On the surface, it might seem odd that singer/guitarist Sean Walsh has gone from being a punk-rocker to making country-tinged roots-rock with his band, Brooklyn’s National Reserve. The songs on the band’s debut full-length album Motel La Grange are a lot closer to the Drive-By Truckers or Jason Isbell than the Ramones, but Walsh doesn’t see all that much of a change between what he used to play and what he plays now.
“I don’t think it’s all that different,” he says. “The attitude feels the same to me. My view of the world and politics are the same, it’s just a different kind of music, that’s all.”
Walsh credits his musical shift to a deep dive into the catalogs of Lucero, a group of rough-hewn roots-rockers from Memphis, and Bob Dylan. In fact, Dylan was especially vital in Walsh’s move out of punk rock.
“I think he was the first one who connected the dots for me,” Walsh says. “I realized you can write music that’s a little more musical, and still have the same kind of attitude and message. The same kind of passion can be there, but it can be more musical than the stuff I was listening to at 16 or 17.”
When Walsh decided to form a band more sympathetic to his musical direction, he looked even further into the classic-rock era to identify the right musicians.
“I was 19 when I got turned on to Joe Cocker and Leon Russell and the soulful rock and roll thing,” he says, “so the big thing for me with this band was finding people who played like that. Our drummer Brian (Geltner), he’s definitely got a powerful sound that I think comes from playing harder rock, but he loves Stevie Wonder, so he’s super soulful when he plays. It was about finding people like that. It took a long time to find everyone, but they all have their own voices when they play their instruments, which is super-important.”
Motel La Grange could fit in comfortably with albums by Cocker or Russell, and Walsh credits the National Reserve’s lengthy weekly residency at a Brooklyn bar called Skinny Dennis. They were onstage for four hours every Friday night, which honed the band’s skills considerably.
“We cut 95% of Motel La Grange live,” Walsh says. “For five years before we made that record, the band was playing live at the bar every Friday, and the album was the first time we’d ever really captured what we’d been doing for the last five years.”
The National Reserve made a big splash here in the Upstate at last Spring’s edition of the Albino Skunk Music Festival, and they’re returning to town for two very different shows this Thursday. One is a full-band performance at the Radio Room, and the other is a more intimate in-store performance at Horizon Records.
Walsh says that has a different goal for each show. “For the in-store show, it’s a matter of doing the stripped-down thing, because the energy of a loud rock show doesn’t translate,” he says. “It’s more important to me that the songs get across. For the full-band show, I like to think that if you’re a musician getting paid to play music, you have a job. You’re there to entertain people.”
“Hopefully they also really like your songs,” he adds with a laugh, “but the first part of your job is that you’re there to be the entertainment. When you’re in a club and people are there to see a rock show, you’ve got to turn it up a little bit.”
What: The National Reserve
Where: Horizon Records, 2-A W. Stone Ave., Greenville
When: Thursday, Aug. 15, 5 p.m.
Tickets: Show is free
Info.: 864-235-7922, http://horizonrecords.net/
What: The National Reserve, w/ Daniel Donato
Where: Radio Room, 110 Poinsett Hwy., Greenville
When: Thursday, Aug. 15, 8 p.m.
Tickets: $12 adv., $15 dos.
Info.: 864-609-4441, http://www.radioroomgreenville.com/