Walking Papers are currently halfway through their tour when they land in Glasgow. It’s been a few years since they last played in the UK and since, there’s been a few changes to the line-up and they’re armed with a new album. Tour manager, Andy, introduces me to vocalist Jeff. “I’ll bump ya rather than shake hands – I just washed them and nothing to dry ‘em with.” He’s insistent I take something from their rider but I decline. We discuss other matters before turning to the interview but it’s obvious before it begins Angell’s happy to be out touring, finally having a chance to perform songs from their long-awaited WP2 album.
Really good, we’re trying some different things. There’s some technical things that I think, by now, we’ve started to get them worked out. We’ve got upright bass, we’re using saxophones, some different kind of percussion stuff. I think you’ll see in the show there’s some challenges to go from a huge super loud rock band to a tiny little thing. Technically, it’s really difficult but it seems like it’s working and the show’s got huge dynamics so it’s really cool.
The new album came out at the start of the year, what’s been the overall reaction to the new music?
Erm…well, some people have broken out in hives, couple of people have developed post-traumatic stress disorder, there’s been a few others who have vomited profusely! [laughs] No, it seems to be really positive, especially the people who were waiting for it were really happy to see it come out. I think it’s a good album and there’s some good songs on there. In my opinion, right now, there isn’t a lot of great rock albums that have come out recently so that makes me feel like it’s a good time for it to come out. Maybe people are reacting really positive to it because it’s at a time when, in my opinion, there’s not much competing with it. What do you think?
[Admittedly, Angell caught me out with this – my own take was there’s a lot of great albums coming out but what gives Walking Papers the edge over others is their unique sound. After the interview finished, I ran through some of the great albums I’ve reviewed this year and naturally, The Virginmarys. Turns out he saw them years back with Queens of the Stone Age and loved them.] Because of the gap between the album being finished and coming out, is there new material being worked on for a third album?
I made the Staticland album in-between, that’s actually a more current record than this one. When we made the record, a lot of songs like “My Luck Pushed Back”, “Death on the Lips” and “I Know You’re Lying” were really fresh when we went into the studio so they were brand new at the time. We didn’t really mess with it much, we did remix a few things but that was it when we left it. We had it pretty much wrapped up but…things get delayed sometimes. I don’t think it reached the expiration date, I still think it was fresh but then you also wonder what would have happened if it had [snaps fingers] came out at that time. Would it have been two years fresher? I don’t know.
Given the progression in sound between albums, do you see that being the case for the next one?
Yeah, and I think that’s probably gonna happen. The other guys who aren’t touring with us might be involved in some capacity, they just can’t tour. Obviously, Duff’s [McKagan, bass] got a cash printing press to attend to back in 1987 but I just don’t know. Barrett’s [Martin, drums] business is his own but I just don’t know if he’s capable of touring right now.
The album addresses the concept of truth in several songs, was that a theme you were keen to explore?
It’s funny, I’m glad you caught that…a lot of times I wonder why I am even writing songs. There’s so many great songs written and now that we have access to all this music…is there ever going to be a band better than Duke Ellington’s Orchestra? Or is there gonna be a band better than Booker T, what he was doing for Stax Records – probably not. Is there going to be a singer better than Mavis Staples? Probably not. But there are these times, with what goes on in our lives now, and I do think that human beings and their nature – if you went back to the 50s and 60s what was appropriate to talk about in public, especially in the 50s, where everyone pretended they had a perfect life and as life is developing – I think there are a lot of reasons to continue to make music.
For me, personally, music has always been a way for me to figure out things. Whether I’m writing a character study about somebody else or if I’m writing a song about myself, it helps me work out things and sometimes I don’t know what I’m working out until I’m done. I think there’s a lot of things about truth, temptation and redemption in this record. And when I look at some records of my youth; other records that I made, some of those records seem like the guy in those records was doing himself damage and didn’t know what to do with it. Whereas now, I feel like this record is a person who’s able to conquer those temptations and not fall into them. That’s what I hear in the record so I do think there is a truth in there because it’s about being true to myself rather than being disappointed in myself. Whereas some of the other records are kinda sad, there’s a little bit of writing these songs as a confession whilst writing these songs are writing them as an accomplishment which is really cool to find out.
There’s a lot of stories told on WP2, is it a case of simply telling these stories with characters or are they based on the true events?
Some are made up, some are real events. Don’t let the truth stand in the way of a good story! So what sounds like truth isn’t always completely accurate so sometimes to make a story more interesting…you have this story but then part of that person is me, part of that person is someone else. I gotta put pieces of me in there to make it sound believable. I like a narrative song, in these songs are complete worlds to where I can go and live vicariously, rather than pull some of those stunts in the real world. It’s almost like a Sims world where I can let my imagination go where it wants without causing any collateral damage. For that reason, it’s really healthy for me.
As you mentioned the Staticland album from a couple of years ago, is that now an on-going project?
I’m not sure exactly what I’m going to do but it seems the Walking Papers had a lot more of a push than anything else I’ve done. Now those guys have given me the freedom to do what I want with it, it might be best for me to keep all my eggs in that basket. We had other Staticland songs and stuff that we wrote, who knows? Maybe I’ll do some stuff with that in the future.
When writing and making music, is there a conscious effort to create for a certain project in mind or is it more organic?
It’s wherever I’m at, at the time. I was thinking this thing, not from personal experience but, it’s like the guy who’s dying his whole life to get two girls home in the same bed at the same time. I’ve got this theory that one or the other’s kinda disappointed. [laughs] You know what I mean? I have a hard enough time keeping my wife alone happy, I couldn’t imagine having another one to focus on at the same time. Maybe best to just focus on the one that’s in the room.
Header image by Ernie Sapiro