Five (or more) questions with Seth Walker

Photo by Zack Smith
Photo by Zack Smith

North Carolina-born, New Orleans-based blues musician Seth Walker recently completed a new record. Sky Still Blue, produced by Oliver Wood (The Wood Brothers), is at once tightly worked and breezily relaxed, as much jazz and rock-based as blues at its heart. “Chris Wood (The Wood Brothers/Medeski Martin & Wood) and Jano Rix made crucial contributions, joining Walker’s longtime bandmates, bassist Steve Mackey and drummer Derrek Phillips,” says a press release “It was essentially the six of us musically roping this thing,” Walker says. “We all worked real well together, and the next thing you knew, we had a record.”

Seth Walker holds an album release show at The Grey Eagle on Wednesday, June 25, at 8 p.m. It’s an all-ages and fully seated show; Elsa Cross also performs. $12 advance/$15 day of show.

Mountain Xpress: You’ve lived in some pretty iconic music cities. Do you feel like the places where you write or record leave an imprint on your sound?

Seth Walker: Absolutely. New Orleans has definitely influenced this album. The rhythm of the entire city is syncopated. The history. The culture. The push. The pull. If New Orleans doesn’t leave a mark on you, you’ve got a hole in your soul. I like to sponge it up in whatever city I lay my hat, and Austin, Nashville, and New Orleans have all snuck into my music through the years.

What’s the most striking difference between New Orleans and Austin?

Well, jazz is the music and heartbeat of the city. It’s steeped in tradition, just like the culture, all stemming from the blues. New Orleans also has the world music influence — the Caribbean sound weaves all through. The swinging blues sound of Texas is very similar, though, and that’s why it’s been a good fit for me. They do kind of bleed into each other in many ways. They share a state line, after all.

Your take on the blues on Sky Still Blue has this jazz-tinged nostalgia — felt on some songs more than others (“Grab Ahold” is a great example). There’s also a lightness that’s often absent from blues music. Is any of that intentional? Do you craft sound with intent or let it happen organically?

It organically happens, I guess. Gotta have the light to have the dark. Stylistically, I have always leaned on the jazz side of blues, since the first time I heard T-Bone Walker and Ray Charles.

Oliver Wood’s own sound is so rock-savvy — what attracted you to him as a producer, and in what ways did his approach impact your sound?

I toured a lot with Oliver and The Wood Brothers, so we just naturally started influencing each other. Then we started collaborating on songs which evolved into recording an album together. None of it was forced — just like his producing style. He taught me to embrace the abstract and reintroduce myself to my creativity. He also steered me back to the gristle in music. That’s where you get the flavor.

Your bio talks about growing up as the child of classical musicians. Did you always see yourself becoming a professional musician, or was there a specific experience that solidified that vision for you?

I never thought much about it growing up. It was just what we did and I am the better for it. As I switched from cello to guitar, I never made a conscious decision to do music as a career, either, though when I discovered the guitar, it was a different passion. A passion that I uncovered on my own.

How did growing up in North Carolina impact your sound or creative approach (if at all)? Is there some kernel of North Carolina that you carry with you?

I think the “down home” Carolina way of life has definitely influenced my music. I grew up in a rural situation with real people, and real music. I carry it with me always.

I understand your mom and sister live in Asheville. Do you get to visit very often? Any favorite spots or things to do when you’re in town?

Yep my mother, sister and her family now live in Asheville, and I love coming back to visit. I always soak up some that Blue Ridge Mountain air, get some good eats and sip on a Pisgah Pale Ale. The good stuff.

Will your Grey Eagle show be with your full band? What can we expect?

My combo of Jim Starboard on drums and Josh Hoag on upright bass will join me. We have been playing together for many moons now, and there is a real chemistry there. I can’t tell you how much I love playing with these cats. The way we’ve been connecting with audiences on this last tour has made for some of the best shows of my career thus far. We will be performing much of the new album, as well as some older material as well. We aim to hit you with groove, harmony and a feeling.

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About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts writer and editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs.

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