I'll never forget a long drive with a friend back in 2014. As the years have passed, our destination escapes my memory but the sounds that roared through the car speakers still rattle in my head today. We switched off showing each other bands we had been listening to; most were met with affirming nods and casual compliments. But when "Heavy Bells" came on, my eyes opened wide as I turned to my friend: "Who the hell is this?!" I was completely dumbfounded and head-over-heels in love with what I was hearing.
Since that day, J Roddy Walston and the Business have been big-time players in all of my favorite playlists and one of the groups I most frequently share with friends. After getting their start in Cleveland, Tennessee back in 2002, J Roddy Walston, Billy Gordon, Logan Davis, and Steve Colums, now based out of Richmond, VA are perched atop a thriving rock and roll scene. Descriptions of their music are often hilariously scattered, but demonstrate the complexity of their sound. Baltimore City Paper called their 2010 self-titled album release the result of "what would happen if Queen and Black Oak Arkansas birthed four boys in the backwoods and let them listen to nothing but Cheap Trick and showtunes" with live shows "that make James Brown look lazy." With hard rock guitar riffs, a lively piano background, and deeply personal lyrics, the music falls somewhere on a sliding scale between metal and folk (leaning more heavily towards metal of course). It is pretty clear that pinning down a perfectly descriptive genre for JRWB is a tough task, so I decided to go straight to the source to learn more.
Kevin: I like to describe your music as heavy rock with a deep, emotionally revelatory lyrical base. How did your unique style develop and how has it evolved throughout your 4 full-length albums?
JRW: I have always been into words and people who combine them in strange ways. I have a lot of influences: poetry/short stories/screen plays/songwriters. I don’t really have any one way or system of writing lyrics. Sometimes it’s chasing a melody or a rhythmic pattern and then finding the words that fit that and still say what I want to say. Other times I have gone through phases where I put together collections of word collages and use them in a cut and paste kind of way. Not sure if I can explain it but this method kinda gets played out as either a total absurdist mood board or I find a way to tell the story or make an intentional statement even though I am using lyrical devices I built before I started the song. Sometimes a story or situation just comes to me and I am just telling it how I see it…so I am not sure if that takes much skill. Seems like I am just sharing a memory. I think your description is right on! I love Randy Newman and Led Zeppelin and I was always bummed that I couldn’t listen to both at the same time. Kevin: From starting out in Cleveland, TN in 2002, to releasing Destroyers of the Soft Life in 2017, you have surely been through countless experiences as musicians. Where is your favorite place music has taken you and how have the years on the road shaped your lives?
JRW: Getting to see all, and I mean “ALL”, of the United States has been pretty amazing. I think most people assume the U.S. is this homogenized singular blob. e have been everywhere in the continental states at least twice and it is completely wild. i still want to see everything else in the world but i will always appreciate these united states more because i have been out touring my whole adult life. I would say personally we have all developed relationships that are based on us being gone and then coming back, we are kinda like old sailors that have a life at home and a life at sea. I have some of my best friends that have never met my wife or kid. Also when you are used to life working like this it really is a part of the DNA of a relationship so leaving is hard but staying is hard too. Kevin: How have you approached your songwriting process? It seems that your lyrics come from deeply rooted experiences with family and personal life, but they come across as catchy rock songs. How have you found a balance of being commercially popular while staying true to yourself and your art?
JRW: I think I either go hyper specific or super general. I love a lot of big hits but I don’t love them because they are hits, I love them because they have done something special to me when I heard them. I think they are hits because millions of people had a similar reaction. So I guess what I am saying is I don’t think songs being catchy and personal/artistic are mutually exclusive. I never really think about whether I am doing something that people will like, but it’s nice when they do, it’s also nice when they don’t. If people don’t either love or hate and are in fact just sort of "blah" about what I am doing that probably bothers me the most. Kevin: You recently built your own recording studio in an old grenade factory in Richmond, VA. What was that experience like and how has having your own space allowed you to grow as a band?
JRW: Making the studio was nuts. Like actually a very hard and very bad idea…until it was done. We didn’t know what we were doing or what it was gonna take time and money wise and probably would not have done it if we had been fully informed. But now we have our own studio! As far as our latest record “Destroyers of the Soft Life”, it was only possible because we had our own place. We had the time to basically make our record twice and fail before we found the right direction. We knew we wanted to break our own mould or at least push against the momentum we had built toward a specific or boxed in sound. But that is different than knowing what we wanted to do. Time is one of the main currencies you can spend on art. We spent a lot on that studio and then we have made it back ten fold. Kevin: About 6 months have passed since your latest release. What can we expect from J Roddy Walston and the Business in the near future?
JRW: A lot more music a lot faster.
We are already working on the next record. We are trying to get some holiday stuff together. I want to do some stuff that is not JRWB. I think the other guys want to do some music that is not JRWB.
Now we have our own studio!
There is a lot of enigma associated with J Roddy Walston and the Business, but one thing I know for certain is I am on pins and needles waiting for their next release. With past hits "Don't Break The Needle", "Boys Can Never Tell", "Take It As It Comes", "Same Days", "Brave Man's Death", and most recently "The Wanting" still ringing loudly between my ears, I am anticipating great things from the band (and their possible solo projects) with the new opportunities their own studio provides. Until then, check out the songs above (each title is a link to a music video!) and stay up to date with J Roddy Walston and the Business here: