From A Punished Piano, A Rollicking Sound
J. Roddy Walston and the Business is a band that built a following the old-fashioned way: Touring, touring, and more touring. The group has become famous for its frenzied live performances, in which lead singer Rod Walston can be found at center stage, practically clobbering his upright piano. He says the instrument, which travels with the band on tour, is big, unwieldy and inconvenient — but resilient.
"I can kind of just beat on it and spit at it and walk around on it; if you did that to a regular keyboard it would just fall apart," Walston tells NPR's Rachel Martin. "It just feels real. It's kind of an interaction: This thing is aging with me, like an old car."
Weekend Edition Sunday invited the members of J. Roddy Walston and the Business into NPR's studios to play a few songs off their new album, Essential Tremors. Hear more at the audio link.
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
J. Roddy Walston and The Business is a band that built a following the old-fashioned way - touring, touring and more touring. They've become famous for their rollicking, frenzied live performances. Their potent mix of driving rock, piano and barely contained energy has been called AC/DC meets Jerry Lee Lewis.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
J. RODDY AND THE BUSINESS: You guys ready? (Singing) I met a familyand I, I, I told them I started up, started up...
MARTIN: So to bottle a little of that magic, we invited Rod Walston, aka J. Roddy, into the studio along with the rest of his band, The Business, to play a few songs off their new album, it is called, "Essential Tremors."
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
MARTIN: Like a lot of bands, they bring a lot of equipment with them on tour, including their own upright piano.
ROD WALSTON: Basically, before eBay and Craigslist ruined small town music shops or whatever, there was this really Simpson-esque character that ran a music store in my hometown, and I was telling him what I'd really love is as piano that I can chop in half somehow and take to shows with me because I hated keyboards.
And he sat and thought for a second and was like, they make one of those. I'm pretty sure they make one. He hunted it down and told me where it was and I drove to New York to get one and these guys have helped me hook it in to every possible scenario. They're climbing ladders with it on our back. It's been insane.
MARTIN: Is it, I mean, you must think it's worth it. What does this instrument bring you that different from a keyboard?
WALSTON: I can kind of just beat on it and spit at it and walk around on it and if you did that to a regular keyboard it would just fall apart, and...
MARTIN: So you just need a bigger instrument because you abuse them?
WALSTON: It just feels real. It's kind of an interaction, you know. This thing is aging with me, like an old car, you know. I can buy a brand new car if I wanted, but I'd rather smell gas fumes while I'm driving down the road and not be sure if my brakes are going to work.
MARTIN: So with music, the music that you guys make, it's obviously really high energy, and it's got this kind of driving rhythm to it. Did you just always hear piano with that? It kind of comes a little bit unexpected that you would have a piano in some of this stuff.
WALSTON: I think in rock and roll there's a lot of history to piano, but in modern times with loud music, there's not a lot of people doing it so, you know, if you have a guitar there's a few moves that everybody does, you know, do the windmill or something. I don't know. Any interaction I have with the piano is kind of, it's not me copying. Well, I kick, sometimes I'll kick the piano stool out and that's kind of like the one move that I yanked from Jerry Lee. But other than that it's pretty much...
MARTIN: You ever hurt yourself doing that?
WALSTON: I have hurt myself. Yeah, I got a weird cut on my nose from the last show.
MARTIN: Yeah, it sounds dangerous.
WALSTON: Yeah, kind of, but...
MARTIN: Well, let's play another song. This is a track called "Marigold."
WALSTON: Let's do it.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MARIGOLD")
J. RODDY AND THE BUSINESS: (Singing) Marigold, you Illinois queen, Marigold, you Illinois queen. Marigold, you Illinois queen, Marigold, you Illinois queen. For those of you in the city what it takes it in the town, he likes a touch of black and show he gets around, Marigold you really knock me down. It's dragging me down. He goes down. He goes down. He goes downtown to ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-check out the scene.
(Singing) Marigold you're n-n-n-n-n-nice, well, your boyfriend's n-n-n-n-n-nicer if you know what I mean. Marigold, you Illinois queen, Marigold, you Illinois queen. Marigold, you Illinois queen, Marigold, you Illinois queen. For those of you in the city what it takes it in the town, he likes a touch of black and show he gets around, Marigold, you really knock me, dragging me down.
(Singing) He takes an upper class vacation from his family in pills, he likes to share his money but he hates to pay his bills. Knows the right people, he knows the people in red, God knows what he's heard but he don't know what he said. Marigold, you really knock me and it's dragging me down. He goes down. He goes down. He goes downtown to ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-check out the scene.
(Singing) Marigold you're n-n-n-n-n-nice, well your boyfriend's n-n-n-n-n-nicer if you know what I mean. Marigold, Marigold, Marigold, Marigold, Marigold, my-my-my-my-my-my Marigold, my-my-my-my-my-my Marigold. Marigold, Marigold, Marigold, Marigold, Marigold, my-my-my-my-my-my Marigold, my-my-my-my-my-my Marigold.
MARTIN: I'm awake now. Wow.
WALSTON: Good morning.
MARTIN: Good morning. Good morning, everyone. Did I read that you grew up in the Pentecostal Church?
WALSTON: Yep, I did.
MARTIN: How did that play out in your music? That's a particular kind of religious experience.
WALSTON: Yeah, yeah. I would say probably more than the music itself is the actual experience live of really trying to be interactive with everybody and kind of - some of those guys are intending to be superstars and it be all about them, but I would say they're just as many that you've never heard of that the idea is there's no wall. So it's not about the guy on stage. It's everyone is involved. We're all telling a story together, we're all celebrating something.
MARTIN: Do you still go to church every once in a while?
WALSTON: Yeah, yeah. I'm married to a pastor's daughter.
MARTIN: Are you?
WALSTON: Yeah, who also is an opera singer. Well, if you wrote down on paper who is this guy married to, it would probably not be that description.
MARTIN: Opera-singing pastor's daughter.
WALSTON: Yeah, yeah.
MARTIN: Do the two of you ever make music together? Do your styles jibe?
WALSTON: We fight over the piano all the time. You know, we have a very small house, we have one piano. She has to practice, I'm trying to write. There will be some late-night thing and we'll start doing some old country tunes together. Or, probably the most we interact musically is kind of more talking. She'll be working out something and say, you know, can you tell the difference between when I sing like this versus when I sing like that? Or I'll be writing and she'll yell in from the other room, I don't like what you just did; that's not entertaining or good or that felt kind of just whack.
MARTIN: You respect her opinion?
WALSTON: Yeah, I would say I use Sarah(ph) as a sounding board a lot on songs.
MARTIN: Well, I'm going to ask you to play us out on a song called "Heavy Bells," but before we do, can you tell us a little bit about the story behind this song?
WALSTON: Yeah. You know, there's an interaction that I have with my mom growing up my whole life where she's like, I know that the thing that you're going to battle with the most is sort of a mental thing, you know. You're going to have this struggle internally. I can see it in you as a kid, you know. It was an encouraging thing, you know. Like, you need to be ready for this. And I kind of, one way or another, it probably has been absolutely the most true and real thing that has stayed in my life, you know.
MARTIN: Well, let's listen to this. This is...
WALSTON: It's going to be way different than you think based off of this interview.
MARTIN: All right. All right. I'm ready, I'm ready. Let's do it.
WALSTON: It's way more primal and ape than you would guess.
MARTIN: OK. Let's hear "Heavy Bells," off the new album by J. Roddy Walston and The Business. The new album is called "Essential Tremors." Thanks so much, you guys, by the way.
WALSTON: Thanks for having us.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Thank you.
MARTIN: I appreciate it.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG "HEAVY BELLS")
J. RODDY AND THE BUSINESS: (Singing) Mama knew my mind with no design. Mama knew my mind with no (unintelligible) black doors in the night...
MARTIN: You can hear the rest of the songs in full on our website, nprmusic.org or you can hear them live. J. Roddy Walston and The Business is back on tour through October with dates in Kentucky, California, D.C, all over the map, really.
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.