Billy Wallace had built a rep as the go-to guy for Virginia folk punk rock, first as the frontman and guitarist for The Wading Girl and most recently as a bass player for Tim Barry. With a slew of songs piling up, Wallace finally put out his first solo record in 2009 (The Road Spit Me Out).
After relocating to his hometown of Cincinnati, he got to work on the follow up and pulled together a (semi)constant band. The result is the impressive Tucumcari, New Mexico and Other Songs, a release not that far removed from bands like Drag the River, Cory Branan and his former boss Barry.
Wallace spoke recently about his move to Ohio, The Virginia Blues and girls, of course.
Inocent Words: You’ve spend a number of years playing in other people’s bands. What made you finally decide to go out on your own?
Billy Wallace: I suppose the simplest answer, logistically, anyway, is that it’s easier to tour when you’re by yourself. It’s not as much fun when you don’t have your friends with you, but you can drive a smaller car, find places to crash a lot easier; the money just goes a lot farther. And as much as I wish that wasn’t a factor in making music, when you’re thirty years old and struggling on the road, it certainly becomes a big deal.
As for an answer on the more creative side of things: I’ve always written songs, ever since I first started playing in bands back in high school. Coming up with the lyrics has always been my favorite part of the creation process. Playing solo really lends itself to a more storytelling approach, I think, both while performing live and while writing. The band that plays with me on the record and around town in Cincinnati can’t really go on the road too often, so when I’m writing songs, I have to write something that can be performed solo or with the band and still try to make it interesting to the listener both ways. It’s a fun way to write and it’s so different from how I wrote in the past that it really keeps it feeling new to me.
Wallace: It’s a combination of the two. For the last two years, Jonathan Lohr (guitar, backing vocals) has been the constant one there with me. He plays in several bands around town but the others are a bit heavier and louder and I think the Virginia Blues is a nice change of pace for him. He and I have done a ton of shows with just the two of us – an acoustic guitar, vocal harmony thing – over the past year. In addition to his great guitar parts, he’s gotten really involved in writing melodies and harmonies and offering strong ideas on dynamic and song structure. Shannon Lewis started singing with us a couple months ago and she’s really bringing new and interesting vocal ideas to the table. She’s a theater kid and she fills in spots that old punk rock guys like Jon and me didn’t even know existed, (laughs). Our horn player, Matt Mitchell, lives in Columbus, so he doesn’t get to play live with us as often as we’d like, but he’s an amazing player. We’ve got so many different versions of different songs that can be played depending on who’s there at the time.
IW: What was it like working on this album compared to the last one?
Wallace: On The Road Spit Me Out, I was just trying to figure out what I was doing, musically and in my life in general. I was living in the tour van at the time, right after leaving Virginia. The songs on that record were recorded in about 20 different places. I think this new one feels steadier because, honestly, my life is much less turbulent.
We’ve always recorded everything ourselves. I don’t really like the studio environment too much. Because there’s money involved, it feels like there’s a pressure there that isn’t conducive to what I want to do. That sounds silly, I know, but it just isn’t for me. I realize that I sacrifice some sound quality since I don’t really know what the hell I’m doing as an engineer, but it’s worth it to have constant access and control. Some of my favorite parts of the new record were recorded in the middle of the night in my apartment or spontaneous stone-drunk crowd vocals when friends were over, things like that. Those moments capture who I think we are as people and friends and I love that about it. It might not sound perfect and it might not mean a damn thing to anyone else, but you have to make music for yourself first. If other people on the outside end up feeling something from it, then that’s pretty cool.
IW: What can you tell me about the inspiration for the songs on this one?
Wallace: Girls, mostly (laughs). A few of the songs, like “Noel’s Blues” and “Seen the Light” were ones that I’ve been playing live for a couple years but I never got a chance to record them the way I wanted. The Golden Ratio is a reoccurring theme throughout the record. I love the idea that it occurs in nature, in every art form, and can be applied to one’s own life as well. We’re all trying to find the right mix of work, art, sex, drugs, religion, or the like that adds up to a ratio that equals something resembling contentment and happiness. I’ve got a lot of songs about trying different ways to get that ratio right.
IW: What prompted the move to Cincinnati?
Wallace: I was born here. My family is all here. I left when I went away to school and then lived in Roanoke for a long time, but once The Wading Girl (my old band) broke up, there wasn’t a lot left there for me. It’s one of the most beautiful towns in the country and I do miss some folks there, but it’s good to be back in Cincy. The music scene is full of talent right now. I’ve got a good job that still allows me to travel. I’ve got a cool apartment with my girl and my amazing dog. And the Reds won the NL Central this past year. So far, so good.
IW: Are you currently on tour?
Wallace: I just finished a few weeks up and down the East Coast. It was a great run and I fell in love with the road again after a long time off. Jon, Shannon and I are doing some weekends to finish out the year in Florida and then in the Midwest. I’ll probably go on a longer tour again in late February/early March.
IW: What’s next for you?
Wallace: Jon and I already have a slew of new songs written. We’re talking to some of our friends’ bands about possible split EP’s in the new year. This last tour was pretty great and I’ve been writing a lot since it ended, so we’ll probably have something new in the works pretty soon. I also want to have the shitty novel I’m writing finished by my 31st birthday in April. Of course, I wanted to have it finished by my 30th birthday, too, so we’ll see how that goes.
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