It's not often that Houston musicians get heard outside of Houston -- it's a sad fact, but it's the truth. So, when I heard through the grapevine that Lance Walker, guitarist/singer/songwriter/local hero of Houston indie-rock band Port Vale (and formerly of Jessica Six) spent time in Europe recently, playing to crowds of British and French kids sans band, just him and a guitar, I was pretty well bowled over. Not only did Houston rock make it across the pond, but it's touring Europe? Yup, and it apparently went over pretty damn well, even spawning a British Web site about the project (see below for the URL). After finally catching Lance's intense solo show (aka "The White Papers") downtown at notsuoH recently, we started doing the back-and-forth thing via e-mail, and here's the result...
SCR: Okay, so I figured we'd start with the basics: what is The White Papers?
Lance: The White Papers is me, on electric guitar and voice. It started from a trip I took to Europe this spring, where I went to a festival in Southern England and met lots of folks, some of whom knew who Port Vale was, and a couple of them actually somehow talked me into playing an acoustic set at a party they were having in one of the chalets. One of the guys from Holiday was there, too, and was going to play. Noone ended up playing by the end of the night because the party was too loud and never calmed down, but it got me to thinking about it, and the same people that had talked me into playing asked if I would consider coming back overseas to play some shows later in the year. When I got back to the States I called them on the idea, and they called me back with a date booked. I didn't want to play Port Vale songs because I knew they wouldn't hold up without a band, so I crafted a whole new body of songs meant specifically to be played solo.
I'd wondered about that; when I saw you play up at notsuoH, I didn't recognize any of what you played, so... Is the White Papers stuff still in the Port Vale vein, do you think? I'm curious as to how you went from the "band" style of songwriting to just you and a guitar; was it hard to do?
Well, I suppose I've always written songs in my bedroom, you know, so there's still that same personal element to it, but yeah, it was definitely hard to do. Mostly because I knew that these versions of the songs were not only cut-and-dried, but that I wasn't going to have someone else there to constructively criticize the songs. When you play with a band, you can bring things in and if they totally hate it, you throw it out; if it needs work, you work on it. These songs were done once I finished writing them, so with the exception of when I go into the studio to record them, they had no filters, so to speak, except my own ear. When I did my first White Papers show up in Olympia, noone else had heard any of these songs. That was a little hard to swallow.
Yeah, that makes sense; it definitely helps to have somebody to bounce musical ideas off of.Ý How did folks react to the songs, overall?Ý Good, bad, indifferent?Ý And which show was that up in Olympia, by the way?Ý I didn't know you'd played the songs much here in the States...
Originally, the only shows I was going to do were overseas, but I mentioned it to a few people and I started getting offers to play elsewhere. My first show in London was a really big one, so I liked the idea of doing some warm-up dates in the States, though I didn't want to play here in Houston until the tail end of things, mostly because I wanted to really have it together by the time I did. So, I was offered a show in Olympia with Witchypoo, and a couple in Portland with Kind of Like Spitting. I liked the bills, so I flew up and played. I also ended up doing a couple of dates in New Orleans, one supporting Solex, the week before I flew out to England. Reaction was pretty good overall I'd say -- at a couple of the shows people didn't really care one way or another, but I'd say at most of them the response was really good. The club show in Portland and the festival show in Paris were probably the best, with the exception of the notsuoH show here, which was my favorite by far.
As far as The White Papers songs being in the Port Vale vein -- I would guess so to a degree because I play in Port Vale, but these songs were all written about a specific event, meant moreso to convey a mood than anything else. So I think they were written in a different mindset in that way. They are also all in a different tuning than I use in PV, so that makes a difference.
The White Papers -- email@example.com; http://members.tripod.co.uk/thewhitepapers/
Port Vale -- firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.t1.com/portvale/
Ojet Records -- http://www.ojet.com/
Rough Trade -- http://www.roughtrade.com/
Photo #1 by Laurent Orseau; Paris, France, 6/2000.
Photo #2 by Peter Beste; London, England, 6/2000.
Photo #3 by Gretchen Vaudt; Portland, Oregon, 5/2000.
Why, if you don't mind me asking?Ý Was the new tuning thing to specifically get some distance?
Yeah it really just gave me a fuller sound, I felt like. I dropped down to D on a lot of the stuff and tuned some of the other strings down as well. It happened somewhat by accident, at first, since a couple of Port Vale songs are in alternate tunings and I think I just had the guitar lying around like that, but once you write something in a different tuning, you kinda have to stick with it.
Heh.Ý Yeah, that'd be somewhat of a permanent thing, I'd imagine... You mentioned earlier that the White Papers songs were all written about a specific event; not to pry, but what event would that be?
I always shy away from explaining what a song is about unless someone has an idea themselves that they share first. The White Papers record is six songs which run together -- lyrically and (hopefully) musically, they document a 32-hour period in my life. I suppose what that is about all people will gather if and when they hear the record.
Were they all written at the same time, then?
Yeah, they were all written within the period of about a month. The music for one of them was a piece of music Port Vale had been working on a while back that never blossomed, but all of the rest of them were written in late April/early May.
So, do you think The White Papers will continue?Ý Did you like the shows enough to keep doing it?
I really like the portability of it. I mean, Port Vale has been lucky enough to be able to tour some, but shipping a small amp and a guitar is nothing compared to transporting an entire band. So, I will probably continue it on some level. I did get some offers to go back overseas in November, so I might do that, but in general I don't like it as much as playing with a band. Regardless of the type of music you are playing, there is an energy that comes from being with other people onstage that a solo show can't compare to. I suppose on the other side of that there is a personal quality to a solo show that a band can't reproduce...but I haven't done it enough times to really feel out whether or not I want it to continue. I will finish recording the record with Scott Garred and get it out and see what happens. Port Vale is always my main priority, so I'll do this stuff whenever time allows.
Well, that partway answers a couple of questions I had, right there; I'd meant to ask if the White Papers stuff would affect Port Vale in any way or not, for one, and then from what you said earlier I take it that there will be a record?Ý Who's releasing it?
There already is a record overseas. It's out on Frisky Beats UK in London, but I'm going in to re-record it for release over here because I like the UK version that we did fine, but I know it can be better. I got those right before I left for England, so I never had any records with me in Houston. I sold everything I had with me over there and the rest are in record stores in Europe, so hopefully noone here will hear that one until I get the new one done! We (I recorded it with Jeff McLaughlin and John Adams) rushed it so I would have it in time for my tour over there, but now that I've played the songs out so many times, I play them much better, and the sound could benefit from more careful attention if I take some time with it. I go in to record this one with Scott Garred in Austin in late August, so hopefully sometime late this year it will be out. As far as who is releasing it -- Ojet is a possibility, but there are a lot of other projects in line in front of that, so it's up in the air.
Damn...there's no way to get a hold of a copy of the record over here? I liked the one MP3 you sent me; it sounds a bit more experimental than a lot of what I've heard from Port Vale, actually, almost more like instro-rock like Ganger or Pell Mell.Ý Are most of the songs largely instrumental?Ý I remember you singing some at the notsuoH show, but not throughout.
I know that all of the Rough Trade stores in London are stocked with it, but I don't know if you can order it from there or what. Most of them were distributed that way but it was a small run that we did. As far as the songs being instrumental, I think there has always been a part of PV where the songs ended up for one reason or another having large bodies of music without vocals, so I suppose it's the way I write, but the songs are lyrically based like anything I've done in the past, so the instrumental element would make sense.
On the "experimental" side [of the question], I would definitely say that this material is more experimental. I recorded with Jeff McLaughlin, who spent several years as a DJ spinning techno and drum and bass in Houston. He has been building ambient soundscapes and collections on his own for years and this was as much a departure for him as it was for me, but that's how I wanted it. The newer version will be recorded with Scott Garred for the basic tracks at Albert Hall in Austin and then Jeff will stitch it together and do all of the post-production. John Adams of Port Vale also played a lot of keyboards on the record, and I'll get him back in to do that as well.
Hmm...well, I've just about run out of questions -- anything else you want to add or touch on?
Thanks for not asking me about Jessica Six... END