J. Roddy Walston is no stranger to superlatives. Called everything from a “genius” to “a baby of the gospel and blues”, the Maryland-by-way-of-Chattanooga rocker and his band The Business has transformed themselves from Southern rockers to one of the biggest fixtures on the Maryland scene. After several years performing on the road and selling CDs out of their own van (a rock n’ roll trope is there ever is one), they had the good fortune of signing on to Vagrant Records earlier this year. Their self-titled album is available online and in stores now.
Racket’s John Winn sat down with J-Rod between jam sessions, catching his thoughts on everything from touring, the Maryland music scene, and the marshal prowess of one Sidney Lanier.
I understand the last few months on the road have been kind of hectic. How do you cope with touring—being on the road for a long time?
Ah, I don’t know. There’s some pros and cons. Yeah. It’s weird. Personally and physically, it’s pretty draining. It has an effect after 3 or 4 weeks. But as a band, after three or four months…it sounds better. As far as knowing what people will do…it’s weird. You start to become detached from what you u call “normal” reality. Everybody’s sleeping on floors every night and waking up in different time zones, not knowing what time it is…I don’t know, but the band sounds the same as it did last night.
What do you miss most when you’re on the road?
My wife…that’s definitely the worst part. Generally, you talk to someone in a band who’s in a relationship back at home, that’s one of the hardest things. I’ve gotten to a point where I’ve barely been home over a week over the last year, between recording and all the other things we done building up to this record. When I get home, I get my books and cuddle with them on the couch. You know? People talk to you like ‘You’re living the dream!’ and a part of you fantasizes about nine to five and you’re staying at home and having normality. Then when we get home for three or four weeks it’s like ‘Oh my God! Let’s get back on the road!’
Do you have like, a favorite spot like a favorite restaurant or dive bar or something you like to frequent when you’re on the road?
We eat out a lot at Subway sandwich shops. It’s not my favorite place in the planet, but it’s definitely where we end up eating. There’s this place in Cincincatti, it’s a beer hall? My friend runs a youth camp called Camp Ernest, that actually Jim Varney, who played Ernest T. World, donated the money for. When we have two to three days off we like to go there and have some weird days at the youth camp…we have a lot of friends in different cities. When we get there earlier we like to chill out. But it’s not like when you’re in this town that you have to eat in this place or that, you know?
Your current album has been called ‘vaudevillian coyness set against hard-edged guitar’. I’m going to be repeating myself but…do you think of your music as musical theater as performance art?
Hmm. I don’t know. I mean, I don’t know, I know how other people describe our music…I think, um, there are a lot of dynamics that are, like, [unintelligible] in the music itself. I mean, I actually like musical theater—I married an opera singer. But I wouldn’t describe this record that way. No big harmonies or overdramatic ideas. This record more like, gets to the point. It’s kind of abstract, you know? A lot of people put us in that bar band category but I don’t necessarily think that’s true. It’s bigger than that, you know?
As a Southern transplant, what’s your biggest pet peeve about the Baltimore music scene?
Hmmm…Well, a lot of times like I’ve become resentful of some of the more artsy bands that’ve sprung out over the last few years that Baltimore has become famous for. But, that, I don’t know, I’ve come to appreciate that more, bands doing their own thing and getting on the road, you know? You can get some bars for thirty five bucks but you don’t get success without working so hard. My biggest pet peeve is that there are so many bands that I think are great, but they can’t seem to get out of town or work out the financial aspect…I got a lot of friends that aren’t making it, that aren’t making that effort.
You’ve recorded in Sound City Studios in L.A.
How does that compare to recording in Maryland or Tennessee?
Um, pretty much the opposite of recording in Maryland or Tennessee. I did go once to record in Nashville–that has a nice studio. But other than that every recording we’ve done is like a basement recording. Like, in Sound City Nevermind was recorded. This is where Damn the Torpedoes was recorded. It kind of felt like, you’re either going to step up and nail it or you’re going to find out that you’re really not that good at what you do. There’s not a lot I would change about the record. I’m pumped up about it. There’s more pressure…You’re working with people who’ve made amazing records but there aren’t any excuses. At the end of it isn’t ‘well if I had this equipment’ or ‘If I had this opportunity’. There’s no safety net.
You’ve cited Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and the Rolling Stones as major influences in your music, yet most of the current description your music by your fans, there’s more references to The Hold Steady and ex cetera. Do you feel like there’s no classic rock from the 60s’s and 70’s and 80’s, like it’s no longer relevant?
It’s hard. You know, they’re definitely relevant to me. It’s weird in the fact that you see a lot of bands ripping off other bands’ tunes and you see a lot of people calling them on it? People aren’t as familiar with older bands as they were at one point. But you know, I love the idea of the music being created right now. I don’t want music to turn into some Amish culture kind of thing. But at the same time I think I relate to a lot of Tom Petty and The Rolling Stones. The caliber of songwriting that’s going on, it’s like ‘I like every song on this record’. That’s what I talk about a lot of times.
This question is from left field, so I’m going to go ahead and ask it. If H.L. Mencken and Sidney Lanier got in a fight, who would win?
[laughs]. Hmmm…I’m going to say, Sidney? I don’t answer abstract fight questions normally—I don’t know the physiques of those people, so I’m going to take a wild guess.
I’m going to ask a few questions and you tell me what comes off the top of your mind.
Dodge or Ford?
Hot dogs versus hamburgers?
Here’s an interesting one. Voltron versus Transformers?
I have an equal love for both of them but I have to go with Voltron. I love it when mice get possessed.
Long Island Ice Tea versus sweet tea?
Oh my God. Sweet Tea all the time.
MP3 or CD?
Probably MP3. At least MP3’s don’t get scratched up.
Thank you for your time. I appreciate talking with you.