"I couldn't be better; well, I suppose I could be but I'm perfectly happy where I am," joked Walking Papers lead vocalist Jeff Angell as he discussed the release of "The Light Below;" the band's third album, their formation, assembling during a pandemic and more.
Calling the Seattle, WA area their base of operations, Walking Papers came about when Angell and former Screaming Trees drummer Barrett Martin started a little, "Side project" and according to Angell things grew from there with a little help from some impressive friends.
"Walking Papers first formed in 2012 and it was just kind of a side project with me and Barrett Martin. Then it kind of grew some legs and we were just kind of doing it for fun but then it started to do better than everything else we were working on at the time so we decided to put a little bit more time and energy into and it kind of took over our lives for a bit and now it's our main focus. Although, it was originally kind of like my songs and Barrett was kind of supporting me by producing it and playing drums on it and then we invited in Duff McKagan (Guns N' Roses) to play some bass and we had Mike McCready (Pearl Jam) lend some guitar solos and that kind of gave me a boost and opened a lot of doors for me; now Walking papers is the best chance I have for people showing up to the show. Mike is really good buddies with Barrett because they did the Mad Season thing together and I met him through this project and he's a great dude who was really generous with his time and his resources and getting our stuff on Pearl Jam Radio and all of that stuff; he's been a generous guy."
Walking Papers? An interesting moniker for such a talented assembly of players; Angell says that it wasn't their first choice but it is the one that struck them the best.
"It actually came about by accident," he said with a slight laugh; "It was going to be "Red Envelopes;" do you know what those are? First you get a yellow one but then when your lights are about to get shut off it becomes a red envelope. So, that was going to be our name, "The Red Envelopes;" like, hey, we're here to give you some bad news (laughs). That was taken for some reason so someone suggested "Walking Papers" as an alternative and we were like; great! The bummer about that is, most of the world doesn't know what a walking paper is because they have different slang for that, so most think we're psychedelic."
Although the band evolved into something more than anticipated; one can not lose sight of the material's origins; which were leaning towards Angell's influence. Since it's inception the band has gone through some line-up variations with Jeff being the one constant. So: does this make him the heart and soul of the band or at the very least the main songwriter?
"Well, I don't know about heart and soul; I'm probably the soul and Benjamin (Keyboard player Anderson) is probably the brains and the drummer Will Andrews is probably the heart and then we have a saxophone player Gregor Lothian; he's probably like the liver or something (laughs)."
"When you're the singer guy, the music needs to be a little more accommodating to what you're doing and therefore that kind of gets you steering the boat a little bit but I don't really think there's such thing as a solo record unless maybe it's Bruce Springsteen with a four-track in his bedroom. I think that everybody is kind of adding something to it; if a guy is playing a guitar solo he's kind of writing something too but they often don't get credit or if a guy is playing a drum beat he's not considered a songwriter but I kind of feel like all of those people are bringing something to it. So, I try to put it that way but usually I get to be more of a curator of these ideas and what ideas are working for me to put my thing on top of it. So, that puts me in a way to humbly say, yes I am but with giving all of the credit to the people who take what I do and make it better. Occasionally someone just has a spontaneous jam; sometimes you've got a line in the river of song all day long and other times they just jump in the boat. Sometimes you go to practice and the songs are jumping in the boat and at that point you're not sure if you're writing them or you just happen to be in the right place at the right time."
"The Light Below" is yet another intriguing title and a full-length record in an age of simplistic names and EP releases. Angell explained the name, the tracks and why it's his preference to do a full-length release at this time; especially given the current limits on live music.
"We're pretty excited about it; it's coming out on February 5 which makes it an Aquarius and it's 11 or 12 tracks; I don't know," he said with a laugh as he tried to recollect. "A couple of the songs are dissected inside the songs but they actually sound like one movement, like one piece; so I think it's 11, let's call it 11 but on the vinyl there's two bonus tracks so that would be lucky 13 for those keeping score."
"The Light Below," we had a song that was written which was kind of inspired by the movie "The Hudsucker Proxy" directed by the Coen brothers and in the movie there's a scene where a guy is falling from a building and the snow is falling into him and it inspired this song about; like you're holding onto an angel's feet and then eventually you've lost your grip and you fall into the light below; kind of like the city lights below. We just thought that was kind of cool imagery but when we started putting together the album cover with the scissors and the string concept of the fates cutting the threads of life; when we shot it we were doing kind of like a fanzine style thing on some vintage copy machines and the light below was like the lights coming for him and all these things fell together and we thought, hell; why not? Our last album was called "WP2" because at that time our first album was just self-titled because everybody wanted to have so many arguments about what the hell we were going to call this thing. So, this time we were like, oh; you have an idea? Cool! Let's run with it because WP3; no!"
"I think everybody, including myself has been talking some weird things at times thinking, no one knows what the future is going to do so; let's change everything that we're doing and hope that's the thing that breaks us through. The next thing you know, you have an embarrassing band name and three different bands have broken up and separated and there was all sorts of chaos and then they come back to the realization; why didn't we just make a record? I think maybe it originally started where they had singles and they collected the singles and called it an album and I guess that makes some sort of sense to me but I'm kind of subscribed to; at some point albums became a bigger art form than just one song. When I'm into something I want more of it and I want it to be more thoughtful and have more to it than just a quick little blurb."
The band's desire to record has superseded all else because touring is off of the table at the moment but there are other ways to get your music out to the masses and and as a laughing Angell, with tongue in cheek puts it, "A lot of people say, "Well, what do you do?" We're gonna stream and play you songs; covers of everything from my home office. Then they say, "Well, you can't tour" So, we decided we we're gonna become Martin, no "Quentin Scorsese" or "George Spielberg;" I'm no George Spielberg but I know my iPhone has a camera on it (laughs)."
Yes, they became film makers; OK, more like videographers.
"We did get together to make some videos but before we did that we all got tested and then quarantined for that purpose; it's kind of pretty sketchy times and I don't want to kill any old people. So, I don't know, people can have whatever opinion; is this true or about wherever it came from and all of their opinions of this and that but at the end of the day, I think erring on the side of caution in situations like this is the respectful thing to do, so that's what we're doing. I'd like to be rehearsing more or touring in support of this record but we kind of can't and I think it would be irresponsible to do it. You can't let the world hold you up; I don't know, I'll make this record and put it out and hopefully people will be enjoying it and who knows when we're going to tour again. I don't know, that whole, we made a record therefore we tour or it used to be we'd tour to support the record and then it was, we make a record to support the tour. I don't know about all that kind of stuff; I thought we made records because we loved making them and we wanted to share the music that we made with people. So, I can't imagine having a record and sitting on it while waiting for COVID to stop; I'm just kind of like let's make records and put them out and if we can tour that's great and if not let's make another record. People get into this confusion of things other than the creative process and letting it set the trajectory of what they are doing but if they do have a label and they are agreeing with what the label is saying, and the label is invested in the band; I guess they have to make that decision. This is the longest that we have ever took to put out a record once it was finished, it has been about six months when it usually takes like three and even that; I feel like I'm watching paint dry."
If watching paint dry is the result, then they have done a very good job applying the layers. They have created a visual for "The Value of Zero;" a haunting, melodic piece that worms its way into ones auricle senses like a tape worm; leaving you full yet hungry for more, all while using some prehistoric calculators; aka adding machines.
"The Value of Zero," I am kind of a connoisseur of vintage things, I kind of like them and actually have more of them than my wife will let me keep in the house; she calls them, "Dust collectors," I call them "Treasures," he said with a large laugh; I do like the symbolic imagery of keeping score. Whether that's a lover, keeping score of how many dust collectors you have or whether it's the fates or the powers that be, watching every move you make and they are like, well, he did feed three homeless guys but he also lied to his mother; so that makes him positive three and negative one. I kind of like the imagery of that because it's kind of ridiculous."
All bands rely on social media and websites and these gentlemen are no different; or are they? Angell says that they have a different outlook on how they interact with their fan base.
"I got into a band to say what I think, not to beg people to buy my record all day long. People aren't going to find an Instagram out there with us bugging them 10 times a day and with us going, hey man our new record is available on double vinyl and you can find it here; we don't do that but we are happy to talk about music and spread the word by sharing with people. Hopefully we will do what is best to get people to listen to our music and that's get back to playing and touring around and that's how everything has always happened for me; because I was playing a show and someone saw what I was doing and liked it and that's how we make things happen here."
To discovr more about Walking Papers, please visit them at https://www.facebook.com/walkingpapersmusic.
Photo: Marcus Cooper
That's it for this week! Please continue to support live and original music and until next week....ROCK ON!