By: Steph Baghai
With a humble character and tight-knit community, Milwaukee musicians rely on word of mouth and a steady local following. Native outfit, Slow Walker, has not only embraced the unpretentious approach, but found comfort in it, “We don’t promote much,” drummer Nick Foltcher explains, “[We] really like the idea of people seeing us live without promoting and being like ‘holy shit, these guys are awesome.’ It’s a fun thing, that’s why we’ve been doing it for so long. We like having people into it just from seeing us at shows.” This grassroots approach could be labeled conservatively, and potentially harmful. Yet the trio has developed a steady and growing following despite their subdued online presence.
Guitarist Justin Harris and Foltcher started the band in 2010, “We were a four-three-four-three piece before. It’s always been moving around. Some people couldn’t do it anymore or there were scheduling issues. From the beginning it was always [Justin Harris], Nick, Andy (who recently left the band), and then Sam [Reitman] who's been in it for two years,” says Nick.
In their fifth lineup change, the now three piece is adjusting in the studio and polishing their sound. With little trouble, the group transcribes their off-the-cuff and comfortable demeanor in the studio. “We just jam and use that,” says bassist Sam Reitman. “It works so much better for me. At home, I think of it too hard and make it sound different, but when you jam, you’re not thinking about that, it just kind of happens.” Their comfort is clear and translates in their easy flowing sessions, steady progressions and lively demeanor. Whether it be shows or hanging around, the group has a familiar energy that exudes to their audience effortlessly. That lightheartedness and clowning attitude contrasts with the heavy, darker sound of their music, creating a chaotic riot, filled with nonsense, absurdity and, ultimately, fun.
The transition from writing separate parts to using jamming sessions has been easy for the group. Reitman joined in 2014 after meeting the group at a show where his other band (Midnight Reruns) were performing. “We jammed all the time. We’re all kindred spirits. Eventually, 2 years ago they asked if I wanted to play bass in Slow Walker and I was like ‘I thought you’d never ask’. It’s different for me, being the new guy. 'Cause when we first met in the basement - that was way different than now. It was more dumb rock.” Today, the group is more refined and clean but they haven't lost their “dumb rock” style. Their humor and spirited nature is a charming characteristic that attracts listeners who may not be as inclined to their scuffed tone.
Foltcher explains, “It’s very goofy, but it has been getting more psych over the years; heavier, tighter, generally overall better, but the idea has stayed the same.”
That “idea” revolves around good times, getting high, and classic rock n’ roll. They mix grunge, psych and metal with their own kindred and goofy style. The heavy undertones and deep reverb are contrasted with bouncy, dopey lyrics and a carefree stage presence. With song names like ‘Bug Man Blues’, 'Pet My Dog' and ‘Hot Box in the Chevy’, there is little seriousness expected and they exude that fun-loving attitude with charisma and ease. Sticking to their “jamming” style, they never play a song the same way, they improvise while still blurring the lines between heavy and psych rock, "'Sauerkraut' is never the same. Ever. When we play it live, we have somewhat of a structure but it’s never ever the same, it’s very open ended," Foltcher explains. This "open-endedness" philosophy is key to their sound and the outfit is using it to their advantage, in and out of the studio.
Slow Walker just released 'Command Z', a 6 track EP earlier last month. This is the first time the group has released material as a three-piece and their "jam style" composition model is in the forefront of the compilation. While the solidified DIY, stoner rock foundation sets the raw tone, their more defined sound is evident. Without losing any of their jest, the tracks far from lack heavy progressions, deep bass lines, and head-thrashing chaos. Even with this new “tighter” progression, Slow Walker stays true to their classic rock n’ roll rock.
'Lizard Brain' is a solid example of the trios approach and the video demonstrates their straightforward, yet transparent, style. The video is a glimpse into their lively and distinctive personas all while showcasing their developed sound. In lieu of their heavy-yet-fun contrast, the candid shots reveal their zany nature without compromising their authenticity.
As Sam sums it up, “life’s a stage, smoke weed everyday”.
Watch 'Lizard Brain' and listen to their EP below. Be sure to check out April 7th at WHIP 'The Ride' Album Release Show with Surgeons in Heat at Cactus Club.