Walker Lukens Bakes NYC

Loops, balding accountants, and penis postcards

Listeners of Walker Lukens’ 2013 debut Devoted may have pegged the Austinite as a solemn singer-songwriter in search of earnest emotional connections. He demonstrated his true colors as a loop-inducing pop experimenter on this year’s wily doo-wop/indie rock single “Every Night,” produced by Spoon drummer Jim Eno.

The song sets up a forthcoming sophomore LP, Baked Goods. While that album finishes cooking, the ginger artiste stationed his band the Side Arms in New York for a weekly residency at Bowery Electric. In between East Coast tour stops, he phoned in an update on his summer in the city.

Walker Lukens & the Side Arms at Bowery Electric, 2015 (Photo by Paul Adams)

Austin Chronicle: You’ve been gallivanting around the Northeast for three weeks now. What’s that been like?

Walker Lukens: For me and the bass player Roger Mason, who I met when we lived in New York, it’s been this weird full circle thing where we’ve gone back to places we were at three or four years ago. That’s been a trip because things are going a lot better now than they were then. On the other side of it, we’ve had some very bizarre experiences.

On Friday, we played this club in D.C. called the Hamilton that’s a seated dinner club. It’s a really swanky place and they fed the band well, and it was a very posh experience. Then, on Saturday night, we played at a DIY squat in Philadelphia, so it’s been all over the spectrum in terms of shows.

AC: How are the audiences responding? Has Walkermania hit the East Coast yet?

WL: I think no, but maybe soon. When you’re from Austin, you live in a really easy, awesome city to play music in, but there’s no industry. So it’s important to tour in L.A. and New York, but it’s really hard to get stuff done when you’re only there for a night or two. So the thought was, “Well fuck, let’s go for a month.” They have no excuse to miss us because we’re playing once a week for four weeks. In that way, it’s been good.

I feel like we’re on tour. A band is like a pack of dogs. When the pack is moving, shit can be pretty good. No one wanders off, no one fights with each other. But as soon as you have a lot of downtime, that’s when one of the dogs wanders off or they start fighting. Or they get loaded and show up to a show without their gear.

AC: Or they attack someone and have to be put down.

WL: There’s this guy at Zilker Park every morning who has two old dogs he walks, but he also picks up other dogs’ shit. He’s a sage. He always comes around with a weird comment and one of them is that pack of dogs metaphor, which he uses for everything. It’s what he uses to describe his marriage and friendships and life.

I’m like, “Wow, you spend a lot of time with dog packs!’ Then I found myself doing it and I realize he’s right.

AC: Speaking of interesting characters, you told me months ago that you’d made contact with a bizarro version of yourself and were going to meet him while on tour.

WL: So my biggest pet peeve is when people call me “Walter” Lukens, which everyone does. I’ve already got Walker, Texas Ranger. I don’t know if you could have a worse joke to get all the time. One time I got paid as “Walter” Lukens and I posted on Facebook about it. My friend linked Walter Lukens’ Linkedin profile and it’s absolutely the spitting image of what I don’t want to be and what I imagine people think when they hear the name Walter Lukens. He’s a balding, middle-aged accountant from D.C.

I was like, “Holy shit. This is my nightmare and it exists!”

So I sent Walter a message. I said, “Hey Walter, I’m always getting mistaken for you. If you do a Google search of your name, you’ll see my picture because people always get it wrong. I’d love to meet you. I have two tickets for you, if you want to come to my show in D.C.” He wrote me back right away and said, “This is so funny, yes you can count on me.”

I got really excited because I thought Walter Lukens has an amazing sense of humor and it’s gonna be great. Then on Thursday, I got an email from his secretary – he didn’t even have the balls to do it himself – to say he wasn’t coming! So I guess Walter gets the last laugh. I just wanted a fucking selfie for my Instagram or something.

AC: You’re working with Spoon drummer Jim Eno on a new album called Baked Goods. By your own judgment, how much better is it than your debut LP?

WL: Well, it’s a hell of a lot more fun. I feel like Devoted was a big, moody, mess. I love that album because I worked really hard on it, but Baked Goods is way more fun and to the point. I’ve been into this idea of, without totally changing my songwriting, trying to make a Seventies-style rock album like ZZ Top, just maybe not as misogynistic as ZZ Top.

Those albums, Tejas, Deguello, Tres Hombres, are so awesome and they’ve got these certain kinds of songs. There’s always the blues cover, the awesome instrumental, and there’s always a song that’s really catchy but reduces women to “You’re hot! You just want my car!” Those albums are so good, so I feel like the energy I’m going for is in line with that.

AC: And you’re utilizing the vocal loop element of your music quite a bit too, right?

WL: Yeah, there’s a lot of the looper. One thing we’ve been working really hard on as a band is to try to get all the sounds from the record into the live show. We started using a sample pad for the drummer so he can get crazy noises, and we added another keyboard onstage. So I feel like it’s twofold, because we have the same band playing on all the songs in the studio, which is awesome, and then everything we added in the studio has come into our live show.

AC: When does it come out?

WL: I’ll have a much better idea at the end of July, but I feel like it’s going to be out in January. People will probably hear more of the record before then, though.

AC: One of the best pieces of mail I’ve received this year is the postcard you sent me with penises drawn all over it. Can you give me an idea of what kind of message you were trying to impart with that?

WL: Well first off, I have to tell you that it was drawn by Roger, our bass player, who is actually an amazing artist. I asked him to draw something like that, so I guess I was the art director. It was one of those things when you just want someone to remember you. I had this sense that you’re a guy who probably gets hit up by a lot of publicists, but probably doesn’t get a lot flying dicks in the mail.

You seem like an informal guy who got a formal job. That’s my read on Kevin Curtin. Most music writers I know don’t also play in bands. You’re actually a musician too, so you’re a different breed. A hybrid.

What message was I trying to send you with my flying dick postcard? I was just trying to wake you up and thought a lot of penises not doing anything might be more powerful than maybe one penis with a purpose or meaning.

AC: You’re returning home in July. What’s next for Walker Lukens & the Side Arms?

WL: We’re leaving New York this Friday, then playing in Nashville three times, then coming back to do the ACL Wine Down at Moody Theater [July 14] and Blues on the Green [July 22]. Then I kind of want to make a covers EP.

AC: What covers?

WL: We’ve been doing that Screaming Jay Hawkins song “I Put a Spell on You,” so I want to do that. I want to do Cream’s “I Feel Free.” Zach [Catanzaro], our drummer, had the idea of doing the first part of the song as a loop. Then my thought was instead of going into the rock part of it, make it a funky hip-hop thing rather than Sixties rock. We used to always cover the Stooges, so we’ll probably do a balls-out rock song too.

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Walker Lukens, Side Arms, Roger Mason, Zach Catanzaro, Spoon, Jim Eno, ZZ Top, Scrreaming Jay Hawkins, Cream, Stooges, ACL Wine Down, KGSR’s Blues on the Green

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