Every Monday through Friday, we deliver a different song as part our Song of the Day podcast subscription. This podcast features exclusive KEXP in-studio performances, unreleased songs, and recordings from independent artists that our DJs think you should hear. Each and every Friday we offer songs by local artists. Today’s selection, featured on the Afternoon Show with Kevin Cole, is “Soul Thief” by The Walkabouts from their latest album Travels in the Dustland on Fire & Skill Recordings.
In today’s society driven by instant gratification, it’s refreshing when bands can speak of time spent together in a way that is deeper than how long it took you to get your undergrad degree. Today’s artist is no stranger to time, or to each other. The Walkabouts have been together for the better part of 27 years. And it’s rare these days for a band to continuously release good and relevant music for that long, but there’s always a few exceptions, and we’re glad to share the latest release from one of them.
One thing that has remained consistent over the years is the narrative style of their music. The inspiration for this album came from the sands of the Saharan desert. Songwriter Chris Eckman visualized how the current American landscape is becoming a void of real ideas, thoughts, and dreams and the songs that make up Travels are an exploration of this place. He says:
Travels in the Dustland is a collection of interconnected songs. It is a song cycle. The Dustland is a made up place but it looks and acts like a real place. While different characters come and go throughout the songs, the most important character is the landscape itself: Its vastness, its endless skies, its scarcity, its hidden opportunities and its rugged dead-end roads.
Bassist Michael Wells gives us some insight into how time, inspiration, and someone to do the ‘unsexy stuff’ has contributed to the longevity of The Walkabouts.
So, this album was six years in the making, right? What was it that finally helped the album come together?
Ultimately, it was the music that Chris Eckman was writing that made this album seem necessary as a Walkabouts project. Chris is a prolific songwriter and he works on many projects outside of The Walkabouts, including producing. When he began writing the songs that would eventually become Travels in the Dustland, he knew that this collection of songs was for us – he was hearing our collective “voice” as he was writing the album and undoubtedly this also had an effect on how he wrote the songs; it’s a two-way thing. Why did it take six years? Well, the album itself hasn’t been in the making for that entire time, but because of the band getting older, taking on family commitments and moving on in our various careers, it just became a more lengthy process to finally get us together in one room. Hopefully it won’t take another six years for the next album!
Fans in Europe have long embraced you guys. What do you think it is about your music that connects with that audience?
There has always been a storytelling aspect to Chris’s lyrics; he’s interested in exploring the dark underside of the American dream; the losers (in the eyes of straight society), the has-beens, the down-and-out, people who are always on the run… basically, the people left behind by the “American Dream.” Chris’ stories are hugely evocative of a side of America that people outside of our country are perhaps more able to see than we are… we’re blinded by our own myth-making about what our country stands for. Nowhere is this view of America more on display than in the new album, which is an exploration of the lost hopes and dreams that almost everyone is feeling in the current state of our political, economic and environmental morass.
You’ve been together (mostly) since 1984, do you have any advice or secrets to longevity for other bands?
Write great songs! And keep writing ‘em. And it helps if there are one or two people in the band who are always motivated to do the unsexy stuff… and keep doing that, too!
What can you tell me about today’s song “Soul Thief?”
Well, it’s one of my favorite songs on the new album so I was thrilled when KEXP chose it for the podcast! Carla’s eight year old nephew was listening to the song and he asked why Chris is always writing songs about the Devil! I love the first line… “The burden I carry is the story I tell.” Perhaps this is Chris’ “Ancient Mariner”!
The Walkabouts are kicking off a European tour at the High Dive on January 10th along with Disinterested and Terri Moeller doing double duty with her other band Terri Tarantula. More dates and info can be found on their website. In the meantime, check out this video for “The Dustlands”: