Perennial champion label DFA's newest release is from the somewhat reclusive Walter Jones. Jones, who DFA was introduced to first through their Death From Abroad compilations and his work with Supersoul Records, is actually from New Orleans, Louisiana. Despite his Southern heritage, Jones' music is more aligned with the chipper soul of Chicago's early lo-fi house minus the creepy tantalization of acid's 303. But his choice of hushed vocal melodies accents his track's hazy, washed out rhythms. His tracks sway more than beat, the kind of listlessness you want from music, not an unease but a gentle coercion. We're especially fond of his song "Living Without Your Love," the b-side to his first 12-inch. Listen and download below, and read an interview with Jones about his long but elusive career, the broad borders of New Orleans' music and why he writes love songs.
Download: Walter Jones, "Living Without Your Love"
You're from New Orleans, where the music you're making, disco/house, seems to have no real national presence. How did you find the music in
the first place? Does the music more prevalent in New Orleans, R&B or
otherwise, ever creep into your productions?
When I was growing up in the ’70s and early ’80s, I used to hear a lot of New York tracks on various Saturday night radio mixes from New Orleans stations like WAIL-FM, and would try to find the songs at a record store the next week. I had friends that would turn me on to new stuff and South Louisiana is just one of the places I have lived, I did live in a few cities like Dallas and Chicago growing up, so I have a lot of other regional influences. As you know, New Orleans is the birthplace of jazz, and the roots of jazz came from the heavy rhythms of Africa, so I try to channel that vibe into my music. It’s true, modern New Orleans club music revolves around crunk rap and drum and bass, but there are a few DJ’s that are holding it down for the groove, like Javier Drada, Trent DeLaune and a handful of others.
Though it seems you have been active as a DJ and producer for some
time, you don't have very many tracks available. Do you have a
goldmine of music unreleased from years back or do you work slow or
are you picky?
It is a combination of the both. I do have a lot of productions that I have been sitting on that I would keep rather than throw away, dating back to 1998. And there is some material floating out there that I am on dating back since 1985 that I would love to get my hands on. I am a perfectionist and my own worst critic. I have thousands of my own samples and parts to unfinished projects. I will sit there and pick apart everything until I just give up on it. That is probably why I don’t have too much out there. There is a lot of good stuff that just didn’t get a fair break, but a lot of stuff I tried and failed at that I don’t think is good and might not see the light of day. Personally, I didn’t like “I’ll Keep On…” and almost didn’t demo it out at all, but I played it for some close friends and they seemed to dig it. One thing lead to another and here we are. Sometimes you need to trust other ears.
Press info for your new 12-inch describes the songs as "haunting,"
which sounds like it could come from the simplicity and lo-fi-ness of
the recordings. Do you keep it stripped purposefully or have you
always worked that way?
Hmmm, haunting. Well there is a reason behind that—I wanted vocals on that track and I take the DIY process too far and hate the audition process for vocalists. I have always produced instrumentals for this reason. So I hooked up a cheap mic, swallowed my pride, and sung it myself. The song had a slow beat, lush strings and all the makings of a love song, so I just came up with the lyrics, improv style. I am not a good wordsmith, but it was all I could come up with on the fly. I sound just like Luciano Pavarotti in the car, alone, with the radio blaring. So I added lots of reverb to disguise my horrible singing voice and it just came out…well…haunting. Texture of sound is very important to me. I prefer the meaty sound of lo-fi analog over the shallow shimmer of digital’s translucent glassiness. Even though you cannot totally get away from digital as an electronic artist in today’s world, I still have my reel to reel machine and love the true to life, real sound waves analog delivers. It’s easier on the ears, to me anyway. I’m still learning the science of sound.
How did you connect with DFA? Does now having a higher profile label
mean you'll have more pressure to release more records? Do you want to?
I hooked up with DFA through Xavier [Naudascher] at Supersoul. I would love to release something every week if I could, but like I said before, I have lots of songs I don’t like and as an artist that I don’t want to represent me. I will like it at first and then get tired of it and hate it after hours of seeking out imperfections that is probably not even there. I just have a fear of rejection and don’t want people saying “He just doesn’t have it anymore, what happened” before I get my career off the ground, you know, a has-been before I ever was. Believe me, I have had my share of nothing but rejection left and right. I have admired DFA since the very beginning. I have been on some great labels like of course DFA, Cisco, Westbound, Supersoul and none of them pressured me for anything. They all just want the music and let me come forth with the product in my own time, but very professional just the same. I was talking to a friend of mine, Brett Johnson, about how to successfully score gigs like he does, and he said to keep yourself in the public eye constantly with quality stuff. and you will go far. Good advice. Personally, I don’t have the makings of a star like looks or personality, but hopefully my music will be the star of the show.
Both of the songs on the DFA 12-inch have "love" in the title—"Keep on
Loving You" and "Living Without Your Love." Who are they about? The
same person? Are they cathartic songs? Is all your music?
I could give you some BS answer and say, “I am a spiritual and sensitive person and I was missing an old love of mine,” or something like that, but I think I was experimenting and ended up doing a really bad impression of Curtis Mayfield’s falsetto. I didn’t set out to make any love songs, but if they touch the people out there in a positive way, my job is done. I do love all of my past girlfriends still because along the way, they taught me so much. Even though I am living without their love, I will keep on loving them. (Sorry that was cheesy.)