Thursday, December 8, 2016

Sharing a Six Pack with Walter Salas-Humara

Americana music is difficult to define. Few agree on it's origins either. Dylan? Woody Guthrie? Gram Parsons? Townes? Who knows. Who cares!

Regardless of those debates - a couple of albums from the genre hooked me in the late 80s. One was by a band called The Silos. I remember buying the CD at Turtles Music in Chattanooga, TN though I don't recall a specific review that led me to it. I soon backtracked one release to Cuba and then began buying their future releases as well as solo albums by Walter Salas-Humara, the band's guitarist, lyricist, and vocalist. (web | Twitter | Instagram)

After "the bird" release, the band's music went well away from what many would refer to as Americana. Yet the sound was unique to Salas-Humara, and I continued my enjoyment of each release.

Because of Walter's multiple connections, his name has led me to additional bands and songwriters over the years such as:
  • Michael Hall (web | Twitter) - former frontman of the Wild Seeds and long-time writer for Texas Monthly magazine. The two of them plus Alejandro Escovedo released a couple of albums under the name The Setters.
  • Tom Freund (web | Twitter) - a former member of The Silos and now a solo artist and talented bassist.
  • Jonathan Rundman (web | Twitter) - like me, a fan of The Silos. But he went a step further and worked with him on his fantastic album Public Library.
  • The Vulgar Boatmen (Twitter) - a band of which Walter was a member in his college days. He later produced their album You And Your Sister.
While Walter has toured for years - solo and with multiple line-ups of The Silos - he has only played Nashville a handful of times over his three decades as a performer. Fortunately for us middle Tennesseans, Walter is returning after about a long absence. He along with Will Kimbrough will play The Basement on Wednesday, December 14.

Walter was kind enough to share a six pack of Q&A with me in advance of the show.

TMC: Like many, my first intro to The Silos was "the bird album" on RCA. I then got Cuba and found an address for the Record Collect label - which turned out to be you! A mail exchange between us delivered me Lagartija on CD and the Boatmen's You And Your Sister on cassette (both of which I still have).

I'm pretty sure I've got every Silos and WSH release since then as well as a handful of releases from folks who've worked with you. What parts of the country - or maybe the world - do you tend to find the most fervent fans of your music?
WSH: It's pretty evenly spread out across the US and Europe primarily. Of course, the places where I performed most often I'm still able to reach the most people. I have great fans all over and wish it was possible for me to play in all countries of the world. I'm a very lucky guy to be able to travel and sing my songs.
TMC: 2016 saw the release of two albums - Explodes & Disappears as a solo effort and Work: Part One, a retrospective of sorts with new, acoustic versions of songs by The Silos from over the years. Did either bring you bit more excitement or joy vs. the other? New songs as opposed to new approaches to Silos classics?
WSH: These are two completely different animals. It's always exciting recording new material, especially when one has such a great cast of characters participating in the project. It's also exciting to get another crack at recording songs that you've been performing for many, many years. These songs change over time and have different meaning, particularly since I mostly perform acoustic these days. The Work: Part One album is produced by Richard Brotherton, an old great friend and very talented musician, so it was a joy to be able to work with him.
TMC: Though you've played Nashville a few times over the ages, the city hasn't been a regular stop for The Silos or you individually. It's hard to believe the last time you were here was about a decade ago. What is it about Nashville that has drawn you back this time?
WSH: When Drew Glackin passed away in 2008, I took a long hiatus from performing. I'm really just getting back into it over the last couple years, making new albums and getting out there as a solo artist. Nashville is such an important music city, so I'm psyched to be back and performing there again. I hear Nashville has changed a lot, and I have a day off. So I'm excited to check it out.
TMC: You've worked with other bands and songwriters over your career such as The Vulgar Boatmen (Twitter), Jonathan Rundman, Michael Hall, etc. Most of those collaborations had varying sounds and lyrical approaches. Was that a deliberate approach on your part - to work with distinct types of songwriters and bands? Or more just a case of randomness - "hey, we should do a record together!”?
WSH: Life just kind of happens and, and I connect with lots and lots of fellow musicians. Of course there are certain places that I return to over and over as the years go by and certain friends that I see more than others. Fortunately, nowadays it's so easy to communicate electronically and even collaborate that way. This has opened up a whole new world for me. Sometimes you just want to get a particular feeling or story down, and you sit by yourself and do it. You can take as much time as you want, work it over and over, and it's very rewarding when it comes out well. The experience of collaborating with others is very different, it can be like work or it can be like play, and sometimes you click and sometimes you don't. But when things go right, the sum is very often better than the parts, and the song goes in directions that one person could never have taken it.
 TMC: The Silos has had a number of different line-ups over the years, but it was always still a band. The last release was Florizona almost six years ago. Is The Silos still a thing? Or at this stage of your life, career and music's business model, is it primarily just WSH going forward? Do you consciously write songs that seem to fit you as a solo performer vs. those that may become a Silos song?
WSH: The Silos are still a thing, We still perform every once a while, mostly in New York City and the occasional festival. I've been performing mostly solo lately, and it's been really liberating both musically and logistically. I have so many great musician friends in so many different cities and towns, and when they are available I get to work with them. For example, in Nashville, the great Will Kimbrough will be accompanying me on guitar. These different collaborations make every concert unique and is a very exciting way to tour.
TMC: You've been at this for wow - *cough* 30 years. Longer I suppose considering any writing and performing you were doing in the your college days. Your base of operation has changed from Florida to New York City to Austin to Arizona and likely other places of which I have no clue. What have you enjoyed about having long stretches of 'home' in different places - yet also consistently riding the road?
WSH: I spent most of my adult life in New York City and have close family there. For me, it's the most exciting city in the world, the most diverse and the most culturally educated. There is always an adventure to be had anytime you leave your apartment. Today I live in Flagstaff near the Grand Canyon. The overwhelming beauty of the Southwest and of the West in general is something everyone, especially every American, should experience and enjoy. I’ve had so many incredible outdoor adventures since I've been living out here - camping, hiking, biking, rafting, skiing, etc - in the most amazing environments - mountains, deserts, rivers, lakes, geothermal areas, etc. In my life, I've been very lucky to experience a fascinating combination of the cultural and the natural. I feel that everyone should be aware and participate in both equally.
Though I've been a fan of Walter and the various iterations of The Silos, my opportunities to see them live have been scarce. I was fortunate to see The Silos around 2005-2006 at The Basement in Nashville. In October 2007, I happened to be in Philadelphia for work and fortunately caught Walter with Anders Parker at The Khyber.

That particular weeknight show was not well attended, but it remains special to me because of the echoes of Walter's songs in the building and because I got to hang a bit with Drew Glackin, at the time The Silos' bassist. Like me, Drew happened to be in town and simply came to enjoy the evening. We shared a beer, re-connected about the Nashville show, lamented the lack of folks at the show, and enjoyed the music. Sadly as Walter referenced, Glackin died just a few months later from a previously unknown heart condition.