Calling it a “positive message concept album” that might be “helpful to some people out there trying to fight the good fight,” local musician Doug Walters‘ new solo album Into the Light — an entirely independent production and release — is a major accomplishment for the longtime Charleston songwriter. He’s a full-time singer/guitarist and a part-time journalist (he’s contributed several pieces to City Paper‘s music section this year). Well-arranged and unexpectedly atmospheric, audio engineers Travis Banks and Jeff Leonard worked with Waters off-and-on for over a year on the 10-song collection at Awendaw Green’s studio. We conducted a quick Q&A with the guy this week, just as he was preparing for the official CD release gig at the Pour House set for Thurs. June 11.
City Paper Music Desk: Into the Light moves at a much different pace and with much more somber tone than the recent Torture Town collection. Why is this solo stuff so different from the rock band stuff?
Doug Walters: I love many different styles of music, and I have many different influences. I just write whatever comes at the moment, then I put them in whatever pile they belong, and whenever there is a big enough pile of songs that are decent enough, I’ll put ’em on an album. I wrote all the Torture Town tunes also. That is a solo album as well, but more from a character or my alter-ego, if you will, so I named that project with that in mind. The Into the Light stuff is more from the heart, from me personally, so I used my name. The subject matter is a little more serious and maybe even kind of heavy, so the tone reflects that. Even though I love rock and funk, the ballads and even slow blues stuff feels closest to home for me in a lot of ways. But I love it all. Mellow or rockin’ — as long as it’s real, it’s cool.
City Paper Music Desk: It seems like you recorded this album very gradually, in bits and pieces, sculpting it a little bit at a time. Was this part of a master plan to allow for breathing room and reflection, or was it out of simple financial reality and necessity — or both?
Doug Walters: It’s just the way it worked out. I was recording it with Travis Banks, a beautiful and talented cat, who was very busy and lived out of town, so we worked around his schedule when time permitted. But things always work out the way they are supposed to, so I’m sure this was the way this was supposed to be. It ended up taking almost a year and a half. I banged the Torture Town album out with my main man Jeff Caldwell and my mix man Jeff Leonard in a couple of weeks during that time. Actually recorded it in one day. That’s the way it goes: the more talented the cat you have manning the knobs, the more in demand he’s gonna be and the smaller your window is to get it done. That’s why it’s crucial to have your shit completely together when you finally get in there. I always demo stuff at home so I really know what I want when I get in there for real.
Things have their own pace. Especially when it comes to creating art. You can’t rush it. You just let it happen when it tells you too. And people that you may be working with are busy, so you learn to be patient. Because you really have no choice.
City Paper Music Desk: Define the type of rock and roll you tried to deliver on Into the Light.
Doug Walters: Well, conceptually, it’s about regeneration. Coming back to life. We all lose our way from time to time. It’s part of being human. But every minute is a chance to turn it all around if we want to. To be the best you you can be is a powerful and beautiful thing. I was lost in darkness for decades. You could say I was the mayor of Torture Town. Or at least a full time resident. But two years ago I decided to try to prune the branches that weren’t bearing fruit, of which there were many. I got clean and sober and kind of found the me I always knew I could have been. And I made an effort to go towards the light. It’s a process, not an overnight thing … We all have a light inside of us. It’s our job to let it shine. You need to find it first. It’s the best thing we can do. For ourselves and for others. To find your thing and use it. To use your thing and find it. It’s not an easy path, but adversity is part of triumph. There ain’t no sweet without the bitter. Into the light is about that struggle. There ain’t no easy ride, but you have to shine anyway. Through it all. Shine, baby, shine… to be inspired. And to inspire. What else is there?
Musically, I’d say the stuff that was probably stirring around in me was old Pink Floyd. Probably Tom Waits and Leonard Cohen. Maybe Neil Young. I really like Mark Lanegan a lot. He’s a heavy cat. Jimi is so much a part of me, he’s always in there, even if it doesn’t seem like it. But really, more than anything I was just really trying to be me. As honestly and as completely as I could be, for better or worse. To really just come straight from the heart was the goal. Just be me. Warts and all.
City Paper Music Desk: Did anyone who contributed to the sessions — studio guys or guest musician or vocalists — suggest or deliver anything totally of the wall?
Doug Walters: Well, everyone who was a part of it was important to me. I kind of had the songs and arrangements and all of that all mapped out, so from a technical point the vision was in place before I even went in there. I pretty much knew what I wanted. Jeff Caldwell and Annie Boxell did some singing and they had some cool ideas about some harmonies and different vocal things here and there, which was cool. And Jeff Leonard, who mixed it with me, is a bad motherfucker. That man has some ears on him. He took what Travis and I did and made it sound like a million bucks. He gets the MVP.
Everyone was a real pro, but really, it was their vibe that was so cool and so inspirational to me. I think the vibe is the most important thing about making music. It was so much fun to make this. I like to stay focused and work hard and really get shit done and I could do that and still keep it light with everyone. Eddie White, who owns the studio at Awendaw Green, was incredibly hospitable, and the place is very comfortable and has a very positive vibe to it. Cool people coming and going. It’s very communal out there, as it should be. And I was in a very good space too. Clean and sober and inspired. It was very cool. Everything about it was tight and clean and on the one. And to work with my best friends on this thing at such a cool place was beautiful. A great experience. I think it shows in the recording.
City Paper Music Desk: Listening back to the final version of the new album what is your favorite song on it — and why?
Doug Walters: Oh man, I don’t really know. I don’t really listen to it, or any of my music, that much. And if I do, it’s more for technical reasons (is the mix right, is the arrangement cool, etc.) I’m proud of all the songs. For different reasons. But to me, it’s more about the whole album. I’ve kind of always been like that. An album has always been one big song with different sections. A good album should flow. I think into the light is pretty solid. The songs are pretty good and the mix is cool. I learned a lot making it. There are things that could be much better about it, but that’s cool. Honestly, I’m on to the next batch of songs. I have another album in the can, and I’m starting pre-production on the next torture town album, so these tunes aren’t really even on my radar. You just try to keep moving forward. And try not to think about it too much. I hope people dig it, but you never know. You do what you do because that’s what you do. And sometimes you get it right. But I’m not a good judge of what I do. I’m too close.
City Paper Music Desk: Why should someone who’s never heard of you or your album swing by the Pour House this Thursday (June 11)?
Doug Walters: Well, I’ve got a smoking band. That’s the main reason. I have Ben Wells on bass, Robert thorn on the skins, Patience Clements on organ and vocals, Annie Boxell on vocals, dale baker on lead guitar (who’s so fucking terrifying he makes Osama bin Laden look like Micky Mouse), and myself on vocals and guitar. We’ll play the whole album (which will be on sale for cheap). And a few other originals. The Pour House is cool. It always sounds good in there. It’s a good vibe. It’ll be a fun time. Thursday night is a good night to go out. Someone told me Thursday night is the new Friday night. That sounded pretty good to me. I hope everyone can come out and party down with us. Also, free hugs and kisses for the ladies and the dudes get to carry all our shit. That’s the real main reason.