This cat’s out of the bag. With a year-end appearance on the “Late Show” with David Letterman followed by a stop at VH1’s “Morning Buzz Live”, the world is quickly learning what J Roddy Walston fans have known for years: J Roddy Walston & The Business has got it going on. With fiery live shows, intriguingly cryptic lyrics and a soulful take on some serious rock and roll, this band is the whole package.
Essential Tremors is the name of the band’s third album, and while on one level, it’s simply a great title for a rock album, like many of the band’s songs, there is often more there than first meets the eye, or ear. For much of his life, frontman J Roddy Walston has lived with a nervous-system disorder by the same name, one that causes this talented pianist and guitarist’s hands to shake unpredictably. “As far as the decision to name the record, that was one of the easiest processes,” Walston told me in a recent interview. “Basically, we got home from touring for the first time in five years where we were really home, and I wanted to just do a full system check. I went in for blood screening, a physical and all that kind of stuff. I had a conversation with the doctor for the first time since I was a kid about this Essential Tremors thing…It was just kind of on my mind,” he explained.
For Walston, naming the album after the disorder felt empowering. “I’m not ashamed of the situation; it’s not something that controls my life. But it just felt right, like it embodies the overall theme of the record...which is, whatever it is that’s going on, not keeping it in the dark, not keeping it a secret, but bringing it out into the public or out into the light where you can either deal with it, and it’s something that really is a part of you, or you’re not going to deal with it, something that you want to stay or is going to stay no matter what. Not having that thing that’s weighing you down or making things harder because there’s so much of your mental capacity being focused on keeping something secret.”
Touring behind this new record, with its often-raucous vocals, has put significant demand on Walston’s voice. “Yeah, the vocals are pretty intense on this record,” Walston commented with a laugh. “When we first started touring on it, I said, ‘okay, next record, I’m singing nothing but low crooning songs that are easy to sing on the road.’ This was very ambitious to do…It was very intimidating and frightening when we first started to try to pull off whole sets with these new songs.” Walston is mindful of his voice when he’s on the road. “It’s not nearly as glamorous or rock and roll fantasy as people would think or hope.” As much as he would like to hang out at the merch table after the show to talk with fans, or head out to the clubs, he has to avoid the strain of talking over loud noise. “A lot of times, the second we’re done, the club starts blasting incredibly loud music, and I can’t go out there and talk, so I’m just sitting in the green room, or if it’s a club that's so small it doesn't have a green room, I might be in the broom closet or out in the van just sitting there by myself,” he laughed. “It’s kind of weird.”
Walston and the band are preparing to hit the road again with dates in Europe in February, followed by a month of shows with Cage the Elephant. After a decade on the road, they’re still having fun. “Absolutely. We’ve been doing it for so long with no attention and very loyal and passionate fans, but a very small number…To do what we’re doing and not enjoy what we’re doing…in the middle of having to basically sell everything you own and hope you can pay your bills…If you’re doing it and not loving it, you’d have to be like some sort of sick freak with a passion for self-inflicted pain or something.” For more information on the band and tour dates, visit the website. In the meantime, check out this previously unreleased studio footage of “Heavy Bells” from Essential Tremors.
*Band Photo Credit Robin Laananen