When J. Roddy Walston gets behind a piano onstage, something happens to him. The Tennessee singer/songwriter is just fine with fronting his killer band The Business on rhythm guitar, but when he hops behind the keys, he becomes a near-evangelical, incandescent performer who can bring any crowd to its feet. He seems to go to some other spiritual place while his hands are still pounding out chords and throwing extra oomph into his band’s raucous, ragged, soulful garage rock.
Walston is able to do this because he feels a certain connection to the piano that he just doesn’t on guitar.
“Piano made more sense to me early on,” Walston says. “With a guitar, there are so many places that a note might land, but if you hit a piano key, THAT is the note that will come out. When you play that note on guitar, your finger might get all wonky, or you think you’re in the right place but you’re not, or it’s tuned differently; things can go WRONG on the guitar. I figured out early on that I could get the piano to do what it’s supposed to do, so I get more pumped about my ability to interact with it in a physical way, and it sort of sets something loose.”
Walston and his band have been setting something loose for more than fifteen years, and their fanbase has expanded over four studio albums, the most recent of which, “Destroyers of the Soft Life,” refined their heavy rock with a brighter, more melodic sound and landed them a hit single on rock radio, “The Wanting,” and berths in the biggest rooms they’ve yet played.
The Bon Secours Wellness Arena is definitely one of those bigger venues, and it’s where Walston and The Business will play on Friday, along with fast-rising Charleston band SUSTO. The show is a benefit for Habitat for Humanity, and it actually comes during a (supposed) break in the band’s heavy touring schedule, something that Walston sees as refreshing.
“You get into a groove on tour,” he says, “so these one-off events where you get to feel good about it AND break up the routine, it’s a whole different experience for us. It’s a win-win for everybody, hopefully.”
The Well is a long way from the basements and dives that The Business spent their early years playing in, and while having more of an audience is definitely a good thing, Walston says he’s had to learn to approach the band’s emotion-packed shows differently in terms of connecting with the audience.
“It’s different when you’re on the ground with the crowd,” he says, “or a couple of feet off the ground and you’re still there in front of them and you can see individual faces, as opposed to these larger venues with a couple thousand people. On one hand I try to zero in on the first 100 feet of the crowd, the people that can see you and you can see them. But then you can hopefully project that experience to people who are not as close. You’re performing for the back of the room, which is less intimate, but I guess the trade-off is that you have a lot more people to share that energy.”
That change in approach goes for recording, too. “Destroyers of the Soft Life” is easily the band’s biggest-sounding album to date.
“I’ve heard people say before that you write the songs for the venues you’ll be playing in, or something like that,” Walston says with a laugh. “There are definitely moments when you’re recording or writing where you picture the ultimate live situation for a song, and through the process of our career we’ve gone from, ‘This will be really rad when we play it in a gnarly basement or in this in-your-face rock club,’ to, ‘This will sound amazing on giant speakers and a big stage.’ But at the heart of it you’re still trying to write a great song.”
The J. Roddy Walston & The Business show will cap off a weeklong home-build outside Bon Secours Wellness Arena by Habitat for Humanity. Proceeds from the show will continue the important work of Habitat Greenville by funding the 2020 Arena Build.
What: J. Roddy Walston & The Business
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday, May 17
Where: Bon Secours Wellness Arena, 650 N. Academy St., Greenville
Tickets: $25, $35
Info: 864-241-3800, http://www.bonsecoursarena.com/