The last few years have been rough on Seth Walker even without the chaos caused by COVID-19. Dealing with the end of a long term relationship, the musician decided to pack up and move from Nashville, TN to Asheville, NC, not far from where he grew up. He needed the Blue Ridge Mountains’ tranquility to try and answer some serious life questions, and the fresh air and family time were exactly what Walker needed.
In 2021, Walker released his first book, “Your Van Is on Fire: The Miscellaneous Meanderings of a Musician.” Filled with artwork, poems and crazy tales of traveling the world, the book was a much needed palate cleansing, and Walker’s latest musical release, “I Hope I Know,” is another link into his head and heart. The seven original songs and three perfectly-chosen covers allow Walker to serve up some of the most heartfelt vocals of his long career. Once again, he isn’t afraid to tell his story, and the rawness is where this album shines brightest
SlideandBanjo: Hey Seth – judging by your latest record, it looks like you’ve been going through some serious stuff. It felt like someone needed to send you a plant to cheer you up.
Seth Walker: (Laughs) I’m doing much better since I put that out in the world. It was in the midst of the pandemic. Most of this was written and recorded through that. I also had a breakup from a seven-year relationship that ended in the middle of all that.
S&B: When we last spoke for the release of your book, you were in the process of hitting the brakes a bit to let things evolve as organically as possible. It seems that carried over into the making of this album.
SW: The whole record has a search and surrender. Surrendering to some of the questions I have, that I’ll never know. That’s tough to accept sometimes. You think you ought to be able to sit there and figure it out. (Laughs) But sometimes it just doesn’t come to you.
As I got into this, I realized space was the place. Let’s try to make this baby breathe more than any record I’ve ever done – breathe being a key word. I was singing quieter. It was weird. When I look back on past gigs and albums, I always kept pushing. There’s such an anxiousness on the road. It got to the point where I was like, “was I even at that gig?” This album, I wanted to “be” there.
S&B: Like the book, this album was never a set-in-stone project with a clear vision from start to finish?
SW: The album was not planned. I call it the “no plan” plan. When I was releasing the book, I went into the studio just to mess around. You couldn’t get a group of musicians together in the same room because of Covid. It was just me and (album producer) Jano Rix wearing masks. It was, “hey, let’s cut a few tunes.” Nothing along the lines of “I have a concept for a whole album.”
S&B: Which songs grew from those sessions?
SW: The first ones we cut were “Why Do I Cry Anymore,” “Hope I Know,” “The Future Ain’t What It Used to Be,” and “Satisfy My Mind.” A lot of it was just drums and an acoustic guitar. There were several songs I was trying to cut at the time. They were good songs that I loved. As the songs grew and the album started to show a path, they just didn’t resonate with where I was at the time.
S&B: What ultimately led from “just messing around” to morph into a full album?
SW: Time. There was so much time. I would marinate on things. We let things come to us. It took us a long time to put this together. We were able to meet this thing in the middle instead of chasing it.
S&B: “Remember Me” is a song early in the album that jumps lyrically right in the pool with the first songs you recorded. Was that another important piece to solving the album puzzle?
SW: A lot of those songs I did by myself in the studio. We were even thinking about releasing this as an EP.
“Remember Me” was one of the last ones I wrote. My approach was different. I was singing quieter than I ever had. It was a reflective thing. I looked on my bookshelf one day and ”Remember Me As A Time Of Day” was a book on the shelf. As I realized what the album was going to be, I figured out a couple of type of songs I needed to add to it. As the album presented itself, it showed what was lacking as much as what was there.
S&B: There are three cover songs that seamlessly fit the theme and mood of the album. The first is a hauntingly similar version of Bobby Charles’s “Tennessee Blues.” A song with a tale literally so similar to yours.
SW: I’ve been singing Charles’s “I Must Be in A Good Place Now” live for years. Then a friend sent me a version of “Tennessee Blues.” I don’t know where the heck I’ve been. I don’t know how I hadn’t heard that song.
When I heard the lyrics, it was a biography of where I was. “Find me a spot on some mountain top with no one around me.” I was like Jesus; this song really spoke to me. The more I listened to the whole concept and collection for the album, there was no question “Tennessee Blues” was the way to go with that.
S&B: You also included a rendition of Van Morrison’s “Warm Love.” Not the deepest cut, but once again another song that hadn’t crossed your radar?
SW: That was recommended to me by Kevin Calabro (Royal Potato Family) a couple of years ago. I don’t know what rock I was under again with that one, because I hadn’t heard it either. (Laughs) I guess I only listen to music written before 1965. It gives a fresh breath of air towards the end of the record. That really helped the flow of the album.
S&B: Bob Dylan’s “Buckets of Rain” is the final cover song in the album. How you came to add this specific version is a tale that follows the path you took the entire album.
SW: That one I’ve known for a while. I heard Oliver Wood do The Band version of the song. The lyrics reminded me of how good the tune was.
One morning, I hadn’t sang it before, I printed the lyrics and went back to my sun room. This was early in the morning. I turned the voice memo thing on and sang into my iPhone. Since it was only on my phone, I wanted to re-record it with some nice microphones. Then I thought back to the theme of the album, trying not to try. I couldn’t beat the feeling of not giving a damn.
So, the recording on the album is the one directly from my iPhone. My dad plays cello on this track which was also a treat for me.
S&B: It feels like the wind is finally at your back. You’re heading out on tour soon and you sound like you’re chomping at the bit to set sail anew?
SW: Oh, I feel great! I’m so looking forward to getting out there touring. Getting out and being a part of what I’ve missed so much.
I loved being in the Blue Ridge Mountains. All of that has soothed my soul. The making of the album was cathartic. One of those things where we have to go through some stuff to feel good again. Everything’s cool man.
JP Ruggieri is joining the band in August. We’re going to be a quartet and kick it up a bit. That was another one we didn’t plan. That was the whole theme once again. It was not planned. We hit the road in May and will be out there until October.