In a musical landscape that highlights irritatingly named sub-genres like “chillwave” and “glo-fi”, Baltimore’s J Roddy Walston and the Business stick out like a sore thumb. The band’s straightforward brand of balls-to-the-wall rock and roll sits like a junkyard dog at a cat show. On the phone with American Songwriter, Walston quickly admits that the band has noticed.
“We’re hyper aware of it,” he states. “Baltimore is a center for all that kind of dance or art music or whatever it is.”
However, Walston refutes the idea of a correlation between this project and the avant-garde sounds that define his city’s musical scene.
“It definitely wasn’t any sort of reaction to [the music coming out of Baltimore]. It wasn’t like, ‘Well, everyone else is doing this. Or no one else is doing this.’ It was out of context to anybody or anything that was going on. We’ve always just played music that we wanted to hear, you know?”
In that case, J Roddy Walston and the Business seemingly yearn for a throwdown between Jerry Lee Lewis, Paul Westerberg and James Brown. The 10 tales of love, lust and death on the band’s Vagrant Records debut bleed raw, indefatigable spirit—an intensity that stems from their heralded live show. It was an energy the group wanted to capture while recording at Sound City Studios in Van Nuys, California, with producer Kevin Agunas. But working for the first time with an outside producer did not prove an easy task.
“A lot of times for us it needed to sound more live, or rowdier or something,” Walston says. “Sometimes, from an engineering perspective or a producer’s perspective, it almost sounds like you’re saying, ‘Things need to sound worse.’”
Not exactly the case, according to Walston. “We definitely do treat the songs differently live than we do recording. I mean, they’re two different worlds. But maybe one of the things that stays there or we try to keep there is an amount of mystery in terms of the sound or what’s going on. We’re not trying to present everything as perfect or pristine.”
In terms of J Roddy’s straightforward approach, it simply made sense. “For the most part, we’re a band that no one knows of, you know? Some of our writing and some of this record is even reactionary to that. We basically had to come up with a set and a sound that immediately kind of struck people.”
From the opening notes of their self-titled album’s first cut, “Don’t Break the Needle,” J Roddy Walston and the Business grab your attention, and hold fast throughout with barn-burning tracks like “Brave Man’s Death,” “Uh Oh Rock and Roll,” and “Don’t Want to Hear It.” Their songs summon the powers of the above-mentioned luminaries, but also draw upon the seminal sounds of classic rock. Walston doesn’t understand some folks’ problem with that.
“We’ve talked about it a bunch lately. Look at somebody like Tom Petty, a guy who has a great band and writes great songs, but is not like a cool reference for people. People aren’t like, ‘Oh, my band’s biggest influence is Tom Petty.’ You know, ‘cause it’s just like…I don’t know. People want costumes and some crazy back story. I don’t know. It’s like people need an excuse to listen to good songs rather than being able to enjoy a good or great song for what it is.”