A new album, a new Texas Parks compilation, a new season of his podcast, and a massive variety show at the Paramount
By Jeff McCord
In a little over a decade, Walker Lukens has become one of Austin’s most notable songwriters. Since 2012, he’s been releasing his engaging and memorable songs at a steady clip. His latest album Accessible Beauty, spawned “The One Who Loves You”, which has made the playlists of many newly budding romances. He just premiered its flipside, “Silver Corolla” – about seeing his ex’s car everywhere he goes – at his recent Studio 1A performance. He’s a creative force with a seemingly endless deposit of ideas, the kind of songs that anyone would be happy to make a career out of performing. Expect maybe Lukens. The thing is, he’s kind of, um, bored.
“I like doing new things,” he admits. “So it’s always been kind of hard for me to play the same songs every night, you know? I like being part of different styles of music and different genres, and it’s just so hard to do that when my songs are the center of it.”
We’re discussing Walker’s various endeavors. Lukens owns a recording studio and has become a very in-demand producer. He co-hosts a podcast, “Song Confessional”, about to launch its third season. He just finished producing Texas Wild, an imaginative 11-track album pairing new Texas artists with classic Texas tunes, all benefiting the Texas Parks & Wildlife Foundation.
And on Friday the 15th, he’s about to stage a massive variety show on the stage of the Paramount Theater featuring everyone from Mobley and Shakey Graves to Israel Nash and Fat Tony. Lukens is calling the show “The Last Walt”. Huh?
“I really wanted to do the thing about our town. You can play more often [in Austin] than you can if you live in, say, New York. It’s part of our culture. People come out to see you more often. And when I was getting ready to release this record, I just didn’t want to do the same thing of, play South By Southwest a bunch, play a little club show, then do the big show, maybe do ACL. I thought maybe this was the time to finally try to do a show at the Paramount or somewhere bigger. That was the beginning of it.”
“We started talking about bringing in artists who I’ve worked with in the last year or two as a producer, or with the podcast. And then it just kind of snowballed, and the dream now is just to have a kind of variety show every year in December and try to make it a tradition, you know?”
“And ‘The Last Walt’, then to explain the name a little bit. I mean, my name is Walker. I get called Walter ALL THE TIME. I get checks written after shows from production managers to Walter. And it was sort of an homage to The Last Waltz. But yeah, someone would stop me on the street and it’s like, ‘Well, I’m not coming anymore if you’re not going to play the songs by the Band.’ I was like, ‘But you’re going to see David. Ramirez play his music with a nine-piece band, and then Shakey Graves is going to do that. And then I’m going to do that. And the guy was like, ‘Okay, that’s also cool’.”
Whether it’s a staged variety show, a podcast, or someone’s new record, why does Lukens seem particularly suited to the role of a producer?
“There’s a technical skill level that’s a baseline, that helps. You want to help the artist have a great, memorable experience and that can mean something different all the time. For people starting out, they’ve only ever experienced anxiety and disappointment in the studio. A lot of that is about getting everything set up so that when you press record, they’re not thinking about their bank account the whole time. Other artists who’ve been doing the same thing for a long time, they want to do something new, but they don’t necessarily know how. That’s what I try to focus on, giving people a great experience. It’s such a tender, sacred thing, bringing your songs into the world. To be with someone as they do that and help shepherd that into the world, it’s an honor.”
Luken’s same enthusiasm carries over to his podcast, “Song Confessional” (full disclosure: KUTX is a partner in this podcast), which pairs songwriters to anonymously recorded “confessions”, stories and tales almost begging to have a song written about them.
“I have to give full credit to my partner in this, Zac Catanzaro, for seeing how this would be a great podcast. My initial idea for this project stemmed from a woman who came up to me after my show and told me that one of my records really meant a lot to her, because she listened to it the summer that her mother passed away. It really touched me, but at the same time, I was thinking to myself, there’s not a single song on this album that spoke about that kind of grief. It just got me thinking, what would it be like to just write a song for someone about something they want you to write about? On-demand songwriting. And so we schemed up this SXSW activation idea where people could come and talk to a songwriter, and a songwriter would make a song out of whatever they said. And the first year we did it, it was just so fun. But we realized not everyone has great stories that go for songs. Zac’s like, ‘This is just a podcast.’ That’s sort of how we got there, this idea of ‘What if you know exactly what the song is about and it’s about you?’”
Lukens laughs. “You know, it’s a weird thing – this is definitely an obsessive issue that I have, but do ever go to a wedding and somebody has their first dance to a song that’s totally not romantic? You know what I mean? One of the songs that always kills me is “Always on My Mind”. It’s a beautiful, perfect song, but really, it’s a guy, saying I haven’t been a really good boyfriend or husband and I’m going to be better. You know, I was always thinking about you even when I was being shitty.”
“It’s just a love song to most people, you know? And I guess people connect with music in a way that’s not 1 to 1, you know? I think it just was so cool and exciting to us to make something that’s exactly what you want it to be about. Wild Child did a song, it’s really popular. Other ones have not been popular. But what’s been consistent about all of it is, the person who told the story that inspired the song is so blown away that their experience could ever turn into a piece of pop music. It just blows their mind.”
At this point, you may have noticed that Lukens has talked very little about his new album. Or his music in general. He’s not proud of it, it’s just that he doesn’t quite know how to get that across.
“My own music was kind of limiting in a way, so it led me to work with other artists. You know, just for the way my mind works, I’m always trying to do new things. The longer I’ve stayed around music, the happiest people I see are the ones like Charlie Sexton, for example. He’s a fantastic songwriter, a great singer, but he also plays guitar with all these people. He produces records. I don’t know him well at all, but I think I have a similar personality in that doing different things brings me a lot of joy. [The studio] is a lot more immediately gratifying than performing. Some people will tell you the opposite, but I think they’re crazy because performing, it’s a lot of repetition. Some people have the temperament. I went on tour with Israel Nash, I played bass in his band. Israel is a really good example of someone who doesn’t hang on to the little negative things from each night. He can see the big picture for you. I hang onto more and it ruins it for me a little bit. Especially when I’m in charge, you know?”
“What I’ve liked, where my path has gone, is not at all what I expected. But I feel really fortunate that it’s taken me where it’s taken me. Because the thing is, some of the artists who are playing this show (“The Last Walt”), make a pretty good living performing all over the country or all over the world. That’s a really hard life. And I just started to realize that maybe it’s not maybe it’s not the best for me. I feel really lucky that I was able to realize that at the same time that I was realizing how much I love working on other people’s records and doing a podcast and getting to work on various projects. I’m very happy that I wasn’t completely burning out and then trying to restart.”
FOLLOW WALKER LUKENS
Musicians: Walker Lukens – vocals, guitar
Producer: Deidre Gott; Production Assistant: Confucius Jones; Audio Engineer: Rene Chavez; Audio Mix: Jake Perlman; Cameras: Ivy Fowler, Renee Dominguez,
Nastassja Collak; Edit: Renee Dominguez; Host: Laurie Gallardo