I needed an escape. A way to clear out the years of jazz baggage that had accumulated in the back of my mind, blocking my creative flow and preventing me from being happy in my musical exploration. I love and fully appreciate the jazz tradition, my musical training and teachers that supported me and I know I would not be the person I am today without it. But I had lost the spark of making accessible music, stripped of pretense and agenda, music with honesty, humor and humanity.
Then one day a friend showed me a keyboard he had purchased, an old Casiotone MT-100 from the mid-1980s. The sounds and look immediately transported me back to my childhood, sitting on a shag carpet in front of the tv playing Super Nintendo or watching campy sci-fi and horror films. As soon as I played the Vibraphone patch with the Bossa Nova groove through the “Graphic Equalizer”, I was hooked. I was flying through air obstacles in my Pilotwings jetpack, fighting Lo Pan in Big Trouble in Little China. The sounds of my youth reminded me of why I loved music so much. So, like many millenials before me, I turned to the internet and ordered my first Casio keyboard for $40.
I was addicted. I began listening to old video game soundtracks and watched YouTube videos of effects pedal demos. I started amassing my army of small musical toys: the Suzuki Omnichord, Teenage Engineering’s Arcade PO-20, Critter and Guitari’s Pocket Piano, the Korg Volca Beats, and a smattering of delay, distortion and bit-crushing pedals. My music production/engineering skills were amateur. I enlisted the help of friend/musician/producer/engineer/Canadian Curtis Macdonald and we went to work on SHWILSON, one track at a time.
When you start learning from nothing, from infancy, each step of growth is monumental. Every day spent in Curtis’s home studio was filled with, “woah, what the hell is that sound?” and “what if I plug this in here and push this?” and “want another beer?”. He encouraged me to record at home with a free DAW called Reaper, which I still use today. I started experimenting with basic music production like EQ, panning, and automation, and wanted to learn why the albums I love so much sound the way they do.
After the album was released, I wanted SHWILSON to be performed. I had no idea how I was going to translate these short pieced-together “songs” into a live experience. I had my core of long-time musical co-conspirators, bassist Zach Lane and drummer Hayden Hawkins. Then I added Claude Rosen on a SECOND Casiotone MT-100, guitarist Travis Reuter and vibraphonist Peter Schlamb (each appear on a different track on the album). I was nervous as hell, playing an instrument (children’s toy) that wasn’t a saxophone in public for the first time in my life. But I loved it. And I wanted more.
We started playing a show every few months, usually in a dive bar or brewery, and the personnel/instrumentation evolved as it became more clear what we were trying to create. Half the musicians on the first show moved out of New York, and we recruited the high-flying superpowers of Matt Marantz on EWI (electronic wind instrument) and exotica synth lord Frank Locrasto. I also graduated to the Roland JU-06, a recreation of the much-sought-after JUNO-106 synthesizer. This new configuration had me PUMPED.
At this time I was going through some personal challenges with newfound anxieties and hypochondria I had never known. These two years I think of as my “Walter” period. My friends and I were on a constant mission to “dial” it in, to deal with the absurdities and insanity of life. And my drive to create a sophomore album helped keep me focused to manage these anxieties as I went to countless doctors to determine what was wrong with me and where these feelings came from. I started writing for imaginary 8-bit sidescrollers, David Cronenberg films that were never made, beaches in space. And I knew this project needed to be recorded in a studio, together, as a band. And so, Walter was born.
SHWILSON is my alter ego, my therapy, and personal mission to create new music in hopes of bringing happiness to people everywhere.