This year at Bonnaroo, the festival put together the unique Who Stage, which introduces you to those artists you just have to ask “who is that?” about. One of those artists this year was Walker Lukens, who put on an exuberant midday show to a crowd of both old fans and new. If you caught Walker Lukens and his backing band The Side Arms at Bonnaroo and want to know more, we’ve got you covered.
Lukens is an alternative singer-songwriter anomaly that defies all expectations of both genres. His multi-layered tracks are an exciting spasm for your ears, a refreshing change up in a world of music that often all starts to run together. The latest EP released by Lukens was produced by Brian Eno of Spoon, after the two had one of those chance Austin run-ins that only fate can influence. The end result is some of Lukens’ best work yet. After his Bonnaroo set, AXS had the chance to quiz Lukens on how he created some of that music.
AXS: What has your experience at Bonnaroo been like so far?
Walker Lukens: It’s been really positive, people are really friendly and in a good mood. It’s really nice to be around. Other festivals we’ve played are in cities, so they don’t quite have that destination feel that this one does.
AXS: Have you gotten to see any other bands while you’re here?
W.L.: I caught July Talk’s set last night, it was really amazing. And I saw Turkuaz, they played last night, an amazing set as well. But other than that, I haven’t had a chance to catch anyone yet. I really want to, but not yet.
AXS: You use a lot of different instrumentation in your songs. What draws you to a particular sound and makes you want to incorporate it?
W.L.: A lot of times, my songs start with a particular instrument and rhythm, or vocal loop, and I like to let that dictate where the music goes, instead of thinking about just a certain set of instruments. I think there’s more instruments and more tones on my records than on other records, just because I really like letting the song take me where it feels right.
AXS: How did you create the intro to “Lifted”?
W.L.: I used to rehearse at my friend’s art studio when he wasn’t in there. I made that vocal loop and recorded it onto my iPhone. It was always just an idea in my head, and this guy I was working with, he basically was like “we don’t need to re-record that, it sounds so cool just like that.” So what you hear on the record is actually my voice memo from my iPhone.
AXS: How did you put together your band The Side Arms (which, by the way, is such a clever name)?
W.L.: Thank you. You know, it’s happened slowly over time. I made this record pretty much by myself, it was me and this producer who made it, and then I put together a band to tour on that. I’ve been with these guys for a couple years now, and they worked on this new record, and they’re my steady band now.
AXS: How do you shift gears from some of your more energetic, get on your feet songs to the slower tracks, especially live?
W.L.: Well you know, with the live stuff, we try to keep it really high energy, as much as we can. It’s interesting, I never really felt drawn to that kind of music until I started performing a lot. I found that it goes over better in concert.
AXS: What are your plans to set yourself apart from the singer-songwriter niche, apart from the obvious that you sound so different than most of them?
W.L.: It’s tough. I think you just have to keep doing it, you know. And don’t wear a fedora. A lot of my favorite music is made by singer-songwriters, but if you’re not up there with an acoustic guitar and a fedora, I think it gives you a fighting chance.
AXS: What goes through your head once you get on the stage and start performing?
W.L.: You know, I don’t want to ruin it, but it’s all pretty well rehearsed now, what we do. So, it kind of feels like following a script, a really fun script. I’m always trying to just balance the energy and excitement with doing the next thing you’re going to do. “Don’t f*ck up” runs through my head a lot, too.
AXS: What do you draw your inspiration from?
W.L.: All sorts of stuff. More recently, my really close family friend just moved, and they gave me their old piano. It’s been really amazing to have that in my house. I’ve written a lot of stuff on that piano. If you’re asking about lyrics and stuff, it changes all the time. I’m always writing down little phrases in the notes section of my iPhone, so when I have a tune or something I go back to that and use it as a starting point.
AXS: And last question, because I have to challenge you, if you can only use one word to describe your music, what do you pick?
W.L.: Oh, damn. One word. Maybe “wow!” With an exclamation point.