The Austin Chronicle

Seven the Hard Way

Picks 2 Click: Local septet of acts braces for SXSW

By Kevin Curtin, March 4, 2016, Music

Walker Lukens

SXSW showcase: Thu., March 17, 11pm, Lamberts

"Hey, Walter."

My first correspondence with a promising young songwriter and I'd blown it on the greeting.

"It's actually Walker," he wrote back kindly. "This is a very common mistake. Feel free to now make a Walker, Texas Ranger joke."

Since then, Walker Lukens has released two of the stickiest singles to emerge from the dead air of Austin's pop frequencies. The first, 2013's "Dear Someone," yearns for a deep human connection. Its melancholic melody melted over ice-cream chords in a manner that had some pegging it as a Wilco cover, or maybe the National. His debut LP, Devoted, a collection of piano ballads, mellow indie rock, and vocal loops, added to his unusually wholesome image.

"That was so plaintive and heart on your sleeve," reflects Lukens on "Dear Someone." "I don't really care about that anymore. I still agonize over my lyrics as much as I ever did, but not with the same emotion."

Last year, the native Texan floated a brave new single: one-chord doo-wop drug binge "Every Night." That spun a new side of Walker – pop-noir groove addict. Local frequencies KUTX and KGSR complied with rotation, while Spotify stacked three digits worth of plays.

"Every Night" teases Lukens' second LP, originally titled Baked Goods, but recently renamed Tell It to the Judge. Produced by Spoon drummer Jim Eno, who gelled with Lukens' instinctual and in-the-moment recording tactics, the upcoming collection spins sonic curveballs (huge drums, an iPhone-recorded vocal sample) and stylistic left turns (rock, soul, experimental). Lukens also sharpened his pencil, sneaking sophisticated prose into feel-good songs.

"It definitely packs more of a punch than any album I've put out," assesses Lukens. "Every song is groove-oriented, and there are no ballads, which is very different for me. I think some of the albums I've made in the past have been too melodramatic. It's definitely not that."

A similar evolution has been demonstrated in Lukens' stage persona, equitable to a non-sexually-threatening version of Prince.

"My biggest realization as a musician has been that if you're going to go out there and make your living being an entertainer, you have to put on a good show. You can make a cool record, but if people don't like watching you play, it's worth nothing," he declares. "We've been so focused on that that when you see us, there's no moment when you want to take a cigarette break."

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