The thing about chapters — as any bibliophile will tell you — is that one has to end before a new one can begin.
That’s where Peter Walker found himself one afternoon, as he waited to pick up his nephew at his alma mater. His previous outfit, Eulogies, had reached its logical conclusion — but Walker’s artistic journey was nowhere near finished. The page just needed to be turned.
Strangely, it was the literal turning of pages that helped accomplish just that. As he killed time, Walker reached for a book with an interesting cover and a curious title — the young adult novel “King Dork.”
“It looked like the cover of ‘Catcher in the Rye’ that’d been erased and covered in graffiti, like someone would do in a high school class,” he says. “So I picked it up and started reading it and I loved it. I started getting into more teen fiction and it got me really thinking about those years of my life and I started writing songs. I started to conceptualize this whole project based on that kind of experience.”
And so Broadheds was born. Armed with words about angst, innocence, hope and infatuation, Walker went back to his own adolescence when creating the music. “I knew it was going to be this Ramones kind of aggressive thing because that’s where I was at when a was a teen – that kind of awkwardness and discomfort and the tough growth that happens. It just seems like it needs that kind of power.”
It also required the right group of compatriots to execute Walker’s vision – serious professionals who could commit themselves to the freedom and abandonment of a project whose guiding principles were lack of pressure, simplification and not looking beyond a one-off, studio-based art project.
Finding those individuals wasn’t hard. Drummer Denny Weston, Jr. had been in Walker’s orbit since the first Eulogies album, and his time playing in The Kooks made him the perfect candidate for the project. Bassist Justin Meldal-Johnsen (who has toured with Beck and Nine Inch Nails, amongst others) was brought in to help produce and quickly became a crucial ingredient. And after unsuccessfully imagining how to get a clarinet happening on an indie-rock/punk record,￼Walker wisely set his sights on a sax player. Fitz and the Tantrums’ James King was the obvious choice.
Getting all four players in one room proved to be the tricky – yet essential – part. After briefly considering having Meldal-Johnsen overdub his parts, it was decided to wait until the stars (and schedules) aligned. As a quick listen to the recordings attests and as cliché as Walker knows that it sounds, the amazing energy and fun created in two half-days of rehearsals and three half-days of recording – of letting go and not over-thinking – was magic. The violence and beauty of raw teenage energy was achieved.
The entire album bristles with the jittery restlessness of adolescence, reverberates with the jaded hopefulness of youth, occasionally bursts with frustration – and comes together with the easy, almost relaxed assurance of four musicians at the top of their game. Check out the unhinged nature of the sax in “Outta Reach,” the ease of how the band gels together (gang vocals included) in “Pick Me Up” and the ska/rock (or is that punk?) fusion between the verse and chorus of “Tomorrow I Might Feel The Same” for starters.
It should be duly noted that the album was also inspired, encouraged and eventually documented by the visual artist Mark Todd. Not only is his artwork featured in the 64-page book that accompanies the album (and works nicely as a stand-alone piece); he was an integral part of the recording process, providing an evolving visual landscape in the studio as the record was recorded.
The release of the album was intended to be the end of this chapter, but sometimes the conclusion is a surprise – even to its writer. Walker’s no-pressure experiment produced such a rush of creative energy that his cohorts demanded that they perform the material live, visuals included.
“That was the best feeling – the best thing they could’ve given me or that could’ve happened,” Walker beams. “Just that they felt that way. That was like I had gotten my reward.”
And while he states that a handful of live shows will now serve as the end of the Broadheds chapter, Walker’s story is nowhere near The End. “The next thing — I don’t know what it’s going to be,” he muses, “but I’m working on that now, just writing.”