If you’re heading out to Darien Center for the 2013 Rockstar Energy Drink Uproar Festival on Aug. 6, don’t expect to be exposed to the proverbial crop of mid-level metal outfits hinging on distortion and a dream.
This year’s lineup offers the most sundry smorgasbord of bands in recent memory, because the promoters have taken strides to assemble acts that bring a diversified musical repertoire to the table.
Gone are the days when fans were compelled to show up shortly before the headliners came on to avoid idling while obscure opening acts polluted their eardrums.
One of the bands responsible for the side stage’s resurgence is Walking Papers, a scruffy, no-nonsense explosion featuring Duff McKagan, of Guns N’ Roses and Velvet Revolver fame, and ex-Screaming Trees drummer Barrett Martin.
Throw in Seattle veterans Jeff Angell and Benjamin Anderson, and you have a formidable group of guys out to prove that rock is far from six feet under.
Their debut album has shades of Zeppelin, Rory Gallagher, and Rocks-era Aerosmith scattered throughout, while Angell announces himself as a poignant voice reminiscent of classic 1970s howlers.
I spoke with Angell recently about life on the road and what makes the band tick, and, given the humility with which he conducted himself, I came away thinking that Walking Papers just might be the best kept secret of our concert-filled summer.
Question: The band’s sound embodies a much more old-school rock approach than what’s usually expected from the Seattle scene. How was that developed?
Angell: I’ve always been a fan of The Rolling Stones, Tom Waits, John Lee Hooker, The Cult and other bands that embraced the bluesy side of rock, so I think we’ve just fashioned our band as a modern version of that vibe. When you think about Seattle and the birth of grunge, that was the last time a sound was redefined and things actually went well. We never wanted to be painted into a corner artistically, because there’s something discouraging to me about not being able to settle into a 4/4 beat and see where it takes you.
Question: Who were some of you vocal influences growing up?
Angell: I learned covers of The Cult and other bands of the era when I was growing up, so those were the times when I realized I could actually sing if wanted to. I never thought of myself as a singer, but the fact that I never found my Jagger or Plant meant that I had to sing if I wanted to break through. I could go on forever listing singers who have impacted me, such as Bessie Smith, Mavis Staples, and even Adele, because I recognize a good singer when I hear one. Even the kids movies for which Randy Newman composed material are things I enjoy a great deal. As a writer, Tom Waits, Nick Cave, and Bob Dylan are guys I looked up to, because they were able to express their feelings so brilliantly through the songs that it didn’t matter if people didn’t consider them the greatest singers in the world.
Question: What’s your primary inspiration when sitting down to write a song?
Angell: Life, in general. I always have my antenna up when walking around, because people I meet or conversations I overhear can find their way into a song at some point. I try to have a feel for situations and how everyday people talk. Sometimes, three people I’ve known throughout my life can be reformed into one person for the purposes of creating a song. I’ve found that three verses in song can often be more powerful than a 300-page novel, because the listener’s imagination can take them places they never thought of before. I had a troubled childhood, so I used music and writing as a way to escape the chaos and take myself to another place. In a way, songs are almost like the Clint Eastwood westerns in which his character doesn’t have a name or an origin story, because the characters in the songs are just as wide open to interpretation.
Question: Given the long road you’ve traveled up to this point, what is it about Walking Papers that you believe will give it its staying power?
Angell: We’re based on songs and some of the guys in the band have done really well with other projects in the past. We all love music and we get along really well, which is important when trying to maintain a long-term vision.
Question: How have audiences reacted to the shows thus far?
Angell: Great. The response has been ridiculous, really. They know all the words to the songs and really get into what we’re doing. We travel to all these little pockets of the world, so it’s cool to see just how into the record people are. I forgot a line of a song one night and someone in the crowd sang along to remind me of what it was, which was pretty amazing.
Question: Given the lack of rock bands gaining mainstream attention in 2013, what have you guys done to put yourselves out there?
Angell: We’ve just been touring incessantly. We’re not businessmen, so we just put everything we have into the music and hope that audiences find it any way they can. Because radio doesn’t play too large of a role anymore, fans have been using blogs and other Internet sources to discover bands that may go unnoticed otherwise. There’s been a huge surge in Seattle as of late, which has also helped us out quite a bit. Luckily, we have Duff and Barrett in the band, because they’re respected names in the industry and, when people find out they’re in the band, they’re willing to give us a listen and find out for themselves.
Question: What it’s like to work with Duff in the studio?
Angell: It’s unbelievable. Appetite for Destruction is an album I’ve worn out more than once in my life, so being able to work with him is incredible. If you think about how great of a bass player he was at just 23-years-old and how good he’s gotten since then, it’s amazing. The guys in this band know how to play, so we usually get everything right in one to three takes. Back when Guns N’ Roses was recording, the guys were using tape and would have to use a razor blade if they wanted to change anything, which usually led to more mistakes than anything else. If you messed up, it was a lot harder to go back and change it than it is now. It’s a lost art, really, because there was something very pure and real about that process that embodied the spirit of rock. I’m all for Pro Tools being used in a way that contributes to pushing music in a forward direction, but, in reality, rock is all about capturing lighting in a bottle when everyone gets together.
Question: How did Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready come to play on the album?
Angell: He actually went to high school with Duff and knew Barrett from Mad Season, so we just called him up and asked if he wanted to play. It was very exciting and validating to have him add something to the process, so it worked out well.
Question: Is there one song on the album that stands out as a favorite of yours?
Angell: They’re all special in their own way. Lyrically, The Butcher and Two Tickets and a Room are two songs that are sticking with me at the moment, because I really get into them live. When you come see us live, expect to be shaken. That’s the best way I can describe it.
You can see Walking Papers on Aug. 11 at Darien Lake Performing Arts Center as part of the Rockstar Energy Drink Uproar Festival.
Walking Papers’ self-titled debut is available on Aug. 6