Interview with Steve Colmus of J Roddy Walston & The Business

By James Dicus Photos by Brian Twitty

You’ve been on the road consistently this year playing the festival circuit – which festivals are your favorites? Or are you over the festival experience all together?

I haven’t attended a festival as a goer in a long time. The heat, the dust, either having to drive home after drinking in the sun all day or sleeping three feet from your exhaust pipe in an open field…I’m over that much of it. But beyond that, they’re all great for different reasons. Lollapalooza is in downtown Chicago, which is maybe our favorite city in America during the Summer…all the stages have incredible backdrops of the skyline and they have so many great venues for afterparties, like Schuba’s, the Metro and the Double Door. Coachella is a really beautiful setting too, and there’s a thick L.A. vibe which is exciting for about 30 minutes coming from the East (but it’s a fun 30 minutes). Bonnaroo is maybe my favorite because it’s more or less it’s own village for three days, with music and things happening around the clock. It really feels like some kind of fantasy, like summer camp for adults. Probably my personal highlight – aside from the life-affirming show we did on the Thursday night of this year’s Bonnarroo – was standing behind Kareem Abdul-Jabaar in line for the salad bar. He was holding a book about chess. It was pretty sick.


You guys have been at this for a while. For newer bands – what’s the secret to success? Work ethic, endless touring – what’s one piece of advice that you would share?

Write good songs. Record good demos. Put on good shows. Teach yourself how to book tours (it’s not hard). Get in the van. Bring air mattresses and sleeping bags. Eat as much as you can whenever you can. Don’t lose your drink tickets. Don’t lose sight of the adventure. Don’t settle. Learn how to tend bar. Learn how to handle your money. Learn how to say no. Learn how to say yes. Treat yourself. Treat it like a job (though it’s better than any real job you’ll ever have).
There’s really not alot of mystery. Be a good band and work hard and smart, and you’ll largely be in the way of good things.

Weenie Roast 2014 by Brian Twitty

Recording process. Which parts of your music do you write first? Lyrics? Riffs?

They all start as chords and a melody and then kind of go from there. Rod normally has the lyrics together pretty early in the process, then he and Billy will bang a version together – where the riffs come in – and we’ll all mess around with it in the practice space, seeing what works and what doesn’t, and trying to make it feel like our own. Then we’ll tour on it and the song will change again, getting louder and looser. Recording our band is all about the balance between the wild unhinged side that’s always trying to explode, and making sure the song and not just the performance is coming through. People want to know the lyrics. But they also need to feel the drums.

J Roddy Walston Weenie Roast 2014 by Brian Twitty

From where, whom or what do you derive most of your inspiration for the lyrics you write?

a. What is the back-story for your song Boys Can Never Tell? Is it personal? It reminds me a little of Someday Never Comes by CCR, a dad passing on life adages to young maturing son, forewarning him of misunderstanding and cluelessness that so often plague men.

I don’t write the lyrics so I can’t really answer this. Rod really seems to be fascinated by the family dynamic – it’s kind of an endless well of stories and conflict and drama (and southerners love that shit). In songs like Boys Can Never Tell and Brave Man’s Death and Nobody Knows, I think he enjoys being a fly on the wall for all these webs of intrigue and confused emotions. And because his family is such amazing, straight up stock, it’s exotic to imagine living among the ruins of these bad decisions, and continuing to make more of them.

What’s currently on rotation on your iPods or in the van as you’re touring around? And if you’re all listening together – who gets to make the decision as to what you listen to?

Big Star, the Replacements, Robert Palmer, Trojan reggae compilations, lots of TV and movies, books. In the van, we mostly use headphones and each do our own thing, because it’s nice to just kind of zone out during long drives and get a little bit of a break from the group, even if it’s only mentally (and also because the speakers in our van suck). After the show, we’ll take the leftover beer from the green room and go back to the hotel and scour the Van Hagar catalog looking for the least-terrible thing (“Why Can’t This Be Love,” FYI) or listening to weird 80’s synth pop one-hit wonders or something.

J Roddy Walston & The Business

As far as other bands go, who are your biggest musical influences to date? Who did y’all listen to as kids?

We all kind of grew up on different stuff. Rod’s upbringing was traditionally Southern, with church services and his uncles and grandmother his earliest influences. Then he got into Little Richard and Zeppelin and moved to Baltimore and started playing with Billy, who was raised on almost nothing but rock and is a riff encyclopedia.

Logan is almost ten years younger than the rest of us, so he’s of an entirely different generation. Nirvana might as well be Creedence in his mind. But the only one of us who knows what’s going on with hip-hop and pop, so we’re like grandfathers plugging him for information “Who in the hell is this Iggy Azalea? Where did she come from? What is this shit?”

Nirvana absolutely changed my life, and as a drummer growing up in Baltimore, I was hugely into the Dischord records stable and all those bands and Master Skinsmen down in D.C. – Fugazi, Shudder to Think, Jawbox, Nation of Ulysees, Rites of Spring. Collectively, it’s alot of the bands I’ve already mentioned – the Replacements, Big Star – and stuff that you can probably pick up on listen – the Stones, Van Halen, Thin Lizzy, T. Rex, maybe a little early Aerosmith.

What’s the craziest thing you’ve seen an avid fan do at one of your shows? Do you have garments of clothing thrown on stage frequently?

Our fans have always been respectful, for the most part, and aside from the random person jumping onstage, I can’t remember anybody doing anything too insane. We used to have to stay with people after the shows every night and that’s when you really meet the crazies. You get to spend a night in their world. We stayed with a guy in Cleveland once who kept talking to himself and making jokes all night long about how he was going to kill one of us; we slept on the pews in a venue that doubled as a Mormon meeting house in Salt Lake City, with iconography all over the walls; we spooned for warmth in an unheated frat shithole overrun by cats in Lexington, Kentucky; we spent a night in a punk practice space in L.A, with people breaking bottles on the wall over our heads and having sex in the corner. Some nights, you have nowhere else to go. You take your chances, and sometimes it works out and sometimes you get a horrific story out of it.

J Roddy Walston & The Business Photo by Brian Twitty

The new record is awesome, the country loves it, WE love it. Are you working on any new material in the meantime? What can you tell us about it?

We’ll probably get into it more after the New Year when we have a little downtime. We’ve been touring so much since Essential Tremors came out that when we’re home, we’re far more stoked about mowing the lawn or watching it grow that sitting behind the piano or the drums one more night.

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