After more than two years of hard touring in support of a 2013 album, “Essential Tremors,” local rocker J. Roddy Walston and the Business could be forgiven for wanting to take a vacation.
The nationally acclaimed band put a bow on 2014 with a raucous New Year’s Eve celebration concert in Baltimore. Afterward, Walston did his best to stay creative on his own terms as he approached writing a new record for ATO Records.
“This might be the first time that we feel the pressure that someone’s waiting,” Walston says, but adding that he isn’t letting that pressure rush him. “I don’t really write in that kind of place.”
Instead, Walston and bassist Logan Davis took it upon themselves to renovate and construct their new practice and recording space in a warehouse near Hardywood Park Craft Brewery during a particularly brutal winter.
“Logan, at that point, hadn’t even ever really used a saw before,” Walston says. Nonetheless, after months of donning respirators, which on at least one occasion froze Walston’s beard, the band had a new home base in early March. Two weeks later, J. Roddy Walston and the Business were back on the road — including a gig opening for the Replacements in Washington.
“Our traveling is not that glamorous,” Walston says. On top of the trials and tribulations associated with near-constant cross-country travel in tight quarters, Walston and his wife learned only weeks before the tour began that the couple was expecting their first child, a baby girl, in September. That kept them from sharing a week or two on the road, a tradition that had endured since the band’s inception.
“[The band] did a week and a half in Nashville, July into August, down into Florida, all the way down to Miami, back up the Southeast, and then back home: All while our air conditioning was broken,” Walston says. “It was one of the most miserable times I’ve ever had on tour.”
“I have this whole idea that NASA has this completely obvious, untapped market of poor, independent touring bands,” he says. “The only people psychologically conditioned to maintain under little to no fanfare with very little money, breathing other people’s farts for five years, and eating crappy food. Just insert a little debauchery into NASA’s program.”
Back home, the band is buckling down and approaching its new record like a day job, working about eight hours a day. Each of the members, in Richmond and Baltimore, has a home recording kit and sends tracks to Walston at the warehouse.
“One central idea that we all share is that we care about the songs more than anything else,” he says. “We want to write great songs.”
With the arrival of his daughter in September, Walston has a wealth of new inspiration. “I’m getting exposed to new words and ideas, and philosophies. Then there’s this whole hallucinogenic nature of nonsleep,” he says, laughing.
He’s committed to the idea of a private life for his daughter despite his career in the public eye and cringes at the notion of documenting the young life of his daughter online or in song without her consent. “I want to be fair to the kid,” he says. “I don’t think I’ll be writing any daddy-daughter songs.”
Walston says he’s elated to be back home with his family and preparing for the band’s Thanksgiving homecoming show at the National on Saturday — the band’s final tour date of 2015. Local act Sleepwalkers open the evening, just as it did for the band’s final show of 2014. It’s no coincidence. Walston has long been tapped into Richmond’s local bands.
“I love Sleepwalkers. I have always loved the Trillions. I love a lot of the bands that are in town. But more than that, I like that it’s generally an inclusive scene,” he says. “Honestly, it doesn’t feel like a music scene. It’s just a lot of friends that are really talented that are in bands. It’s more about writing good songs and putting on good shows than hanging out at the right bar.”
Walston doesn’t see this concert as the end of one chapter or the beginning of another, but something completely separate from the band’s chronology.
“It’s a hometown party,” he says. “It’s a party for us and all of our friends.” S
J. Roddy Walston performs with Sleepwalkers at the National on Saturday, Nov. 28. Tickets cost $16 to $20. Doors are at 7 p.m. nationalva.com.