J. Roddy Walston and The Business
628 Divisadero St
San Francisco, CA, 94117
Doors 7:30 PM / Show 8:00 PM
This event is 21 and over
J. Roddy Walston and 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.”
On Gringo Star’s latest, liquid melodies cascade through air like a waterfall in zero gravity, brothers Nicholas and Peter Furgiuele and cohort Chris Kaufmann out-of-body—floating apparitions of a band glancing down as their corporeal manifestations radiate celestial blues and psychedelic garage bangers, gritty R&B shuffles and spaghetti-Western weirdness. Floating Out to See could—and should—be the soundtrack to Tarantino’s first sci-fi film.
As the album’s title suggests, Gringo Star are insouciant explorers, tossing the paddles overboard and drifting on the currents of their lackadaisical curiosity across a rippling sonic ocean, out to the far edges of rock & roll. Shot pulsing from a vintage Leslie speaker, their guitars, keys and vocals pirouette across the astral plane, the psychoactive ingredients of their echo-slathered, doo-wop-indebted indie gems. Santo & Johnny, The Stooges, Ritchie Valens, Marc Bolan, Percy Faith, Sam Cooke, the men working on the chain gang—uh! ah!—they’re all here, their electric ghosts reaching across time, tapping Gringo Star on the shoulder like the crossroads devil to Robert Johnson, bestowing secrets, passing torches.
Floating Out to See plays like a long-forgotten polaroid excavated from the bottom of some mysterious thrift-shop bin, scanned into a computer, emailed to your smartphone and Instagrammed with a nice washed-out filter—a shimmering post-War daydream plucked from the mid-20th century and dropped wide-eyed into the hyperlinked now. No other group today so effortlessly distills the essence of nascent rock & roll into something so entirely modern yet authentically, spiritually tethered to the past.
If you know a little about the Furgiueles’ roots, it all makes sense. “Our grandad started out in radio in the ’40s and ’50s in Columbus, Ga.,” Nick explains. “He was a huge promoter of R&B back when it was still super segregated, and he was playing black music and putting on shows with Little Stevie Wonder, James Brown, Sam Cooke & the Soul Stirrers, a lot of Gospel shows. So we grew up hearing all these stories, listening to all this music. Our grandfather was inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame posthumously. And my grandma—all her photo albums are like Jackie Wilson shirtless backstage, hanging out.”
Not to mention how Nick and Peter used to raid their parents’ record collections, cutting their teeth on the likes of Buddy Holly, The Animals and The Kinks. “Our favorite music comes from the ’50s,” Peter says, “and that music influenced all the ’60s bands we like.”
With their family’s R&B connections and their young obsession with early rock & roll, it wasn’t long before the two brothers started making music themselves. When Nick was 15 and Peter just 11, they picked up bass and drums, respectively, formed a rhythm section and joined their first garage band. “We played together in the house and messed around on a little two-track,” Nick says. “We’ve been writing songs together since before Peter was a teenager. We even played his 8th-grade dance.”
A few years later, in 2001, with Peter still in high school, they started their first serious band, A-Fir-Ju-Well, and released their debut record on International Hits. During the second half of the decade, they formed Gringo Star and dropped a pair of lauded records—2008’s All Y’all and 2011’s Count Yer Lucky Stars—both engineered by James Salter (Black Rebel Motorcycle Club) and helmed by sought-after producer Ben Allen (Animal Collective, Gnarls Barkley, Deerhunter). Since then, the band has toured relentlessly across the U.S. and Europe building a diehard underground following while sharing bills with everyone from Cat power and Feist to The Black Angels and Weezer, and also touring with Wavves, Best Coast, And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead, The Toadies and fellow Atlantans The Black Lips.
While recording the new Gringo Star album—a psych-rock symphony to the cosmos, awash in shimmering compact organs, latin drumbeats and Status Quo-style space riffs—the band tried a new approach. Instead of enlisting a respected producer/engineer combo like Allen and Salter, they struck out for uncharted waters on their own. “It’s been cool without the safety net of a producer,” Peter says. “This record is more ourselves. There’s no other filter besides our filter.”
Recorded in the band’s basement practice space at Peter’s place in Atlanta, Floating Out to See is also the first time that Gringo Star has tried home recording. “With the last two records,” Nick says, “we’d just go into the studio for a couple weeks and crank it out. This time, we threw down a chunk of cash on a super-nice microphone, and recorded everything in our leisure, which led to a lot more experimenting.”
Since they only had the one good mic, the Furgiueles and Kaufmann began a one-instrument-at-a-time, trial-and-error layering process that began with the drums, played by Peter and part-time touring drummer Cam Gardner of Washed Out. Some of the songs they’d never even played before the day they recorded them. In such instances, they’d run down the new tune a few times until Gardner had his head around it, then he’d crank out the drum track by himself without anybody else playing—just from memory. “And that’s how Peter did it, too,” Nick says. “A blind drum track. I would stand in the room with them, and just kind of play the motions and signal the changes.”
In the wake of some significant personnel shifts (most notably the departure of third writing member Pete DeLorenzo), Floating Out to See is also the first Gringo Star record to feature the Furgiuele brothers as the band’s sole lead vocalists/songwriters. “We always loved Pete D’s songs and we loved playing with him,” Nick says, “but I feel like there’s more continuity now than ever before. Despite going through three drummers in the past year, Me, Peter & Chris are feeling super tight.”
It’s no mistake that the final track on the new Gringo Star album is called “The Start.” Because this ending marks the beginning of a new era for the band. They’ve paid their dues over the last decade, weathering multiple lineup shifts and the often-brutal gauntlet of the road on two continents separated by thousands of miles of ocean, building their following the old-fashioned way; they’ve studied in the studio with the masters, and they’ve set out on their own intrepid sonic odyssey, returning with the blinking-light palette of esoteric sounds and unforgettable hooks that comprise their infectious new record, Floating Out to See. And now, they’re riding this slowly cresting wave toward what looks a whole lot like a breakthrough.