Like a Soda: An Interview with Walker Lukens

by Michael R. Walker

Attendance RecordsPhoto by Walker Lukens

Attendance Records is an Austin organization focused on providing an outlet for high school students to focus on creativity as a vehicle to learn accomplishment – a virtue increasingly obscured in today’s intellectual climate. Their mission statement: Attendance Records is dedicated to bringing creativity back into schools by connecting teachers and students with local writers, artists and musicians. By providing students with the opportunity to design, write and produce their own album, students will build confidence skills that will result in discovering what makes them unique.” If you can’t get behind something like that, you’re wrong.

Walker Lukens and The Eastern Sea recently released a collaborative album with the students from A.R. – an upbeat interpretation of the Anderson High School 9th grade AVID students work called The World, Differently and it is delightful. You can find a link to the project’s Bandcamp here. Walker afforded me the opportunity to sit down and discuss the album with he and his beard. Together we sipped libations and talked with our mouths. What follows is an accurate account of our dialogue on a sunny, but cold March afternoon.

Michael Walker for Ovrld: The obvious question I had when this project crossed my desk – how did you first become involved with Attendance Records?

Walker Lukens: Well, I was introduced [to Attendance Records] when I heard the first record, which was the Marmalakes and Belaire project. Then Jenna, who runs Attendance Records, reached out to Matt from The Eastern Sea asking for a recommendation for another band. He recommended me because we hadn’t made music together in something like 10 years and we really wanted to work together again. The previous bands had worked separately and since we hadn’t worked together since college, we thought it’d be a lot of fun to collaborate.

Ovrld: What was your degree of collaboration with The Eastern Sea on the arrangements/recordings?

Walker: Matt and I had a session with the kids where we played, talked about writing songs and lyrics, and kind of what our process was – talking about the difference between lyrics and poetry – really just giving our own take on making music. After that the kids showed us the lyrics that they’d been working on and we gave them our two cents. About a week or two later, we got a document with all the lyrics and we narrowed down our choices for recording.

Matt and I were attracted to completely different lyrics [laughs]. There wasn’t a song that we both initially agreed on, like “yeah that’s the one.” We had completely different proclivities, but showed each other what we were thinking about putting out there. It’s kind of funny now because Matt wanted to make a simple folk record and I remember thinking “I don’t want to do that at all.” What we came up with is pretty much the perfect blend of what we both envisioned.

Ovrld: You guys go back a while, right? Was it fulfilling to make music together in this way and for such an excellent and ethical cause?

Walker: Definitely. Matt and I were in bands in high school that played shows together when we were 16-17. Tomas and I were in a band together and haven’t played together in almost 10 years. Kevin is one of my best friends and we’ve played music together on and off through the years. It was really fun. It felt very much like I was just hanging out with friends and it never really got stressful. I think it was also due to the fact that it wasn’t either of our own native projects so it was a lot more fun than work.

Ovrld: I think that comes across, too. You hear a lot of compilation and collaborative work these days that sounds like people cleared a minute in their busy schedule to sit down and say “here’s what we’re going to do.” This came across much more cohesively.

Walker: Thank you. We had a lot of fun and I tried to do a lot that I wouldn’t do normally. I think Matt had the same approach as well.

Ovrld: Do you have any plans to quit your own project in the immediate future and join The Eastern Sea as a tambourinist?

Walker: [laughs] As a tambourine player? Andy is so good I don’t think I would ever be up to snuff. Tambourine is hard to do well and I think he’d just be glaring at me the whole time and I’d play even worse.

Ovrld: Have you thought about cowbell?

Walker: That for sure is not even allowed in the room. I don’t even know that Andy would play on a bill with someone who has a cowbell. He’s a purist.

Ovrld: I think Christopher Walken could change his mind.

Walker: Maybe Christopher Walken.

Walker Lukens

Walker Lukens considering taking Christopher Walken’s advice. Photo by Leslie Boorhem-Stephenson

Ovrld: Since I wasn’t able to interview The Eastern Sea, do you wish to say anything to them now?

Walker: I think they all did a good job. We had an over the top version of “Dear Lover” that originally had the beat from “Ghetto Superstar” and I really wish we would have stayed with that. The version we have now is cool, like a Moby song or something, but before it was completely ripping off “Ghetto Superstar.”

I also want to say on the record that The Eastern Sea made an album last year and it’s really fucking good and I think they need to put it out.

Ovrld: I love the line “like a soda dropped on the ground” as this sort of anthemic chorus. It actually made me laugh when I realized what you were singing because I pictured you dropping a soda on the ground and then becoming that soda on the ground and singing as a soda puddle. Tell me about your first reaction to the students’ lyrics.

Walker: The lyrics were so exceptionally earnest. I slave over lyrics and feel always like they’re never good enough. I’ve never written a song and thought the lyrics were good enough. It was such a load off to get lyrics handed to you, but I don’t even know what it would be like to sit down and write lyrics without music in mind. When we got them, they were completely unfettered and I just kept wondering “what is the rhythm that this kid was imagining?”

Ovrld: It makes sense. The cadence of a vowel or consonant is important in my own songwriting process so it does seem odd to think of it independent of the music.

Walker: “Dear Lover” stuck out to me right away because there is a rhythm to it. There’s rhyme scheme, rhythm, and meter. And there was a notable chorus too that didn’t follow the rhyme scheme so it was kind of obvious that it wanted to be a song.

There’s one that’s really happy and just about dancing. It wasn’t about being in the club or about anything sexual, it’s just about loving to dance.

Ovrld: It’s about the verb.

Walker: It was awesome. And “Like A Soda” is such a good hook. It started feeling like a song I would have written anyway so it was so easy to record.

Ovrld: How much did you interact with the students in the studio setting?

Walker: We didn’t interact with the students in the studio setting, but we tried. The logistics of it were just too complicated. We got their lyrics, presented them with edits, and that’s when Matt really dealt with a lot of back and forth with the ones who didn’t want to change a single word. I was met with a sort of indifference. The hard part was getting the students to conceptualize the changes without hearing the lyrics. When we finally played the songs for them they were pretty into it.

Ovrld: If you could change anything about this album, in what language would you have made those changes?

Walker: French

Ovrld: What do you hope to see these kids do with the album now that it’s out there for the world to experience?

Walker: It would be cool if they liked it and they actually listened to it and don’t just associate it with a school project. I’d love for them to come see my band and if any of them keep making music, I’d love to hear what they do.

Ovrld: Knowing that Ovrld readers are exceptional humans and quite the opposite of apathetic, would you mind letting them know how they can involve themselves with Attendance Records and benefit the Austin music industry as well as the creative lives of our city’s youth?  

Walker: Buy the album so Attendance Records can keep making them. Jenna, who runs A.R., and Michael, who recorded the thing, put so much time and effort into it. They’re doing it for the kids more than anything else so it’d be awesome to put a little bit back into their project. They also need volunteers to come in and work with the kids and it’s like a hipster training camp so just come in and be yourself.

Ovrld: Walker thanks so much for your time today. One final question for you – if you could give advice to any young aspiring musicians, how would you explain the known universe to them in terms they will certainly understand?

Walker: Whoa, man. If you have the creative monkey on your back and are inclined to create, you’ve got to think about it like the homework you enjoy doing. I never had to make time for music until my 20s because I was just doing it all the time. Now it’s work because there are life responsibilities that come into play. You’ve got to make it something you do regularly or it’ll get lost. And find people who do what you do – don’t just try to start projects with your friends because they’re your friends. Good artists will bring out art in other people.

Michael R. Walker hales from the flatlands of a wind-bleached Amarillo, TX. After departing this desolate place, traveling the world, and surviving a bout with amoebic dysentery he matriculated at Texas State University, obtaining approximately 2 degrees – respectively in Archaeological Iconography and Creative Writing. He loves bluegrass, whiskey, and would gladly sacrifice his friendship with you for a desperate love-spiral of pizza consumption. Michael currently works as a freelance web designer, plays guitar for the Austin band Ghostbunny, is a contributing author for Ovrld, and a poet/essayist for Velvet Dust Magazine.