Played back to back, the two most recent albums by the Baltimore quartet J. Roddy Walston & The Business don’t even sound like the same band made them.
The band’s 2013 LP “Essential Tremors,” a breakthrough for the group after 10 years of hard-slogging, is a double-barreled blast of early ’70s Stones-style rock ‘n’ roll. It’s gritty, full of strutting barroom swagger, and heavy on mud-caked guitars and lowdown roadhouse grooves.
If “Essential Tremors” was built for the clubs, J. Roddy’s just-released “Destroyers of the Soft Life” aims for the back row of the arena.
The raw feel of their previous release is gone, replaced by an alternating set of massively produced, anthemic rockers and more intimate acoustic ballads bathed in twilit acoustic guitars and vocal harmonies. It’s like some sort of head-on collision between Kings of Leon and My Morning Jacket – all blurred edges and warm, passionate vocals.
So what happened in those intervening four years that changed the band this much? Especially since “Essential Tremors” was a successful release with some serious staying power, landing songs two songs (“Heavy Bells” and “Take It As It Comes”) in the Top 20 on Billboard’s Alternative Rock charts and one (“Sweat Shock”) on a Coors Light ad, not to mention earning the band two nights at the 2013 Austin City Limits Music Festival?
Well, as with all things, Walston says that time was a factor.
“There was a long time between the two records,” he says. “We’re talking about four or five years of traveling, listening to different kinds of music, and experiencing things before we started the next record. We’d gone through four or five stages by then.”
But there’s also a streak of artistic restlessness in the band that wouldn’t let them repeat the formula.
“I have no desire to get painted into a corner and get stuck where people think we put out the same record over and over again,” Walston says. “That sounds miserable to me. Trying to be in a band and have that be your job is difficult, and if on top of that I had to do art that I didn’t believe in or want to be a part of, it wouldn’t be worth it at all.”
Not that Walston, who will headline this year’s Fall for Greenville festival on Saturday night, wants to lose the bigger audience he picked up with “Essential Tremors.”
“I love our audience, and I love our music,” he says. “And I would hope that people who liked our previous record would like this one, and our next, and whatever we wanted to do. But if someone expects me to do something, they’re pretty much always going to be disappointed.”
Perhaps another reason for the massive sound of “Destroyers of the Soft Life” is where it was recorded.
“We knew we wanted to do the record on our own,” Walston says. “We had some very particular experiences making our last record, and some parts of that were great, and some weren’t. So we were like, ‘We can build a studio, right? Let’s do it.’ It took us a really long time to find a place that was large enough and in our price range, which was a fairly annihilated old warehouse in Richmond, Va., which we found out later was an old grenade factory. We set up in this old building with a concrete floor and ceiling and stripped away what people had done before.”
All that renovation took the band’s mind off the fact that, for the first time, they were starting the recording process with no songs ready.
“We were moving towards making a record without being in a panic about following up a record that did well,” Walston says. “We weren’t ready to dive into making new music yet. But creating the space first allowed us to try out things; it meant that there were no rules and no time limit. I wanted to have time to fail at making this record at least twice before we had an end result.”
Artist: J. Roddy Walston & The Business
Venue: One Main Financial Stage, BB&T Fall For Greenville
Date: Saturday, Oct. 14
Showtime: 7:30 p.m.