[In part two of Clint’s interview with star-studded Seattle band Walking Papers (read part one here), Barrett Martin and company discuss their unconventional approach to their music, the soon-to-be-released Mad Season box set, and their forthcoming live gigs.]
You’ve all been making music for a long time. Does perspective influence you?
Barrett Martin: I’ve played on about 75 albums. I started playing professionally and touring around 1988, so going on 25 years now. You learn a lot from the studio and the road, about your musicianship and, perhaps more importantly, about your personal character. I’ve also taken years off and not toured, so that I could keep learning about music and go back to school for several years. Duff did a similar thing when he went back to college. Over time you realize that making music evolves your spirit in a kind of alchemical process. And when you take the music out on the road, to the people, it completes you as a musician and as a human being. But it all has to be done with clear thought and intention. You have to know what you are doing, and then set out to do it right.
From your site, Barrett: The Walking Papers record conveys “tales of wandering souls, the collisions of will, and the dark beauty of the American heart.”
Barrett: Jeff is a classic storyteller disguised as a skinny rock and roller. He’s certainly lived some of these tales. So have all of us, for that matter. Jeff channels it, and he’s got the ability to tell a great story in one song, or a larger narrative over the course of an album. It’s kind of like a movie, except it’s an album. Or the soundtrack to a movie that hasn’t been made yet.
The record boasts brass, marimbas, and other sounds not typical in straight rock.
Barrett: I’ll take responsibility for that, I’m the one who studied those exotic rhythms and collected those instruments. I feel like rock and roll needs a good injection of other musical influences; it’s a bit stale at the moment. The power of grunge and alternative rock aside, I want to do something very different in this band, because I see rock as a living form (like jazz). It’s alive, and therefore it needs to be cultivated with new sounds, new instruments, and new stories.
Still, this might be your most straightforward rock effort in some time. Is it a release of sorts?
Barrett:Yeah, its something I’ve been wanting to do for a while, but I just needed to find the right people. I don’t really like most of what passes for “rock” these days. Corporate radio and the major labels have somewhat destroyed it. I like many other kinds of new music, but rock seems to be pretty limp at the moment. That makes me kind of mad, actually, but I think we’re just currently in a bad cycle. And everything happens in cycles.
Going back a cycle: At Slim’s, you played “River of Deceit” with Jeff Rouse at the mic. Is there more Mad Season where that came from?
Barrett: Jeff is a great person and he loves that song very much. I like that the Mad Season songs have become everybody’s songs; that’s the way Layne [Staley] and [John] Baker [Saunders] would have wanted it. Nothing is sacred, which means everything is sacred, and anyone, any band can play those songs now.
To honor our departed brothers, Mike and I oversaw a Mad Season box set, which comes out March 12th, 2013. It contains the re-mastered Above album, the Moore concert on DVD with surround sound, and a bunch of live recordings that we never released. The most exciting stuff: three songs that Mark Lanegan wrote lyrics and sang on, songs that we started to record for the second album but never finished because of Baker’s and Layne’s deaths. One of the songs Peter Buck wrote with us, and the other two are from me and Mike. They are three of the heaviest and most beautiful songs Mad Season did, and I know Layne and Baker will love them.
Many big-time groups only cut one record. Is Walking Papers more permanent?
Barrett: We’ve already written the backbone songs for album two and we have studio sessions booked in late December to start the basic tracks. I don’t see the point in only making one album, because as a band, (supergroup withheld) we’re just getting started. [The next record] will probably land somewhere in late spring/early summer of 2013. The stories will continue.
Will there be changes/additions in personnel?
Barrett: There’s always room for special guests. We love the variety of what people bring to the studio or the stage. Mike McCready is a sonic tornado. The horn players from my jazz group are total cats. I’m sure Jeff and Duff have some ideas. I’ve backed up a lot of female singers in the past and I’d like to hear some [of their] vocals mixed in with Jeff’s. The possibilities are limitless, and that’s because we leave it wide open. We don’t paint a box.
Speaking of boxes, why the tiny Barboza for your record release show?
Barrett: Part of it was club availability—there’s only so many clubs in Seattle where you can play rock on a weekend night. But we like the tight, intimate shows. It works well with this band. Better to play to a small, packed room than a cave any day.
Jeff Angell: This amazing band called A Leaf already had the date booked, so we jumped at the opportunity to play with them. Beautiful room, good P.A. In music, numbers should be something a band performs, not an exercise in accounting. But man, now that I think about it, it’ll be kinda sad if people can’t get in. I guess we’ll just have to play another show. Maybe a matinee?