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An Interview with Jefferson Angell of the Walking Papers

Splice-Magazine recently had the chance to talk to Jefferson Angell the lead singer of Walking Papers just before their show at The Beacham Theatre in Orlando FL. For those that aren’t familiar with them, this rock band out of Seattle WA. was formed in 2012. They are made up of singer Jefferson Angell, keyboardist Benjamin Anderson, both formerly of The Missionary Position, bassist Duff McKagen from Guns N’ Roses, and drummer Barrett Martin formerly of The Screaming Trees and Mad Season. While they may have some famous members in this group, it is the breathtaking songwriting of Jefferson Angell that makes things stand out. For sure, this amazing band is one that is worth checking out. With a live a show where they add a stand up bass, a saxophone, and on this stop an exciting trip through the audience by singer Jefferson Angell, you will quickly become a fan of these guys. When Duff and Barrett have other obligations, Will Andrews fills in on drums, Dan Spalding plays bass, Tristan Hart Pierce is on guitars, and Gregor Lothian plays sax. They are currently on the road supporting their latest album WP2.

Has music always been a calling for you?

Ya, I think I’m one of those people where I didn’t choose music it chose me

Did someone in your family turn you onto music or was it in your blood?

 I think it was in my blood. If you want to get deep into it, my parents divorced when I was three. I think that before I was conscience, I think that chord progressions can be compassionate. I think there was something about that, that gave me comfort. I definitely remember re-writing lyrics to songs before I even went to school. I was imagining my own lyrics to whatever was on the radio. My mom actually dated an Elvis impersonator for a minute when she was single. But he gave us some Elvis 45’s. It was already twenty years old when I was a kid. I don’t think Heartbreak Hotel or Hound dog was a bad place to start.

Was there ever a backup plan for you?

I’ve managed to come across a couple, but I never had a plan. When I was a kid you couldn’t get a job if you had a nose ring or a mohawk at the mall. Now you have Hot Topic and you can work at Starbucks looking like that. When I was a kid you were saying I am anti-society. So, I got a lot of construction jobs, packing bricks. Then I was doing framing houses. But I was pretty smart with it, to where somebody asked me if I could frame a house, at the time I didn’t know what I was doing so I hired a guy to work for me. So, I went into business for myself really quick. To this day I still fill in the voids doing construction stuff, and its been great. You kinda write your own ticket. But I’ve never had a real job. Maybe two years in my entire life. Since then I’ve always been doing my own thing. It wasn’t a backup plan. Music was the main game plan, and this was just happened to be what I fell into. There is a rhythm to it. You have a crew. You’re building something, so at the end of the day there is a reward. At the end of the day I am drawn to music. It has special magical powers. I like to make things. It doesn’t matter what it is. Making things fills some kind of void for me

How did you guys come together as a band?

I’ve been in other bands with the keyboard player. We played a show with Barrett Martin the drummer from the Screaming Trees and Mad Season. He had some studio time and said Hey man I have some studio time if you want to come over and try some songs. I did, and it went well. In six days, we practiced, and we recorded the meat of the album in four days. So, we started calling all our friends. I called Mike Mcready from Pearl Jam and Duff from Guns N’ Roses. We had all those guys guesting just for fun. By doing that everyone started paying attention. What was really just a side project ended up getting more attention than any of the other bands I was in. Due to that reach, it seemed like the best place to leave my eggs in that basket.

So what got it together was all this attention being placed on a side project

 At first it was I had a band with the keyboard player in this band. We had a record out. Actually, that came out and within six months of each other the first Walking Papers album came out. Actually, a lot of the Walking Papers first album was songs we had left over form what we didn’t get on that record. The band was mixing that record, we do a lot of stuff in house. He was doing his over-dubs and I was done with the singing, the songwriting, and the guitars. He was like “you got the time? “, and I was like sure I’ve got a bunch of songs too. So, it was really organic and fast. But some of the songs on that record I had for 10 years and I had never put them on an album. I think there is something cool about how it came together so loose. We didn’t think about it, we felt it. That’s why it has a spark that resonates with people

So do you like to work that way, just let things roll?

Sometimes I like to control it a little bit too much. Sometimes you learn from that. Some songs arrive fully developed. Other ones are fixer uppers. They might be a pain in your ass. You invest a bunch of time and energy in them and they turn out like shit. You never know. Every time is different. You kind of run on faith a little bit

When you’re in the studio do the other guys help out with the songs?

No, it was just me and the drummer. We rehearsed six times. We kind of knew the frames. We just taking stabs at it. We tried a little bit different here and there. But I was able to keep things going because I was holding the guitar and singing. These days we can go back to a take, and take the back end of that one, and the front end of that one, and splice them together and make a song.

Do you feel any extra pressure with the famous band members that you have?

Sometimes it can get irritating when people think that they had more to do with it than they did. On the first pressing of the first record Duff only played on two of the tracks. When that first record sold out of those five thousand copies then he added bass to the whole record. As far as my own pressure, I am happy to be hear and have the privilege to play music to anyone that will listen. But if someone doesn’t like it, then get out of here. I am not going to beg you to. If it isn’t for you, I don’t have a problem with that. That is valid for them, but don’t spoil the time for everyone else that is into it. Then I start to have a problem.

Your songwriting does more than paint a picture. It creates a beautiful imagery. How did you come to develop that style of writing?

 I’ve had a very colorful childhood. When I was a kid in elementary school, I went to a young authors conference. I won a thing for writing a story. As I heard songs, I got into this thing where someone can tell you in a three minute song. Like the Bob Dylan song Hurricane that told the story of the boxer that went to jail. To me that is the best. There is so much wisdom that can be painted in a colorful way. A lot of what makes it great is my brain paints the picture by all the pieces that aren’t there. All I need is the trigger. When I write a song, I try to give enough to create a story, but allow the other people to…I can’t beat your imagination. But if I trigger you to use your imagination, it’s going to be a good song. Some of the songs have a resolution. Those punch lines are why I wrote the song. I’ll hear that one line, and I’ll go “that’s genius we need that” and it tells me the direction. Trying to write a song that resolves is the hardest to do. Writing a song that creates an emotion or a feeling is hard.

Where do you find your inspiration for the songs you write for Instance “Red and White”?

 That one was like being a broke ass musician, and I have kind of a high class lady. She has always been leaving me in the dust on financial stuff. For a long time, she was you know put a ring on it. I wanted to, but you can’t take tin foil off some gum wrapper and put that on your finger. It wasn’t enough for her. I started to imagine what kind of things a guy might do if he is in a desperate situation, but he’s trying to do the right thing. That’s how that song came about. It’s all about that first line “I’d ask you to marry me, but I can’t afford the ring”. I was like “OK who is that guy?”. What’s his story, his frustrations, is he a hero or is he an a**hole, or maybe a bit of both. You need a dilemma to develop a character. So, you are looking for dilemmas. We like to see someone struggle, we want to see the persevere. In our own selves we have those doubts about ourselves. You don’t see Hollywood making movies about the guy born with the silver spoon born in his mouth, that married his high school sweetheart, and everything went great. There’s gotta be something in there, otherwise there’s no depth. I guess I’m looking for that depth and writing the song. Sometimes I’m leaving that to the imagination, what happened, did he get out of it? Those people might listen to that song and wonder whatever happened to that person, and they might write the ending themselves.

How does the writing and recording process work for you?

We are very into hitting a take together, then going back and cleaning it up. We might do a ton of takes to handle it. We don’t do much to a click, we’ll start to a click just to get into it. We do a lot of preparation, we try it fast or we’ll try it slow. We listen to it on our phones and say that’s it. To me finding the range of the vocals and the tempo is the most important. What if you ate too many cookies before you hit the studio and say lets speed this up and later your like man, we played that too fast. Or you try and sing something that’s too high for your voice then you blow out your voice after the third take. That’s our prep on that part. When we go to studios, we go to big studios. The last record we went to Josh Homme from the Queens Of The Stone Age studio. We kind of produce ourselves. Our bad already has too many producers in it. I used to cut tape as a kid in a studio. I used to work in a studio to get studio time. When we get into the studio, everyone knows what’s going on, and how to do it. Once everything is up, it’s how do we capture the best performance. Then we leave and do overdubs at home. I’ve sang most of the songs if it isn’t with the band, then I sing it in the basement at my house. The guitar solos I do at home because it’s expensive to sit in the studio. You can take your time about it. You can do it when you feel it rather when you’re pressured into it. The pressure can kind of mess things up and you make some bad decisions.

You do all the singing and the song writing. Does anybody else have any input into your song writing?

 Sometimes they are, and they don’t even know it. On some of the songs I’ll catch them jamming and I’ll go ooh that’s cool. Maybe I’ll record it with my phone and go home and go “see you were doing this that’s so cool, redo this and rewrite these parts that go with it.”. Lyrics, I don’t want to sing someone else’s lyrics. So, I have to hear some changes. But Barrett, playing with him, he’ll come in and he’ll have six different beats, lets try this and he’ll play that. Then I’ll have something for that. So, he is really good at inspiring stuff. For Red and White Ben had the chords for the chorus. He was doing it at a soundcheck all the time, and I was like that’s cool man. We need to do something with that. Then I go home and write the first part. So, there is some collaboration. I just think I’m a little more obsessed than them. I tend to have a few more ideas then they might. When you’re up front singing you tend to drive the ship more. It’s not really a control freak thing more than its like there is only so much time. Others might do other things. But I’ll stay home and write songs. So, I’ll have a bigger pile.

When you’re out on tour and Barrett and Duff have other commitments and can’t be on tour with you guys?

To me the songs have a life of their own. In some ways it’s easier to tour. A lot of these guys are happier to tour. I can make more money with these guys. We can travel not so five stars. Maybe two or three stars. That means less expenses. Duff was a real trooper too. He put in a lot of miles with us. Barrett, I think wants to be more of a producer. Those guys have a couple of decades on me making music. They have seen some different things than me. I don’t think they have the same hunger, but I don’t think they have the same attachment to the songs since it’s more my material. They are more hey that’s cool, that’s a cool period in my time, to where that is who I am. That’s my identity. These guys do real good job of reimagining the songs and doing them a few different ways. It brings new life into the songs. Sometimes the songs are better live than they are on the record because they had more time to marinate.

So this works out well for everyone. With those two guys, they get to come and go. But it adds more leverage to you.

Ya, That’s why he second record took so long to come out. Because I was waiting for Guns N’ Roses to do their thing. I made another record, the Static Land record in between these records. Before this one came out this is a more current record. Cause I’m been waiting, and I wanted to do something. So, I toured Europe a few times and America a few times. Then everybody got the feeling that dude isn’t coming back. In a weird way I was bummed that we wasted all that time cause I would be on the third Walking Papers album by now had into known. We were trying to be a good friend and be respectful of the weight of what he was doing. The financial benefits to him and his family. We were all happy for him. But at a certain point, hey man you want to dance too. He was totally supportive. He tells everyone how great our band is, he pushes us as people and shares us. Half the time I’m texting him. I wished they’d make a record. To me I would be really curious to hear what that record would sound like, if they could actually pull it together, if they could recognize what it is about what they did.

What are your plans for 2019

Going onward and trying to get these songs out. I’ve got new songs I’m working on and writing. Some of these guys have ideas on how to connect the things that I’ve done. Might be a live album of songs from the bands I’ve been in. I’ve been inspired by some bands that I’ve gotten into that their live records turned me onto. Because that’s a best of collection.

Who have you been turned onto?

Ministry. Their record In Case You Didn’t Feel Like Showing Up. I love that record. Before they did more guitar driven stuff. It kind of showed you where we are going. Another one would be Gary Clark Jr. I like his live records better than his records. Get your Ya Ya’s out, Midnight Rambler by the Stones. That’s better on there than it is on the record. Tom Waits Big Time was my first introduction to Tom Waits. It’s basically the greatest hits of his career to that point. It’s a really strong record.

It’s funny because I hear Tom Waits stuff in you.

Tom Waits is a huge influence for me. I grew up in Seattle when dudes were dying at 27. At 26 I was kinda like I guess it isn’t working out for me. I was introduced to Tom Waits. Someone said I hear you playing this bluesy stuff. I was wondering if you’ve heard this guy. I’ve heard of him, but never heard his stuff. So, they gave me the video tape of Tom Waits Big Time, which is a live record. I was like holy shit this guy is cool. He is like Keith Richards, Howlin’ Wolf, Louis Armstrong, and Frank Sinatra all rolled up into one guy, and he is old as hell but he’s cool. I think what ruins musicians is they get older and they start looking at the kids and what the kids are doing. But a fifty year old guy can’t be a twenty five your old guy, nor should he try. It’s pathetic when he tries. So instead who are the people that are the older guys that did it with dignity, and how did they have the longevity. You’ve got Leonard Cohen touring at eighty two, Bob Dylan, the Stones, there last record was pretty good. They are still making cool records. The concert they did in Cuba was amazing. You see these guys, and I’m looking at them. These are the guys that have weathered it all and are still cool. I look at them. Some guy makes a record as a kid. It’s exciting, And it’s cool. There is no telling where he is going to be in ten years. Is that a one off or is that a thing. So, I look at Nick Cave, Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, and Tom Waits. Those guys are huge and the old blues guys like John Lee Hooker and Howlin’ Wolf. John Lee Hooker never made a recording until he was thirty three. Howlin’ Wolf was maybe forty one. I think that time stamp this idea that youth and beauty is not an achievement. That is a Carrie Fischer quote. But I think society thinks that it is. Longevity, endurance, and perseverance, and a body of work is what I admire. It’s a beautiful ship but can it take the icebergs.

If you could collaborate with someone outside your genre who would it be?

Probably Elon Musk or someone like that. I would be looking at somebody outside of music. I think music was a cultural leader for a long time, and it still defines a lot of culture. It is witness to a generation and time. But I think that technology right now there is a lot of exciting thing that are happening in it. I think they can do more than just make money with it. I think that there is good art, and some interactive, a few people are doing stuff like that like Brian Eno and some different things like that. But I think I would want to collaborate with someone like that. It would be more interesting to me than a musical collaboration.

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