That J Roddy Walston wanted to be a musician shouldn’t have come as a surprise, being born in a family more musical than most. Maybe it was being told at a young age that it was a sin to play music for any reason other than God or family that relegated him to privacy.
“It was kind of shocking to my family,” Walston said. “They didn’t see it coming. I had been doing all of it in secret, up in my bedroom or my friend’s basement. Then one day, I was like, ‘I have a show. Wanna come?’” Although not doing it for “the right reasons,” he realized how important music was to him at a young age.
He began writing lyrics at 10, learned guitar at 13, and piano — now his instrument of choice — a few years later by watching his grandmother.
“I guess I have a pretty deep, sentimental connection to music,” Walston said. “There are things about American music — country, soul and gospel — that kind of stirred something from way back in my childhood. I’ll play something and not know where it came from ... then it all comes back to me. It’s been fun exploring all that and digging in deeper.”
Moving from Tennessee to Baltimore, he found a group of musicians to act as his band, The Business.
The sound they formed — described as “simple rock ’n’ roll” — gave him more fits than starts; most promoters didn’t know what to do with a piano-driven rock act.
“I got put on a lot of bills full of emo bands,” he said. “The first year or two of us playing was us playing to a crowd that was there to hear something totally different from what we were putting out there. We’ve had to carve our own path, which is weird, since we are just a rock ’n’ roll band playing rock ’n’ roll.”
An infectious, near-spiritual live show helped him grind it out against the Fall Out Boy set, finally finding better-fitting audiences and a place on Vagrant Records’ roster alongside the likes of The Hold Steady. With his self-titled album released a year ago, Walston is prepping to record a batch of songs for another between summer festival dates, hoping to carry forward with what he learned to balance on the last disc.
“It’s been figuring out how to have high energy and a deeper level to it all. A lot of bands try to do both, and one of them gets in the way of the other,” he said. “The message gets in the way or the reverse of that. It took us a long time to figure out how to write that way, but I think we made a smart record that is also pretty rockin’.”