I’ve been listening to the music of TW Walsh for a long time now–from his first solo album How We Spend Our Days to his time as a member of Pedro the Lion and Headphones and on through his latest album, Fruitless Research. It’s an album that retains the same off-beat sensibility of his earlier work while also venturing into more stylized, dreamlike arrangements, with longtime collaborator Yuuki Matthews (The Shins, Crystal Skulls) along for the ride. It’s a a bold shift, and one that suggests that Walsh is embracing a musical evolution. I talked with Walsh about the making of the album, his thoughts on digital music, and more.
To someone who’s listening to your music for over a decade, Fruitless Research features a number of unexpected and unorthodox choices in terms of the arrangements and instrumentation. Was there a conscious choice to experiment more with this record?
Yes. I knew I wanted this one to sound different. I had worked with drum machines and synths in the past, but I wanted to take it another step beyond. I also knew I wanted a collaborator and thought Yuuki would be a good choice.
If memory serves, at one point a few years ago you took most of your music down from digital services. What prompted the change?
I like the idea of records going out of print. It used to be that the older or lesser records by any given artist were sometimes hard to find. Now, with digital services, you always have the juvenilia presented right next to the mature work, on equal footing. I don’t think that’s always appropriate. There are also practical considerations. It can be expensive to pay for digital distribution and there’s some administration involved. I got tired of doing that stuff. Even though I own all the rights to my old records, it’s proven difficult to get control of digital distribution rights for a couple of them. The system is complicated.
Over the years, you’ve worked with a number of different musicians; recently, you played the drums on the new Casket Girls album. Has working with a variety of different artists had any effect on your own work as a songwriter?
Working with David Bazan taught me a lot about writing and arranging. Playing with very talented players like Ken Maiuri, Casey Foubert and Yuuki Matthews over the years taught me about writing parts and performing them with feeling and conviction. My early work with Frank Padellaro, primarily on Blue Laws taught me about the recording process and executing ideas in the studio.
Recently, it was announced that you, David Bazan, and Jason Martin had started a new band. When did that begin?
Yeah, the band is called Lo Tom. We recorded 4 songs in 2014 and 4 songs in 2016. I’m trying to mix the record right now. It’s rock music.
You’ve been playing with a number of the same musicians over the years. Would you say that your relationship with them has changed, or is it more of a relationship based around consistency?
Every situation is different. The factors have to do with talent, personality, taste and a number of other components, including money. In my twenties, I was terrible at navigating those situations. I’ve gotten better over time. I do a lot of recording on my own. I’d prefer to be working with a consistent group of people both live and in the studio. Doing everything myself can be exhausting, but I do have a specific vision for things and the quickest way to do it is often to just bang it out myself.
In live situations, I have to work around people’s busy work and family lives, so I have to be flexible. Sometimes a key member of the band isn’t available for a show. But it’s been cool so far.