RVA #39 is on the streets now! Here’s another article from the issue, in which the artist behind J. Roddy Walston and The Business gets together with Kelli Strawbridge for a fresh look into his work on The Hustle Season Podcast.
You probably know his business: now meet his pleasure. J. Roddy Walston, of J. Roddy Walston and The Business, has officially laid rumors of extended hiatus to rest with two new projects. He’s announced both a solo tour and a new project named Palm Palm — a hard-driving organic rock and roll formation with Charlie Glenn of The Trillions, and The Southern Belles’ Raphael Katchinoff and Andrew Carper. In their episode together on The Hustle Season Podcast, Walston sits down with Kelli Strawbridge to discuss tour life philosophy, the labors of fame and obscurity, Richmond musicality, and his abiding disdain for Americana music.
Kelli Strawbridge: When did you form the band?
J. Roddy Walston: I was 21, and I’m almost 39. So it was 18 years ago.
K: 2002. You got a lot of traction in the later 2000s when social media wasn’t a thing. What do you feel kept the band going? You got a lot of licensing, a lot of songs on TV shows — what was it, since Facebook wasn’t popular?
JRW: We used Myspace early on for touring. Facebook is so clamped down and monetized; if you were in a touring band doing everything yourself, Myspace was awesome. You could go to any city, search “rock band,” and it popped up the bands in order of popularity. Over and over again, [we’d send messages to bands] saying, “Love your music so much, Band A that we don’t know. It would be a dream to play a show with you.” We had done it so long through word-of-mouth and endless touring — being this nationwide local band. There’s a romance in that; if you can build your audience one by one, they’re yours. We’re these explorers setting off into the unknown. If I wrote a book about our band, it would probably be called You Missed All the Good Shows, because we were touring for about five years before anybody knew who we were.
K: You were also before the “RVA Generation,” if you will. You migrated from Tennessee to Richmond.
JRW: We’re old people [laughs]. I went to Baltimore, where I met two of the guys who became the band — Steve, the drummer, and Billy, the guitar player. Then I came to D.C. for a year after I got married. D.C. is not fun if you don’t have money. Before we went on tour, I had one pair of pants. I walked past a nail, and it wasn’t like “Oh, I have a cool little tear.” It ripped from my mid thigh down to my shin. I was losing my mind. I thought, “This is not cool. I have one leg of a pair of pants, and one short. I guess this is how I’m going on tour.” We were so poor. In the middle of that, though, the iceberg was starting to crack up; we finally had label interest. We were figuring out how to get to L.A. I remember having this feeling many times, thinking I was in the game, then I stepped past this curtain and we were in an infinite loop. It kept happening.
So around that time in D.C., we were about to start touring, and it made no sense for us to have a place at all. My in-laws out in the West End had this cabin in the back of their property… There was no bathroom, there was a wood burning stove. It had a loft that we slept in. It was rustic, but it was amazing because we got to live there for free — and that was exactly what we could afford.
K: So it wasn’t ideal at the time, but it seems the scene had changed quite a bit by the time you moved [to Richmond].
JRW: There were bands starting to happen. The first show I put together in Richmond was us, Trillions, Sports Bar, and Great White Jenkins. That was a fun show. I don’t even know how I contacted them… I ended up being buddies with all those guys since then. That was the foot in the door.
K: Your bass player was here in Richmond. Were the other two [members] here?
JRW: They’ve [always been] in Baltimore. I met them playing in other bands, and said, “I’m serious about this… I’m trying to get in the van and go.” And they said, “Us, too.” That was probably one of the most powerful forces for our band — you hit the point where you’re not making enough to live, but you’re also not in town long enough to keep any kind of job. Then you just have to keep going.
K: Did it ever feel like it became profitable at all with touring? Did you ever feel like it paid off?
JRW: Yeah, in the way that four of us have paid our bills for the last ten years with it. But we’ve also had to manage our expectations of what bills could be… You start at 17, 18, 19, living in a crappy apartment, keeping a crappy job, and always hoping that at some moment, somebody will come along and say, “Let’s go on tour.” Then you quit that job and say, “See you later. I’ve stopped paying my car bill. Take it back. I don’t care.” And you just go.
When I got to Richmond, it was the beginning of what’s going on now. That’s what was different from when I was in Baltimore — everybody here can play. That was the hard part when I moved from Tennessee to Baltimore. In Tennessee, you could throw a rock and hit a guitar player who’s probably also a dope drummer. And everyone can sing; church choirs breeding over and over again. I’ve never been the guy to say I’m the greatest musician in the band; I [like to] look around and feel it out, get involved with players I think are rad. I have a lot of ideas, so that was tough for me. [It was] way different from Richmond… it’s crazy how good everybody is. I’m still just an idea guy. The new band I’m in, Palm Palm, I’d rather not even touch something.
K: Let’s get into that a little bit. I really dug the last record that you guys did, the J. Roddy record. I feel like you didn’t tour as much; you did promo, pushed it, and then you had some shows with Palm Palm.
JRW: The first show of Palm Palm was Crowefest 2018. I’m pretty sure I got hit by lightning… One of the things I love about Palm Palm is that it’s so fast. I experimented with Charlie Glenn on a few ideas, and at that point, we didn’t know what the band was going to be. I was writing riffs with keyboards and talking to drummers from around the country. I had a very specific idea of who I wanted that drummer to be; someone who could play heavy and fast, but also funky.
Glenn invited me to see Raphael Katchinoff play with Nightcreature. There’s one song Nightcreature has where he starts feathering his kick foot, and I thought, “What’s going on here?” We got together and [it worked]. He said his buddy Andrew Carper should play bass. We got together, and I thought, “Wow, this is something else.” It’s weird, because it is actually complicated, crazy music. It takes a lot to put that music together. We went to South By Southwest with one-half to three-quarters of any song actually written, then experimenting on the way down. We were making up words and melodies on the spot.
K: This is definitely different from J. Roddy and The Business, so what made you [decide] to do something different altogether?
JRW: It’s still developing. We were never making so much money that I would call us an “industry,” but it was our job. It was difficult to disconnect — “this is art, this is job.” I honestly think that artists aren’t doing their job. Art is not doing its job. Everyone thinks it should be making money.
It feels like in the social media age, success is popularity and making money. Kids change. I’m not sitting here saying, “Back in my day, we all liked anger. Why aren’t kids angry?” But also… why aren’t kids angry? There’s one teenager from a different country, [Greta Thunberg], sailing around going, “The world’s on fire!” and all the other kids are saying, “Eh, I’ve got Tinder and Fortnite.” Stop being distracted, and listen to the music that supplements your anger, grief, and anxiety. The awfulness of being young, alive, human, and aware of all the weirdness — that’s what I want art to be. Art can be celebratory and great, and positive too… but [for example], I hate Americana. I think the South should not rise again. Shove your flag up your ass. I hate this stuff. [Art] should be confrontational and pushing buttons.
That’s what I was getting at with Palm Palm. I think stuff should be risky; it should potentially go off the rails. If it doesn’t, that’s amazing. If it does, you stand behind the curtain. But if it’s not pushing you all the way out there — to that point where you’re just holding on — you’re just going to do what you do in rehearsal. I want this gooey energy to flow out of the speaker, like “Is that a saxophone? Am I just making up that melody?” That’s what I think rock and roll should sound like.
Interview by Kelli Strawbridge. Words by S. Preston Duncan.