told slantThe day that “Tsunami” by Told Slant was released, I was in desperate need to have someone tell me “Isn’t this silly and aren’t you beautiful.” So I replayed the video constantly for a day, until I gained the energy to actually want to go outside. Before this song was released, my favorite song by Told Slant was “In San Francisco” off the first record, Still Water (which you can download for free on Bandcamp). Now it’s a close second, but who knows what my favorite will be once Going By is out (due June 17 on Double Double Whammy).

I had been wanting to speak to Felix Walworth before the release of the single, but when that song hit, it became a necessity for me to speak to them. I’m happy to say I got to, because the conversation led to a deeper understanding of how Felix creates and why. You can read the Q&A below.

The Bay Bridged: You tour a lot, and play with so many different bands in the Epoch collective, how do stay positive during it all?

Felix Walworth: It’s definitely a lot of work. I’m leaving the city in three days and usually when I’m here, I’m playing, you know, at least four days out of the week. I’m definitely super busy but it’s also my favorite thing to do on the planet so it doesn’t feel like it’s a destructive thing to do for me.

TBB: I feel that. Since the only way I feel I can be mentally my best is by being busy doing things I love. It’s a good coping device.

FW: Yeah, coping is a good way to think of it.

TBB: I know “Tsunami” is actually an older song, when did you originally write it?

FW: It’s definitely old, it was sort of pretty quickly following the last album that I released. It was one of the first ones that I wrote after that. So I’ve been playing it live for like three years or so.

TBB: How did the idea of having your friends sing “Isn’t this silly and aren’t you beautiful” come about?

FW: When I perform the song, I ask the audience to be sort of a choir voice for the call and response part of that song. First when I was actually thinking about how to arrange the song for a record. I was actually thinking of doing a sort of crowdsourcing exercise in asking like the internet, you know, strangers in general, to record themselves saying that line and sort of mix them all together. But the idea of that seemed a little bit clumsy to me and maybe lacked the intimacy that I actually wanted from a line that’s sort of that personal and emotional. So I thought it would be better to have people that I love sing it to me on the record.

TBB: How do you feel about people taking a song that you wrote for yourself in the moment and making it about themselves? I know some people have a hard time dealing with that, because creating at its purest is very personal. When you put it out there it becomes something bigger than yourself. I’ve noticed with my own work and with others, that there’s sometimes a disconnect from the original meaning and how people take it as.

FW: I think that’s a really tricky place that any artist finds themselves in, ’cause on one hand you are saying something that is very particular to your own experience and you’re trying to express something that you know from the get-go that no one else will totally understand. So there’s a sort of necessary translation. That’s how I like to think of it in writing these words for yourself and sharing it to a larger audience. In that process of translation there’s always this fear that ‘Will anyone know what I’m saying? Does anyone know what I’m talking about about? Is anyone gonna hear what I’m trying to convey?’ And I think it’s important to always remember that no one is going to really hear what you’re trying to say. Everyone is going to hear your art through their own set of experiences, their own subjectivities will come into play, and askew the interpretation that you think you’re doing.

Long story short, it doesn’t bother me, I take it as a given that my words will be reinterpreted, maybe misinterpreted or translated and retranslated by other people. And I don’t think I would do this if I felt that I was only doing it for myself. I like to offer people some sort of map to be able to recognize themselves through my work. Even if their experience is different from mine. Even if someone doesn’t know exactly how I felt when I wrote “Tsunami,” for instance, and just wanted someone to tell me, you know, ‘Isn’t this silly and aren’t you beautiful” and they don’t know the particular circumstances that put me in that place. Maybe seeing me work through that can help them work through the same problem that makes them need to hear that.

TBB: You are one of the most intense drummers I’ve ever seen live, how long have you been playing the drums?

FW: I’ve learned drums in a pretty standard setup. I think I learned when I was 13, so yeah wow I’ve been playing for about 11 years. Wow, now I feel very old. But I taught myself in the basement of the house that I grew up in.

TBB: During live performances with Told Slant, you play the drums and sing while standing, how did it go from the standard way to that?

FW: I guess the idea for that was born out of a desire to actually perform in an engaging way while still playing the drums. My commitment to really playing the drums really came from a personal, picky, or just snobbiness of just like not particularly liking anyone else’s drumming enough to actually ask them to play drums. I definitely began thinking that I was going to play guitar in this band but very quickly found that I was too particular to let anyone else drum. Then the idea following that decision of sitting down and drumming while I sing and try to perform these songs felt like it sort of took away from the energy. The arrangements are pretty simple. So you know, it’s not like this band is full of drum shredding or particularly difficult skills. So it kind of naturally fell into place.

TBB: Without music where do you think you’d be?

FW: It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. If songwriting is even good for me. . .speaking from a mental health space. I don’t know, I hear a lot of songwriters talk about songwriting as sort of cathartic or therapeutic. Sort of a change to release, mull over feelings and anxieties. Somewhere in that process of turning these complicated feelings into words or sounds, comes some sort of release.

I’m not sure if it’s ever been like that for me. I’m not sure that once I distill the things that I’m feeling and create some kind of tangible piece of art, that I’ve actually successfully worked through anything for myself or helped myself in a real way. So it’s hard to say if I’d be happier or if it’s a sort of a void-filling exercise. There’s definitely some kind of joy that I experience in taking some kind of feeling or image and being able to express it in such a particular but also accessible way. The joy for me is just the art of it. It feels like solving a riddle or something. There’s so many ways in the world that you can say ‘I’m sad.’ People do that all the time, and sometimes that’s what I’m saying. Not all the time, but sometimes. One way that you can do it, you can say ‘I’m sad’ and that’s not particularly compelling because it’s just what it is. There are other ways that you can say it, like ‘My heart is broken.’ That’s not really compelling because, I feel, it’s like cliche and people already have that image or that phase to turn to when they’re sad. Finding a new way, like a secret angle, or like an image that no one has seen before that points to something that they’ve felt before. Finding that is one of the most gratifying feelings to me. But no, it doesn’t help me with my life.

TBB: How is performing for you? With having people sing along with you and sometimes even louder than you?

FW: I think that’s one of the actual healing elements of doing this for me is like seeing that someone has responded or listened to this thing that I created. Seeing that it has meant something to them, and hopefully inspired them in some way to create something of their own or to think something differently about themselves or about someone else. Those moments of communication make me feel like I haven’t failed.

TBB: What would you like to tell people? What would you want to people to know about the new record?

FW: This is an album that deals with a lot of confusion and loneliness and sadness, but I don’t want…I feel like there’s a reading of it that could suggest that it’s an album for wallowing. For sort of sitting in a tempest pool of sadness and ultimately failing there, and remaining there forever. And you know, feelings like that definitely come up and questions about whether or not you’re going to feel like loved or cared for or worth anything are definitely present. But there not an end point. I feel like the record sort of points to alternative ways to relating to yourself and relating to other people that can sort of act like paths out of that tempest pool.

I only say that because a lot of people have told me that my last album was extremely sad, and I think that it can be. But ultimately that record, as the author of it, I’m not the master of it, I’m not the only one that opinion matters, but I think my opinion matters a little bit. So I don’t think that it’s a hopeless record, and I think that it actually points to some kind of liberation of the self. It asks you as a listener, or maybe I’m asking the listener, to succeed in some way or to move forward or move at all, maybe move sideways.
I think this album stands to read as even more doom and gloom, but I don’t make art to punish people. I don’t want to drag anyone into a place to despair. I’m more interested in examining that place.

The Hotelier, Told Slant, Loone
Bottom of the Hill
June 2, 2016
7pm, $14 (all ages!)