serenade "Boys Can Never Tell," the harmony-soaked "Nobody Knows," and the album-closing stunner "Midnight Cry"), Essential Tremors burns with a raw passion that's nothing short of glorious.
Releasing their debut EP Here Comes Trouble in 2002, J. Roddy Walston & The Business relocated to Baltimore in 2004 after Walston's then-girlfriend (and now wife) began studying opera at the Peabody Conservatory of Music. Along with putting out their first full-length album (2007's Hail Mega Boys), the band devoted the next few years to earning a reputation as an incendiary live act that devotees aptly liken to "AC/DC fronted by Jerry Lee Lewis." Along with touring with the likes of The Black Keys, Lucero and the Lumineers, J. Roddy Walston & The Business have brought their joyfully chaotic performance to such festivals as Lollapalooza, Austin City Limits, and Bonnaroo. Melting all manner of stereotypes into an as-yet-unnamed breed of New American, each performance finds hipsters hugging Teamsters and sweating till it hurts, and art-school cynics and metalheads screaming out every lyric in some gorgeously desperate attempt to connect. There seems to be a competition between the band and the crowd as to who will give more each night.
While their frenetic live show remains a key element of the J. Roddy experience, Walston is careful to keep his songwriting process separate from touring. "I think it's dangerous to write songs when you're on the road, since you're so out of touch with the normal, natural human condition," he says. So before developing songs for Essential Tremors, Walston waited until he'd settled into the home he'd purchased in his newly adopted city of Richmond, Virginia. "I've sort of drifted back down South again," says Walston, who names classic Southern writers like William Faulkner and Flannery O'Connor as major influences on his own writing. "I don't think our band or our music is particularly Southern, but our sense of storytelling and use of language is very much aligned with a more Southern way of life."
Defining J. Roddy Walston & The Business as an "American band, just as much as Creedence Clearwater Revival or Big Star or The Pixies were all perfectly American at the time they were coming out," Walston notes that the Southern lifestyle serves as an infinite inspiration for his music. "It's my experience that Southerners are fully interested in the worlds of philosophy and science and spirituality and nature, but with a take on life that's softer and slower. The south has a pace that's based on patience." And in creating Essential Tremors―as well as its cryptic cover art, which Walston describes as "like if someone broke into my house and took a picture of something they maybe shouldn't have seen"―J. Roddy Walston & The Business sought to encapsulate that richness while maintaining a certain air of mystery and mysticism. "It's not about some sort of Skull and Bones thing of gaining access to an inner circle of high society," he says. "It's about feeling an intimate connection with these weird secret worlds that are the legs holding up the table of what seems like a normal, average, everyday American life―but that most people might not even know are there."

Murder By Death

On the surface, Murder By Death is a Bloomington, IN quintet with a wry, ominous name. But behind the geography and moniker is a band of meticulous and literary songwriters matched by a specific brand of brooding, anthem-riding balladry and orchestral indie rock.
Murder By Death’s path began in the early 2000s as most Midwestern college-town groups do, by playing to small crowds at ratty venues and frenzied house parties. While many of their formative-year scene-mates failed to make it much further than campustown’s borders, Murder By Death translated their anonymous beginnings into a 10+ year career founded on a bedrock of five full-length albums, tireless D.I.Y. touring and performing ethics, and, most importantly, a dedicated, cult-like fanbase.

Since the band began in 2001, their audience has blossomed due in part to extended tours alongside similarly hardworking musical kin such as Against Me!, Gaslight Anthem, Lucero, William Elliott Whitmore, Ha Ha Tonka, and others. Through more than 1,000 performances across the United States, Canada and Europe, Murder By Death has gained word-of-mouth devotees and support from the likes of media outlets like SPIN Magazine, who said of the band, “They brawl like Johnny Cash’s cellmates or dreamily swoon like Nick [Cave], stomping saloon floorboards in 4/4 time as grand strings fade into high noon.”

What resonates most with supporters is the band’s energetic, unique, and altogether consistent sound and conceptualized vision. The personnel and ingredients of the group consist of Sarah Balliet’s throaty cello melodies, singer/guitarist Adam Turla’s booming baritone vocals and brawny guitar strumming, drummer Dagan Thogerson and bassist Matt Armstrong’s locked-down, post-punk rhythm section interplay, and Scott Brackett’s (formerly of Okkervil River and Shearwater) multi-instrumentalist bag of tricks (including piano, trumpet, accordion, mandolin, vocals, percussion). The overriding sound is an amalgamation of textures ranging from dark and desolate to upbeat and brightly melodic, all of it landing somewhere under the orchestrated indie rock umbrella.

The other mainstay signature element of Murder By Death’s identity has been built by the overriding concepts behind each individual album. Every successive effort conjures up fresh imaginative and tactile worlds – whether it’s the battle between the Devil and a small Western town (Who Will Survive and What Will Be Left of Them?, 2003), an arid land of death and redemption (In Bocca al Lupo, 2006), or just songs inspired by a retreat into the Tennessee mountains (Good Morning, Magpie, 2010).
On September 25, the band releases their newest full-length and Bloodshot Record’s debut Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon. The album was written throughout 2011 in a basement in southern Indiana, and recorded in winter 2011 in Dallas, TX with producer-in-demand John Congleton (Explosions in the Sky, St Vincent, Black Mountain).

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 Loose Records in Europe, and his third full-length album, Dad Country, is set for release on April 16, 2013 (April 15 in Europe).

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."

$22.00 - $25.00

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