TRANSVERSO: You’re on a good streak with Fruitless Research coming out last year and Terrible Freedom this year. I know that in life, or in art, our experiences build on each other. Was there anything about the process of making Fruitless Research that you feel like led you to what you did on this new record?
TW WALSH: I think over time I’ve been developing a set of skills I’m iterating over these processes for arranging and recording music, using computers and analog instruments and MIDI. Just over time, I think since drums was my first instrument — even though I’ve often had drum machines on my records — I’ve usually felt like I needed to put live drums on a record because I enjoy playing drums.
So on Fruitless Research, it was about half and half. But on Terrible Freedom, ultimately I liked the consistency and I liked the control I had over the sonic palette when I was using drum machine samples.
If there was any kind of iteration or development sonically, there was a couple things: One, just making a commitment to using synthetic drum sounds and the other was to — with Fruitless Research, a lot of the sound came from this distorted, highly compressed, saturated kind of sound. And with the new record, it’s more like the aesthetic of ‘80s pop music where things are clear and crisp and digital-sounding, but at the same time still warm. I think those were the two factors that were kind of an evolution.
I’m always fascinated by the way that whatever instrument somebody picks up first affects the way they think about songwriting. How do you feel like starting as a drummer has made you a different songwriter than you would be if you picked up the guitar first or picked up the piano first?
I feel pretty fortunate, because I think that drumming really gives you a good foundation in rhythm obviously. And also with phrasing. You learn syncopation early on — and how that develops is in the feel of the music, right? In rock and roll music, I really do believe that the beat is the most important thing.
Often in my arrangements, I’m building the entire song around the beat or the groove. It allows me to phrase my vocals around the beat and vice versa. It’s definitely informed my songwriting because I really focus the arrangements around the rhythm section, around the bass and the drums. It gives the music a unique feel, just because that’s the direction I’m coming from.
You’ve obviously been a key collaborator on other people’s records. You’ve had people make significant contributions to your records. What was it like this time around to do everything by yourself?
I’ve tried to make most of my records on my own, and I think that I had some personal failings, either in being able to sustain the attention or the energy it required or just running out of steam. I do music part-time, so I’ve had to make concessions in making records.
The last time around with Fruitless Research, I knew that I had a vague vision of something I wanted to do that was a little bit different than in the past. But I didn’t really have a clear vision of how to achieve that. So I asked Yuuki [Matthews] to help out, and it was just great. It was an ideal situation, because I could put in the amount of effort I could muster to get the songs to a demo, kind of rough form and then Yuuki would take it the rest of the way home.
That was really good because, just at that time in my life a couple years ago, that’s what I needed because of where I was at in my life. Something just clicked since then. And I made decisions from a technology perspective, as far as the tools I was going to use for a record, which made things more streamlined. And also I think I just have more confidence and a sense of ease about creativity. It was a good confluence of those two factors.
When you’re working with somebody else, obviously they can open you up to new things. They can also — and I think it’s a positive limitation — there’s the limitation of having to work with somebody else, having to communicate with them, having to defer to them in some ways and consider them. Working by yourself, did you feel like you needed to try to impose any limits or any sort of self-editing?
I think I’m a pretty disciplined person. The limitations, they just develop naturally. I don’t like having to sort through 100 different tracks in a music session. I think a lot of people find that empowering, just to be able to throw a bunch of stuff into the pot and then try to make sense of it later. For me, I really like to arrange, and even mix, as I go along. Every component I put into the song is going to be a key component — I try not to add anything extra.
As you go along and you’re writing the parts for each instrument and you’re building upon what you’ve done before, you just fill in the holes and you build the arrangement in a way to where there’s not a lot of duplication, there’s not a lot of conflict in the sound.
I think one of the issues in the past for me was I felt maybe too exposed. If I was doing everything myself, there was nothing to hide behind. You’re really just putting yourself out there. And I so think with this record it was really, in some ways, the easiest record I’ve ever made in that I just did exactly what came naturally in every situation.
Towards the end of the process, I started to get a little worried. Effectively, if nobody liked the record — this record is so utterly just who I am. So if people didn’t like it, I felt a little bit worried about that sense of rejection that I might feel because there’s really no separation between this record and me. That was one thing I was worried about.