Walking Concert: Walter Schreifels
Singer/Songwriter/Producer Walter Schreifels began his genre-defining career by moonlighting in seminal hardcore acts Gorilla Biscuits and Youth of Today but it wasn’t until his band Quicksand hit the scene in the early nineties, solidifying the post hard-core sound and taking the reigns from the grunge movement. His contemporaries in Jawbox, Helmet and even Fugazi set the momentum by which every band of that era measured them. However, like Jawbreaker’s album, Dear You, as being a demarcation line for the punk movement, Quicksand’s Slip inspired a million kids to pick up a guitar, detune their strings and try, albeit without as much eloquence, to co-opt a signature sound.
Over a decade and a half later, Walter Schreifels is still bending the formula to fit his vision with his latest effort, Walking Concert. A powerful guitar driven band, Walking Concert opens a new chapter in this veteran music makers book by utilizing his voice as an instrument and making new fans and old wish they had the ability to write such great hooks. As Quicksand dissolved in the mid nineties much to the disappointment of fans, Rival School (United by Fate) arose to take its place (eventually), with Walter again at the helm, churning out shinning rock nuggets never seemed so palpable as it was with Rival Schools. With Rival Schools, Walter was able to expand upon the melodies set in motion by Quicksand, but the songs took on more intricate shapes, utilizing varied time signatures and emphasizing on more complicated vocal arrangements.
But, like all things, Rival Schools came to a somewhat abrupt end some time in mid 2003, again, to the disappointment of fans. As the chatter on the Internet assumed, anything Walter touched turned to gold, so it was merely a matter of time before the Midas of indie rock began a new project. Rumors abounded about a project called Walter and the Motorcycles, similar to the post Quicksand band, Worlds Fastest Car, but again that project never came to fruition.
Walter, as a songwriter, is prolific and always evolving, a man consistently setting things in motion by his drive to continually outdo himself. Between Rival Schools and Quicksand, Walter was a producer for the breakout Hot Water Music album, No Division and even lent his vocals to a few tracks. No Division eventually gained Hot Water Music the momentum they needed to get to that next level and the stellar production quality of the record again cemented Walter as a talent behind the boards (he also produced CIV’s breakthrough album, Set Your Goals).
Not satisfied to rest on his laurels, Walter began writing songs in the sundown of Rival Schools, which later would make up the bulk of Walking Concert’s debut, Run to Be Born. Released on his record label, Some Records, Run To Be Born marks a decisive advancement in song craftsmanship and fully accentuates Walter’s range as a singer. Recently themusicedge.com caught up with Walter as the he and his band mates were navigating the turnpikes of the Midwest.
Walter’s interest in music began at an early age and says that, “I guess pretty early on I got into the Beatles and The Beach Boys and The Rolling Stones. And then got into The Ramones and The B 52’s and The Clash and things like that and when I was thirteen I got a guitar and just started doing it. I think I took five guitar lessons to start off and I had most of the chords down and I could sound things out and started to go on my own.”
With Quicksand, Walter altered the assumption that vocals have to serve the beat, cutting the nascent punk aesthetic and utilizing a completely different method of phrasing, a method that subsequently spawned countless imitators. Though it wasn’t always that easy, according to Walter it was due to, “Practice. I practiced like crazy. I had to write the music and then the lyrics over the music. Mostly in Quicksand is what I’m thinking of, is like, if I wanted to make a lyric or rhythm work, I was oblivious of how hard it would be to play on guitar. But it’s sort of like rubbing your stomach and patting your head at the same time – you just have to practice it.
“I think I formed my guitar personality in a couple of years and after that I’d add on to it but my first kind of influences like ACDC, U2’s the Edge, or REM – that was the kind of stuff I was listening to when I first started playing guitar and I think that still comes through in a lot of my writing.”
Run To Be Born is largely a guitar opus, one that was primarily written on acoustic prior to even being envisioned in a band setting. When it comes to songwriting, Walter stipulates, “I think I get a sense of the songs and am able to grasp the dynamics of the people I’m playing with. Guitar wise, I think I have an idea of places for things and create space for certain things to go. How I play and how Jeff plays guitar, I really just go for a feeling. Intellectually I know the part I’m trying to create and what it’s going to do but when I’m playing it I just try and pour as much feeling into it as I can. A lot of that just comes from the live take (in studio settings). Sometimes you just have to take a separate stab at it but that’s mainly the way I like to do it.
“I think with Walking Concert the way it differs from all the other projects I’ve done is that I could play every song acoustically before I even recorded anything. I knew how to sing and play them (the songs) so I really understood the basis of the song. In the past I would understand the structure of the song and where a chorus would go and a bridge would go and where the verse would go and the structure of the song was determining that. With this I started to go with an idea and a melody and just wanted to see where it would take me naturally. I depended less on what I knew about songwriting in an intellectual, craftsmen sort of way and just went with more of my intuitive ideas like, ‘this would be funny to do this here or this would be a nice way to off set ‘this’ feeling.’ You know, just have the lyrics and tempo and feel all be of the same mind.
He adds, “I think that comes from being able to sing and play your songs with a guitar.”
Walter has been making records his entire adult life (and his teenage years with Gorilla Biscuits, Warzone and Youth of Today) and says the studio experience for Run To Be Born “was a blast! It was really fun and I think we spent time making sure the songs were good and tight but we really wanted to make it sound as live as possible. We didn’t want to get too into overdubbing things and really just depend on the music itself to carry it and the performances to sound human and spontaneous.”
Run To Be Born was recorded with a combination of using analog and digital technology. Walter says that originally he wanted it, “to be done all on analog but the way it is these days it’s so expensive to do it that way and I don’t even necessarily believe – or rather I’m not so pressed to cling to that idea anymore as I was at one time. Analog tape is my definitely my preference but on a budget, Pro-Tools is so much easier and it’s the way that people are doing it. I think it (digital recording) has its advantages, as long as you don’t get to into clipping it and editing it. I think after a certain point the returns begin to diminish.”
Walter again helmed production for Walking Concert and says that when it comes to producing, “I like to produce. I prefer to work on my own stuff, but producing is cool cause you’re like a cheerleader for the band. You can join that band and you can have an outside perspective on what you like about them and you can encourage them to give out a look.
“It can be creative as well because you can have a flow with the artist. The trick is to let them do their thing as much as possible,” adding in reference to his work with CIV and Hot Water Music.
Walter’s experience with his half dozen projects has given him some insight into band dynamics, or rather, the way the members interact and create together. Some important things to remember are, “generally, your general rule when working with other people is that people are usually at their best when they are doing what they want to do. You have to give people room to do their thing and at the same time you have to be willing and able to look at the picture as a whole and to be able to communicate between the players without stepping on each other’s toes. It’s best I think when that is intuitive on every body’s part. For example, in a conversation there isn’t someone you have to keep explaining the jokes, you know. That sometimes can grow and take time to establish it. I think people, based on their instrument have different roles to fill and coordinating that is understanding what the other guys are doing and knowing where you fit in and being willing to find your place on the team.
“Like in sports, or a basketball team, one guy might be really good at getting rebounds, one guy might be really good at outside shots and everyone wants to put the ball in the basket but sometimes you have to look at it a different way to make your goal. I think that is key to making something sound solid and that there is a thought process behind it instead of something that sounds like people playing at the same time.”
Always humble, always friendly and positive, Walter Schreifels and his latest project, Walking Concert are on the road and their coming to town near you. Keep your eyes open and make sure you pick up a copy of Run To Be Born, it’s sure to please fans of Quicksand and destined to reestablish Walter as a rock and roll mainstay who continually evolves.
Mark this one down in the books as one of the cooler interviews I’ve done with one of my favorite musicians. He was as nice as Lou from Sick of It All and informative. I had always had the uniformed impression that Walter was a bit closed off prior to speaking with him. My experience of the ‘Walter – the dude from Quicksand’ was that he’d been in some of the more influential bands of the late 80’s and nineties and he was always changing bands. An assumption of mine was that maybe he just couldn’t outrun what he’d done in YOT, Gorilla Biscuits and Quicksand. Alas, assumptions are really foolish and he assuaged my stupidity by being humble and totally appreciative of all that he’d been involved with (don’t forget Hot Water Music’s No Division record he helped produce!). So if you want to see how deep my man crush goes for this guy check out the post I did about the first concert I went to that I’ll be posting soon.