Seattle’s Walking Papers, the much-buzzed-about new band featuring rock luminaries Duff McKagan (Guns N’ Roses, Velvet Revolver), Barrett Martin (Screaming Trees, Mad Season), Jeff Angell and Benjamin Anderson (both of The Missionary Position) have signed with Loud & Proud Records and are gearing up for the August 6th release of their self-titled debut. Recorded in Seattle and mixed by veteran producer Jack Endino (Soundgarden, Nirvana, Mudhoney), Walking Papersfeatures a guest appearance by Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready, who played on lead single “The Whole World’s Watching” and “I’ll Stick Around.” “The Whole World’s Watching” hit rock and alternative radio in June.
Guitarist/vocalist Jeff Angell and drummer Barrett Martin formed the band last year and played their first shows inSeattle as a duo. They became a trio with the addition of bassist Duff McKagan and a quartet when keyboardist Benjamin Anderson joined the fray. Angell and Martin also served as the album’s co-producers. Walking Papers show that a great song can be conveyed with thundering drums, rumbling bass, and a howling guitar just as easily as it can with percolating marimbas and shimmering vibraphone. The songs on this album can stand alone as individual stories, but taken together as a whole, they convey a much larger narrative with tales of wandering souls, the collisions of will, and the dark beauty of the American heart.
The band will celebrate the release of Walking Papers with a headlining slot on the second stage of this year’s Rockstar Energy Drink Uproar Festival. The tour, which features Alice In Chains, Jane’s Addiction, and many more, kicks off August 9th at the Toyota Pavilion at Montage Mountain in Scranton, PA. The band has already received media praise from both sides of the pond, with noted Seattle Times rock critic Charles R. Cross saying the band’s brightness rivaled the sun’s and, unlike so many supergroups, its future might be even brighter, and UK mag Classic Rock praising the band’s collection of songs as “a masterpiece of mood and tension.” Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Walking Papers frontman Jeff Angell to discuss his musical roots, the formation of Walking Papers, the creation of their powerful debut album and much more!
Music has been one of the biggest parts of your world for many years. Looking back, what are your first memories of music in your life and how did it become a passion of yours?
I think I was born with the built-in DNA to be into music but at one point, it is actually kinda funny, my Mom was a single mom with two rotten little boys. She had to stoop so low as to date an Elvis impersonator at one time! He brought over the “Heartbreak Hotel” 45. I remember that song with the desk clerks dressed in black and spinning that record. I think that record and Glen Campbell’s “Rhinestone Cowboy,” because my Dad was a cowboy archetype kinda guy. Those two songs and the imagery they held just fascinated me with songs in general. Really early, even before Kindergarten, I would listen to songs on the radio and I would change the lyrics. I would take something like Barry Manilow’s “Made It Through The Rain” and change it to be about some soldier coming back from Vietnam, who came back and made it through the war. Luckily, I learned that was a way to learn to start writing songs, by imitating the songs you like and moving on from there. It has always been an obsession of mine, songs in general, and how they can say more in three verses with what they leave out than what a novel can say in three hundred pages.
What made you pursue music as a career rather than following a different path?
Kids! [laughs] I mean, I just really liked it. I was fascinated as a career so much as when I first started, it was more of what I wanted to do to kill my time doing, listening to records. Then I got a little starter guitar because my brother had a guitar but he broke it pretending he was in KISS or something! [laughs] I did a lot of begging and pleading to get one and they finally got me one at Christmas when I was in the fifth grade. I don’t know, I without getting too melodramatic, I think I kinda had a troubled childhood and having an instrument where I could see the benefits of putting time into it just made me feel better. Rather than sitting in the living room and fight with everybody, I would just sit in my room and play guitar. It became a really good friend to me and it just seemed like a natural thing to do to put a band together and keep playing like that. I guess I always had aspirations but it is so a part of who I am and who I have always been. I guess I always figured I would grow up and move to LA or something but then I was fortunate enough to live in Seattle. Some girls talked me into going to a show. One of them said “My boyfriend is in a band.” It turned out the boyfriend was Mike Starr from Alice In Chains. One of the first local shows I saw was Alice In Chains and Mother Love Bone at a Kent Skate King. There weren’t a lot of people there but I could tell the bands were just as good, if not better, than the bands I was listening to. Instantly, I was like “I’ve got to put together a band and start playing here!” Before that, I just played by myself and expected to move to the big city when I grew up and graduated high school. I just skipped all that and jumped right in!
Who would you cite as some of your biggest influences as an artist?
Musically, I think some of that stuff changes through the years as you grow up. At first, it was anything on the radio. Certain bands that stood out to me were The Cure, The Fixx and that sorta pop radio. Where I lived, we didn’t have the best rock radio because we were out in the sticks. Pop radio could get there and I heard some of the early Cure singles, Tom Petty and stuff like that. It had a big influence on me. One of my brother’s older friends brought home an Ozzy [Osbourne] record, “Speak of The Devil, which was the one with all the hits of Black Sabbath on it. When I heard that, I was like “That is my record right there!” It was blues based with the flat five, the devil’s interval and needed that in my music. I think the lyrics to some of those songs, like “War Pigs” and songs like that and how they relate to religion and politics. As young guy, I already had suspicions that a lot of the stuff they were teaching you was bullshit. Finally, there was an adult telling me this and shooting straight — not saying one thing and doing another. So that had a huge influence on me and Black Sabbath had a huge influence on me. Then, as I grew up, watching the Seattle bands really influenced me. I was in my pre-teens and early teens when I was seeing those bands play and watching them evolve into who there would become, with Mother Love Bone into Pearl Jam and Alice In Chains having four originals to writing a couple of records that definitely changed the way music harmonies sound on rock radio forever. They had a big influence. I can’t forget Jane’s Addiction. I was fortunate enough to go on tour with them. Their album “Nothing’s Shocking” was a big influence. I have always loved the Rolling Stones ever since I can remember. I think my Mom was listening to it and it fascinated me early on. Now, they have so many records, you can really dig into the different eras and that is very cool. When I started getting a little bit older and thing “Man, I’m 27 and I don’t think I am going to make it.,” my ex-wife had brought home Tom Waites’ “Big Time,” which is a video of him playing. I saw that and thought “Wait a minute! This guy is forty-something and he is cool! He is like Keith Richards, Louis Armstrong, Frank Sinatra and all these other guys put into one dude!” He was an older guy so it kept the whole idea of being obsessed with youth obsolete. I felt I had a lot more time to find my own thing and I could embrace blues, which I fought for a long time. I think in the early 90s, there was a lot of really heavy rock and it was getting really dark there. I still liked country songs and blues songs, so I think what Tom Waites showed me brought me right back to “Heartbreak Hotel” and “Rhinestone Cowboy”.
All those influences and years of experience brought you to the point you are now. Tell us a little about Walking Papers and how it got off the ground initially.
Duff [McKagan] had actually seen a band I was in and asked me to try out for Velvet Revolver before they found the guy who sold 40 million records. [laughs] He took the job but Duff and I remained friends. We recorded some demos and I kept those for myself, I didn’t play them for people to get notoriety or anything. It has been only recently I have been telling people I auditioned for the band. I always kept it a secret out of respect for our friendship, ya know? Duff started talking about it, so I guess it was OK! Since then, we have established a trust and a friendship for around ten years now. I had another band going called The Missionary Position, which I played the keyboard player from Walking Papers, Benjamin Anderson. We have made a couple of records over the last couple of years and gigged really hard. We played a show with a band Barrett [Martin] was in and I think he was looking for some people to play with and get the piano in there and open up some different things besides just a guitar/bass combo. He had him come down and play some percussion stuff on one of The Missionary Position records and we made friends. Then he just called me up and asked me one day if I wanted to do something. I said “Sure! Let’s get in a room and se what happens naturally!” We jammed a little bit and the first guy we called was Duff. The Missionary Position doesn’t have a bass player, so it was kinda nice to start playing with a bass player again. We put it together like that and it all fell together really fast. We actually recorded the record after about eight rehearsals. I had a few songs hanging around and then we did these jams. I am not the sharpest knife in the drawer but I know I have the best rhythm section I am ever going to play with here, so I worked really hard at making the rehearsal tapes, refining the parts and putting them together to make them full songs. When we did go into the studio, I had worked really hard at home on my own to make sure I knew where the changes were going to be and the structures were complete. I had lyrics for about six of the songs when we went into the studio and the other ones I knew how they were going to go, so I just brought them home and sang them.
How did you guys choose the name Walking Papers for this project?
Originally, we were going to call the band Red Envelopes, which are the bills you get. The first one is a white envelope asking you to pay it nicely. Then you get a yellow one saying “Hey man!” Then you get the red one that says “Listen here! We are going to take your TV back if you don’t pay this thing!” [laughs] Then we found out there was some kind of card company, like a Hallmark type of company, called Red Envelopes. We tried to come up with something like that and came up with Walking Papers. We were kinda surprised there wasn’t a band called that already because it is American slang. The funny thing is though, in the rest of the world, no one knows what Walking Papers are! Even in the United Kingdom, they are like “Walking Papers? You guys are psychedelic with your imagery!” [laughs] We get asked all the time in Europe, “Papers that walk? What is this!” We have to explain it to them! We thought it was good because it is kinda catchy with everything that was going on with all the Occupy Wall Street protests and things like that going on.
What can you tell us about the writing process for the album and how it all came together?
I had a few songs I had ideas for already but a lot of the stuff, Barrett would just jam a drum beat and I would play over the top of it. We would record everything. I think the key to a lot of stuff in writing is to make sure you listen, so you are not just feeling but listening to it. We would listen to those ideas and go down and jam for a couple of hours and develop eight or nine ideas. We would make little MP3’s of each one and talk about which ones we wanted to pursue. After four or five times jamming, we would have enough ideas. Then, with the couple of songs I had, I would say “Oh, I have this thing. Do you want to try it?” He would play along to it. Then, Barrett had some studio time and then we got in there and did the last three rehearsals, really worked and took the ideas we were trying to play, listen to the adjustments we made at home and tried to solidify them. We had the basics in about three days. As a writer, writing becomes more of a lifestyle. To be any good at writing, you don’t sit down and say “I am going to write a song today.” It is more like you put our antenna on and a filter in front of your life where you are constantly looking for new ideas all of the time. You might write them in a journal, scribble them on a napkin or sing it into your voice recorder. You compile those ideas and then when you don’t have any ideas, reviewing all of these things you have come up with, find a good one and put some sweat into it. Whether I am reading, watching something on TV or having a conversation with a friend, I am always looking for a lyric or a concept for a song. It’s the same thing with music. Ideas might jump into my head or if I am in the rehearsal room where two bands are practicing on opposite sides of the room and there becomes one song together, I am always listening to that.
You are working alongside some very talented musicians on this record. Is there anything you picked up along the way from this great musical collaboration?
I learned some things when it comes to being in studio. Those guys are from the tape days. I was a Pro Tools guy, really early! I had a record deal before it was Interscope and the first thing I did with my money was go and buy Pro Tools. I understand how to use that as a tool and this and that. Through that process, it took me ten years to learn all the punching in and how this crap with editing just ruins your songs more than it makes them good. When I went in with them, to see that they don’t even look at the computer screen, they just have their head between the speakers and play things like performances — you start, play the whole song through and if there is a nip or tuck it is a minor little thing. There are no quick tracks or anything like that. Through that process with them, watching the way they recorded, sometimes I don’t know if Pro Tools has made anything better! It allowed people to make records but as far as the process, it seems like it kills more productivity than it helps it, unless you are dealing with musicians who can’t play. Those guys are from the era where you played it through and you played it right! You didn’t keep punching in parts, ya know what I mean? I learned that from those guys. I have a great relationship with Barrett because he really sees the whole forest but then I am really into staring at the bark on the tree! [laughs] We meet somewhere in the middle and then we are able to put together the whole thing. I think it is a good relationship like that! Playing live with the guys is a whole different thing! Duff is so relaxed in that situation because he has played to so many people and do done so many things. I am still going out there like it is hand-to-hand combat! He is just kinda like “Hey! Settle down. Just take a minute to get your guitar tuned, buddy!” [laughs] The first time I had a guitar tech, he brought a guitar tech with him and we played this show and there were a lot of people there. It was one of our first shows. I had broken a string and I was going to fix it myself, pull it off and finish the song without it or whatever. He comes up to while he is playing the bass part and says “Ok. Settle down. You’ve got a guy over there. Hand it to him over there and he will fix it for you and you will be right back to it! He is going to hand you another one.” It’s so funny to me that we are right in the middle of the show and I have all this panic and Duff is so cool about it! [laughs] I think he gets a kick out of exposing me to these bigger audiences. I mean, in the last European tour, I probably played to more people in a few weeks than I have in the last ten years in clubs! And that isn’t because I wasn’t playing a lot! All of a sudden you are playing to ten, twelve, twenty-four thousand people in a shot. It takes a lot of 100 people club shows to make up to that kind of thing!
You have been at it in the music business for quite a while now. What is your advice to aspiring musicians?
My personal opinion is that anyone who is playing for some type of financial reward — the jokes on them! Even if you are successful, it is still a lot harder than people think. You have tour buses, managers, t-shirt costs, hotels and planes. There are a lot of expenses going on and even when you get to that level it gets hard to rub two pennies together. If people start out with the wrong intentions, it can really screw things up. Just making good music and good records is key. If they keep their eye on that, good things will happen to them. Of better or worse, something good will happen to them. Everybody I know, all of my friends and even work I get outside of music is all based around my drive as a musician and music fans that I know.
What are your long term plans for Walking Papers?
We are going to move forward to make another record. We are already working on new songs but we are going to push this record as far as we can and get it into as many hands as we can. Hopefully, when that cycle ends, we will start recording the next one! We have already been playing new songs live but we are not passing out those cigars until the baby is born! [laughs]
Looking back on your journey as a musician so far, how do you feel you have evolved along the way?
I think in some ways you evolve and then you devolve again. You start out by learning a couple people’s songs and then you start writing songs and get delusions of grandeur that you are actually inventing it and writing these songs, when it is the universe that is handing them to you, if you are smart enough to pay attention. Then I have been in these bands and in The Missionary Position, a lot of times we would have to all-night shows to make enough money to get to the next town, so we would be playing three to four hour sets. Then you go amazing Prince song with one repetitive lick or Rolling Stones song with two chords and you realize how great those songs are in their simplicity. I think the biggest evolution for my has been to keep it simple, not try to take myself too seriously and be humble in the way I go about it because the songs are all there if you tap into them. I think that is proof there is a higher power at work or something, the way chords resonate with each other and create emotions through the science of those waves going through the air and entering peoples ears. If a person can use that to communicate a lyric or an idea, the ability to touch people through that is way bigger than any human being or some guy with a notebook and a guitar. I think it comes down to communication and keeping your eye on that. That is the biggest evolution — realizing you ain’t all that special! [laughs] That is my biggest evolution! I just work hard and am grateful for the people who take care of us!
I want to thank you for your time today, Jeff! I has been a pleasure and I can’t wait to catch Walking Papers on tour! We will be spreading the word!
Thanks so much, Jason! I am grateful for your time! Thanks for you enthusiasm! Take care!
Don’t miss your chance to catch Walking Papers live. Uproar tour dates are as follows:
9 – Scranton, PA – Toyota Pavilion At Montage Mountain
10 – Hartford, CT – The Comcast Theatre
11 – Darien Center, NY – Darien Lake Performing Arts Center
13 – Saratoga Springs, NY – Saratoga Performing Arts Center
14 – Mansfield, MA – Comcast Center
16 – Bristow, VA – Jiffy Lube Live
17 – Holmdel, NJ – PNC Bank Arts Center
18 – Wantagh, NY – Nikon At Jones Beach Theater
20 – Toronto, ON – Molson Canadian Amphitheatre
22 – Tinley Park, IL – First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre
23 – Nobleville, IN – Klipsch Music Center
24 – Clarkston, MI – DTE Energy Music Theater
27 – Oklahoma City, OK – Zoo Amphitheater
28 – Dallas, TX – Gexa Energy Pavilion
29 – Woodlands, TX – Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion
31 – Albuquerque, NM – Isleta Amphitheatre
1 – Englewood, CO – Fiddler’s Green Amphitheatre
2 – Salt Lake City, UT – USANA Amphitheatre
5 – Nampa, ID – Idaho Center Amphitheater
8 – Ridgefield, WA – Sleep Country Amphitheater
11 – Mountain View, CA – Shoreline Amphitheatre
13 – Phoenix, AZ – Desert Sky Pavilion
14 – Chula Vista, CA – Sleep Train Amphitheatre
15 – Irvine, CA – Verizon Wireless Amphitheater