A little while ago, alt-pop singer-songwriter Walker Lukens stopped by the Baeble office for one of our NEXT sessions, and the results were pretty fantastic. In the beginning of the session, Lukens explains that while he usually performs with a full, five-piece band to really represent his sound, he's about to return to where he started, playing solo with his collection of pedals and electronic gear. Creating fuller, more lush sounds with loopers and effects, Walker plays through a few of his own songs, including "Year of the Dog," "Every Night," and "Simple Man," as well as an electronically-tinged Howlin' Wolf cover, "Who's Been Talkin'." Between songs, Lukens talks about being in the music scene in his current city, Austin, Texas, his newest classic rock-influenced EP Ain't Got a Reason, and what it was like to attend and perform at Bonnaroo for the first time.
You can definitely hear the blues, classic rock, and soul influences in all of Walker Lukens' music. His approach to performing solo also adds another interesting layer of experimental electronica, creating a unique blends of sounds and influences that comes through clearly in the NEXT session. Creative uses of reverb, delay, looping huffing breaths and mic taps, and trippy vocal layering all serve to embellish Lukens' nostalgic pop songwriting in new and unexpected ways.
I think, in a big way, my songs are sort of better represented if, like, with a big, loud five-piece band. But this is definitely how it all started, just me and trying to use this and the guitar to be bigger than just one person, you know? So, yeah, I think for people who really, like, have been digging what they have been hearing for the last couple years, it would be like a nice change because I never play it by myself anymore. My name is Walker Lukens. Two thousand sixteen was the year of the dog bitch in the mouth When I drink, you're not arriving where we thought we want To find God inside the shadow of the things we had Oh, before we lift the gun, the gun, the gun, my God Amen Two thousand sixteen was the year of the dog New love reminds us of the love that we have lost We took a car to find the things we did not know Oh, we went north and west and south and east again To find God inside the shadow of the things we had Oh, before we lift my gun, my gun, my gun, my God Amen Two thousand sixteen was the year of the dog Two thousand sixteen was the year of the dog Two thousand sixteen was the year of the dog Two thousand sixteen was the year of the dog Thank you. I grew up in Houston, Texas, and I live in Austin, Texas now. And the one thing that's really special about Austin that I've noticed is that, you know, there's this stupid thing they use to get tourists to come. They call it the live music capital of the world. I mean, to the extent that that's true, I would say more people go to see live music, you know, per capita than any other places that I've ever been. Lots of people love to go see music, and there are lots of opportunities. So that part of it, you know, that hasn't changed, and that's still a really cool thing about being a musician there. I can't really speak very well to living in other places, but there is a way that I've noticed musicians in town all band together, regardless of genre and, you know, maybe age or stature, that is really unique and cool. And I think that comes from being a slightly smaller city and definitely being geographically isolated that you just don't get in a place like New York or LA, where there's tons of industry. I mean, Texas is definitely changing. Houston and Dallas and San Antonio are all cool in their own way. I think you can sort of stay there and be a creative person more than you could before, but Austin definitely draws in that sort of...the weirdos or whatever from the surrounding area. This is a Howlin' Wolf song, it's called Who's Been Talkin'. My baby took a train Far away from me My baby took a train Far away from me She said she gonna ride Long that I've been from home My baby bought a ticket Long as her right arm My baby bought a ticket Long as her left arm She says she gonna ride Long as I've been from home Well, who been talking Everything that I do? Well, who been talking Everything that I do? You are my baby Oh, and I hate to lose Well, goodbye, baby And I hate to see you go Well, goodbye, baby I hate to see you go Or worst though I know I'm the causin' of it all I'm the causin' of it all I'm the causin' of it all Thank you. Yeah, the Ain't Got A Reason EP. There have been a couple of people over the past few months that's come up, and they come up to me. They're like, "Are you trying to look like Elvis Costello?" I was like, "Yeah, yeah, don't worry. It was on purpose. " I love his early records, that period, and I wanted that to be kind of a good entry point to the music, you know? Because I don't think it actually sounds like Elvis Costello, but when I think it's in that vein, it's in that...and I wanted that to be the first reference that people get when they listen to it is that, you know? If you dig in and listen to lyrics especially, like, there's lots of these sort of classic rock icons and iconography that I wanted people to be thinking of as they're taking in the music. So there's an Elvis reference, and there's Bruce Springsteen. There's a little more if you're listening. Yeah. And every night It's the same disease But it ain't a lie if a sleeping dog is asleep These songs, they've been part of our live set for a minute. And we went in and did them this year pretty quickly. I mean, we were trying to put together really, really punchy, kind of vintage-sounding EP. That was the hope. This song is called Every Night. 'Cause every night It's the same old thing You're wide awake, your better half in a dream And every night It's the same disease A siren sending you signals that no one can see And every night It's the same old beast It's cold outside, and, brother, he's looking to feed And what I know is what I know And I prefer to what I don't 'Cause every night It's the same old scene The jacket, the shirts, the jeans, your face looking mean And every night It's the same old thing But it ain't a lie if a sleeping dog is asleep And every night It's the same old beast And he's on your back, and, brother, he's watching you breathe What I know is what I know And I prefer to what I don't 'Cause every night It's the same old scene You're walking off like a cop with the skin of my teeth And every night It's the same deceit But it ain't a lie if a sleeping dog is asleep And every night It's the same old beast And he's got your neck, and, brother, he's looking to breathe And what I know is what I know And I prefer to what I don't Thank you. Bonnaroo was amazing. Getting to be there as a musician was amazing, but also, I've just never been to a festival where you go camp and there's nothing else that you could do but be there. You know, because ACL and Free Press in Houston, those festivals we played, but they're in a city, so you can go home to your house. There's less of a destination. Bonnaroo has this amazing energy because people are going there on this vacation. You know, they're very free. People go around wishing each other, like, "Happy Roo!" You know, it's just strangers talking. It's a really amazing energy there. I did meet some good people. It was pretty crazy. I guess that I was wearing a white suit has maybe made it easy to pick me out, but as I was walking around that day, I kept looking at these people and they're like, "I love your set. I love your set. " Which was really awesome. It's not always that...not all festivals was that, like, approachable, you know. You can see people. Well, it's one point for the last boy Not that I'm really keeping score You got one foot on the accelerator You got one foot out the door When you put me in your rear view Well, I know what I've seen Well, it hits me like a punch When you smile and you don't blink Oh, I'll be your simple man now Oh, if you let me Last night I had the strangest dream My dick was in my hand I was naked, you were laughing Oh, inviting all your friends Saying, "Look at this fool" And that you love me In the same damn breath Oh, I'll be your simple man now Oh, if you let me Gimme your hands 'Cause you're using them wrong Over there on your phone Over there all alone And gimme your love 'Cause you used mine all up Over there in your head Over there left for dead Oh, I'll be your simple man now Oh, if you let me Oh, I'll be your simple man now Oh, if you let me This is Walker Lukens, and you're watching Baeble Music.
Walker Lukens has been called 'one of the best songwriters in Texas (Free Press Houston.) The Austin-based, Houston-bred singer, multi-instrumentalist has been called 'wonderfully inventive (NPR World Cafe,) a 'non-sexually intimidating version of Prince (Austin Chronicle,) and a 'veteran balladeer with sudden indie rock ambitions (Indy Week.) Walker thinks its important that you realize his name is not Walter.
In 2013, he released his first full length record, Devoted. It received praise from outlets like NPRs All Songs Considered, American Songwriter, Austin American Statesman, Austin Chronicle, and Billboard and took Lukens and his backing band, The Side Arms, all over the US.
After meeting Spoon drummer Jim Eno in a bar, Walker & The Side Arms started recording new music at with him at his studio, Public Hi-Fi. Their first collaboration, 'Every Night, has been streamed almost a million times now. Their second collaboration, 'Lifted from Never Understood EP (Modern Outsider) spent 8 weeks on the specialty commercial radio charts and garnered Walker spots at festivals across the country.
Walker's new album Tell It To The Judge will release on September 22nd, 2017.
Asked to describe his music, Lukens doesn't have a clear answer. That's a very difficult question for me, he says. Maybe 'like Stephen Malkmus moved into the Brill Building with Bacharach and David' or 'the toughest disciple of Fleetwood Mac that you've never heard?'
Jokes aside, Lukens will have no problem avoiding labels for his new music. Hopefully on this record people will stop using the word 'folk' to describe my songs, he says. I was unafraid this time around to take influence from all of the records that I love.
Lukens wrote the songs on 'Devoted' during a year of self-described 'bourgeois homelessness.' After losing his nine-to-five job, he opted to pursue a relentless touring schedule: traveling across the U.S, Italy and France. When not on the road, he found time to become a regular at some of New York City's top music venues, including a popular residency at Lower East Side fixture Pianos.
I basically adhered to a strictly 'say yes' show policy, he says. I spent months traveling and sleeping on couches, floors, and in the back of my car before settling in Austin. Along the way, I wrote this record.
Refreshed and inspired by his travels, and with reaffirmed devotion to his music, Lukens has made his best record to date. 'Devoted' is full of lush compositions, imbued with the kind of intricate subtleties that compel a closer listen on a good pair of headphones.
These songs are about not having the things that you want yet. It's not necessarily bad, you know. It makes you work harder, Lukens says. I try to be tongue-in-cheek about it, because musicians telling you 'how hard art is' gets annoying. But putting this much time and energy into something that doesn't make you any money is hardly a career choice. It's a strange lifestyle choice.
More recently, Lukens has put together a 5-piece backing band called The Side Arms, who have already shared stages with acts like Band of Horses and The Heartless Bastards and are gearing up for a national tour this summer.