Seth Walker is a musician by trade, and a good one at that. The traveling troubadour has spent the last couple of decades traversing the world, playing gigs of all sizes, shapes and forms. Thanks to the covid pandemic, Walker’s plans for 2020 took a considerable detour.
Fortunately, the change of plans allowed Walker the opportunity to chase a new muse. He used his unexpected free time to write “Your Van is on Fire: the Miscellaneous Meanderings of a Musician,” a compilation of essays, poems, and artwork covering everything from being raised on a North Carolina commune to barely making it through a gig on a ship in the middle of a raging North Sea.
Walker makes it crystal clear he doesn’t consider himself a writer. However, his book makes a strong argument against those claims. It’s full of “you had to be there” road stories, but Walker changes things up a bit; the book is also filled with original poems and art, some recent and some from years ago.
Slideandbanjo.com had the opportunity to visit with Walker to discuss all things literal and musical. He begins by discussing his past writing efforts.
“Through the years I’ve dabbled. I used to do these newsletters, and I would do some journaling I would include in the letter. You know, anecdotal things about gigs gone wrong,” Walker states.
“When covid hit, I found myself staring out the window. I just looked back at the older pieces I have done. They were a portal into this whole thing. I wrote three or four pieces that were kind of short essays. I guess you could loosely call it a memoir. It was so refreshing for me to have something I could sink my teeth into creatively – and from the comfort of my pajamas.”
Walker immediately noticed an influx of creativity as soon as he started putting energy into his new artistic venture. “Being off the song grid was really freeing for me,” he said. “It was long form. I could express myself in a way I couldn’t in a three-minute song.
“That exploded for me. I felt so liberated and free. It was therapeutic for the transition of losing what I always hung my hat on. Touring and being a musician. Honestly, it opened me in ways I was not expecting.”
As the idea of creating a book began to take shape, Walker credits a previous brush with the literary world to keep things moving.
“To take it one step further, my neighbor wrote a piece about me for the East Nashvillian about two years ago. She is a great writer and poet herself. Her name is Leslie LaChance. I showed her a few of my essays just for fun and she said ‘you really may have something here.’ Then she became my editor,” Walker explains. “That was a serendipitous thing because she was out of work too. It was off to the races from there.”
One hurdle Walker had to leap was where to get the funding for his new non-musical project. He turned to the support of his friends and fans and began a Kickstarter fund for the project.
“I’ve done a number of Kickstarter things through the years for my music. I was absolutely blown away that people were interested in something they’ve never seen me do. They don’t know how I write. I can’t tell you how much that support meant to me.” Walker marvels.
“It’s also a testament to the connection of music. All the years of touring and connections that have brought my fans together is a tangible thing…It’s a strong bond that proves even further to me, not just financially, but someone connecting emotionally.”
With the funding in place and a blank page in front of him, Walker set off on the road to becoming a writer. “As I was digging into this book, I realized how much I needed to read. I’ve read a good bit throughout the years. Nothing crazy,” Walker says.
“As I started this book, I found myself sponging it up. Trying to find the guys I resonate with. One thing I really learned about was poetry. That’s why there aren’t many poems in the book. I had 20 poems that I thought would make it. The more I got into poetry, the more I realized that it is a whole other language. Like being a jazz musician. You have to learn how that stuff goes before you call yourself a poet.”
Walker credits former poet-laureate Billy Collins for showing him one important area to focus on.
“What I ended up taking away from him is how many words I’m wasting – things on first scribble that you think are great,” Walker explains. “The editing process is another thing I learned a lot about. The value of reading, re-reading, writing, reading, having someone read it back to you, read it into the recorder and see where it’s most impactful to the reader. I think it’s going to help when I go back to writing music.
As Walker’s book-writing journey continued, he continually drew from his skills as a musician to make sure to step back and let the creative process take its own time.
“Some of the pieces took a lot longer to show themselves. There’s a piece in the book called ‘Live A Little.’ It’s a piece about where I grew up, an autobiographical piece about the living room of my house. For a lot of musicians, this is their first stage. I wanted to write a piece about where I’m from in North Carolina. I was raised on a commune in a log house. It took me four times to get that piece to fit with the rest of the collection.
“Writing a book is a completely different muse,” Walker quips. “I’ve put out a lot of albums. As you develop your career and your music, people come to expect a certain thing from you. I’ve tried not to adhere to that and follow wherever my creativity goes. This book was so freeing since no one is expecting anything. So, I was wide open.”
The topics Walker covers in the book are also wide open. He’s happy to be the butt of his own joke, if that’s how the story played out. Whether it’s having his entire audience of eight leave his gig at the Austin rodeo in unison to watch a monkey ride a dog to not being asked to stay on stage for playing Jimmy Reed wrong, Walker is not afraid to share these tales.
With so many miles traveled over so many years, even Walker was surprised at how well he was able to remember these times with such specificity.
“Most of these stories here are just road lore stories that I never wrote down, but would just tell to people ‘you wouldn’t believe what happened at this crazy ass gig we did.’ For some reason – I don’t know why – I can remember these details from 30 years ago,” Walker jokes. “I don’t remember what I had for breakfast, but I remember these things. They’re burned into me.
“As I started to crack open these essays, it all came flooding back to me and was really… fun. I hate to use that word, but it was. It was so… I wasn’t trying. That’s when I knew I was in the pocket. There have been so many times in my career where I have steered something. Like trying to steer a muse and that shit never works. You just got to get in the way of it or get in the stream of it. When that feeling started happening with the book, I was like I’m going to be quiet and keep on writing.”
“Your Van is on Fire” is another in a long line of artistic projects that would have never seen the light of day had it not been for the Covid pandemic. Walker’s inclusion of original poetry and artwork offers a unique view into the craziness his eyes have seen since he was a child.
Walker is spending the pandemic close to his family in North Carolina. As he anxiously awaits to see what the post-Covid world looks like for a musician, he’s happy to take a minute or two to breath and see what other muses cross his path.
“I just moved to Asheville, North Carolina. My mother, father and family live there. It was a good place with Covid and everything, to hang and have no gigs. It’s where I was in my life. I needed a soft place to land so I found myself in the mountains,” Walker states.
“It’s good for my nervous system. I do have an aspiration of writing a novel one day and have some ideas percolating. That’s gonna be a big ole’ big ole’ but who knows.
“It’s so freeing for me because there’s nothing. Just me and the page.”