Interview by Tobias Carroll
TW Walsh has released music as a solo artist and a member of Pedro the Lion, among others; these days, he calls Boston home, and mixes and masters albums there. His latest album, Songs of Pain and Leisure, is a collection of ten smart, well-written rock songs. For a while, over ten years ago, both Walsh and I contributed blogs to the website of the now-defunct indie press TNI Books. It’s this literary connection that prompted me to think of his for this column; the ensuing discussion, conducted via email, is probably the only place you’re likely to see both Gene Wolfe and Steely Dan come up in conversation this year.
There’s been a literary crossover to your music as far back as the time when you and I were both blogging on the TNI Books website. Has that had any effect on the songs that you’ve written over the years?
I think that any art, literature or media you consume is going to have an impact on things you create. In a way, making stuff is all just regurgitation. I just happen to read books some of the time…although I’m not sure if that has made my songs more literary.
Besides working on your own music, you’ve also played music with others and worked on numerous albums in an engineering or mastering capability. Has that had an effect on your music?
Yeah, musically, I really learned a lot from colleagues during my time in Seattle. Especially Bazan and the members of Crystal Skulls. My experience with mixing and mastering records for other bands has really made it easier to get the sounds I’m looking for with my own stuff.
What prompted the formation of The Soft Drugs a few years ago? Was the process of writing those songs different from writing your solo work?
When I was in Pedro the Lion, we wanted to find an active outlet for my songs. We recorded the In Moderation EP, but Pedro the Lion broke up before I could finish it and put it out. I just kept the band name going for a few years after that. In Seattle, it was basically a solo project, but when I moved back to Boston, I put together a proper band.
The writing process wasn’t different, because I wasn’t writing other songs besides the Soft Drugs stuff. But In Moderation is a bit more influenced by Steely Dan and Crystal Skulls (complex harmony and more polyrhythms), and the Get Back stuff is straight up sloppy rock and roll.
Looking at your reading lists, I noticed a focus on certain authors over the course of several months. Do you prefer to focus on one author’s body of work for an extended period of time, or get more of a cross-section of writers/genres/styles/tones?
I definitely go through phases. But mostly the phases correspond to trying to complete a series. Some of the series are very long, so I end up reading one author for several months.
What are some of the books that have stayed with you over the years?
My favorite author is Gene Wolfe. So his 3 “Sun” series are probably at the top of the heap (The Book of the New Sun, The Book of the Long Sun, The Book of the Short Sun). I love all of the Dune series (Herbert), and A Song of Ice and Fire (Martin). Tolkien will always be in there…the 2 mainstream novels I’ve read recently which really blew me away were Reamde by Neal Stephenson and Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts.