In the first part of my interview with recording artist Jason Walker (posted here), we talked about his upbringing, his moment on Showtime At The Apollo, and his work with Junior Vasquez. Now we move on to his latest album, and the recently-released unplugged EP.
Leave It All Behind was his first pure Pop album. It sounded like a step away from the clubs. “Yes, and I wanted it to be. I found that many of the things I was writing about didn’t have anything to do with the dance floor, and didn’t warrant that kind of production. I didn’t want to make just another dance record - everyone and their mother was doing it. And it really wasn’t where my head was. I was without a label, and could finally call the shots, so that is exactly what I did,” he tells me proudly. “I made every decision and was responsible for every aspect of the record, which was a pain in the ass. I don’t think most people realize how much work goes into it. They think you decide to make an album, you record it and boom, it comes out. That is not really how it happens. It was something that I needed to do, and I learned a lot from it. And it was worth it.”
The songs seemed much more personal on the album. What was it like putting it together? “The thing was, when I was with the label,” he confesses, “I didn’t want to give them any of my material. So half of the album, I wrote myself.“ Could he tell us a little about those songs? “I felt that the things I was writing about, it turned out to be an accurate representation of where I was at the time, and how I wanted to be heard. I knew that some people were going to turn their nose up – the hard-core dance folks – they weren’t going to understand where I was. But I really didn’t care. At the end of the day, I am not just a dance artist, I am a singer. “
The new stripped-down, unplugged EP is yet another departure. Rather than exploring the muscularity of his voice, there is an exploration of nuance and restraint. “Well, I feel like with all the stuff I did with Junior, it was all about the power and the production,” he remembers. “It was so for the dance clubs. So when I left that situation, I just wanted to take a step away form the insanity and sing a song without all of the lights and the kick drums, the baselines and synthesizers.”
But that wasn’t the only reason. “My dad, he’d always say, ‘You know I love to hear you sing, I know you like dance music and it’s not really my thing, but when are you going to sing a slow song, when are you going to sing a ballad for me, because I love when you sing that.’
“Well, I found myself wanting to do that, after I found myself immersed in dance for so long, I just wanted to do other things. They were things that I used to do, that I have never forgotten how to do, but they weren’t in the forefront of my life anymore. I wanted to revisit that. I wanted to explore those again. So that is why the album not only happened last year, but especially why the 'Unplugged' EP happened, too.”
So how did the EP come about? “That is just a recorded rehearsal, one song after the other, no editing, no autotune, no anything,” he revealed. “I had no plan on releasing it. I did it at a friend’s studio in the city, and when I listened back to it, and let a few people listen, they all thought I should release it – put it out there. It is the other end of the spectrum. There is everything from This Is My Life and Flexible, so Hi N-R-G and so heavily produced, and there is this, where there has been almost nothing done – a little bit of vocal compression and a bit of reverb, that is it. And I felt like it was a natural progression of me as an artist.”
How did he feel without the driving drums and instrumentation he had for so many years? “I didn’t feel naked at all. In fact, I felt better and more comfortable than I ever felt in any nightclub. I know that sounds a little crazy, but it is the truth. When I let people listen I thought maybe people would identify with it. And maybe they’d like it.”
With those questions completed, my own curiosity got the best of me. Is there a song that he has yet to sing that has him wanting to give it is that Jason-spin? “I’ve always wanted to sing A Song For You from Donny Hathaway. I just always wanted to.“ What about his ‘guilty pleasure’ that might surprise his fans? “Do you know who one of my favorites is? Toni Childs is one of my favorite singers, she has such a unique voice, and I love that. She is such an individual. She had that big booming voice that not a lot of people are going to get, but I get it and I love it. That might be a surprise to some people.”
If Jason got first crack at any song from the last five years, which would it be? “Ha! I’ve always loved – this is gonna sound a little cheesy, but - I’ve always loved the song The Climb from Miley Cyrus. She just doesn’t know enough yet to sing that song. It’s like when LeAnn Rimes and Trisha Yearwood both sang How Do I Live. LeAnn Rimes was what, she had to be less than 20. [She was actually 15]. And Trisha Yearwood was a mature woman. I mean LeAnn’s version was vocally amazing, but when you listened to Trisha’s you just heard the maturity and the way she turned a phrase, and how she connected with the lyrics."
I’ve read that you performed at a Broadway Bares benefit. Is musical theater something that interests you, or was that just a one-off appearance? “Yeah, that was a couple of years ago. Well, it is funny, because I was singing at a benefit remembering the Paradise Garage. It was at Santos Party House and Quentin was playing, and they had asked me, Robert Owens and Barbara Tucker to perform. So I was going to perform during Quentin’s set. I was doing two songs. I was doing the Reverend Carl Bean’s Born This Way, not Lady GaGa’s, but the first one,” he retells with a wry smile in his voice. “And I was doing I Need Somebody To Love Tonight by Sylvester. Quentin was all about me doing that song. He said ‘you really gotta do this song by Sylvester. It’s obscure but it was prevalent during the times of the Paradise Garage.’ Well, when I was performing, the director for Broadway Bares was in the audience that night, and he asked me if I would sing that song in a portion of the show."
“I had never done anything remotely associated with Broadway,” he explained. “I was used to singing in dance clubs and blues bands, not anything even close to Broadway. It was a really good experience and I had a great time. The audiences were great and very receptive.” So would he be open to doing a Broadway show? “Sure! I don’t limit myself,” he said, laughing.
Is there anyone he’d like to work with, living or dead? “Oh, there are two. Rollo [Armstrong] from the band Faithless, who produced Christine W’s first album [Land of the Living], which is, in my opinion, the best Dance record ever made. And there is T-Bone Burnett. I would cut off an appendage to work with T-Bone Burnett because that man is a genius. I mean there are other people, like Red One and Babyface, who I’d like to work with. But those two, Rollo and T-Bone Burnett, oh,” he stops for a moment for a respectful breathe, “they are at the top of my list.”
Is there a favorite song he has written or likes to perform? “Uhm, you know what? No,” he told me matter of factly. “Honestly, honey, I never put a set list together or do an order. It just happens. Everything I write comes from a different place, and they all mean just as much to me as the others. There is no favorite.”
When should people start looking for tour dates so they can catch Jason Walker live and in person? “Over the next month or two. I have a few shows lined up in New York, but I am working on a few shows for the European market. So the next couple of months.“ I certainly can't wait until he is playing a show in my area.
I'd like to truly thank Jason Walker for taking the time to talk to me, and answer all my questions. After spending some time getting to know him, as much as I love his music, I am now every bit a fan of the man. Leave It All Behind, and the new EP, Live And Unplugged can be purchased on iTunes here and here, and Amazon.com here or here. Don't forget to check out Jason on his official website here. You can also be his friend on Twitter and/or FaceBook, and get the updates as they happen. And if you haven't already, please consider making an investment in your listening pleasure and check out Jason's Kickstarter page here. With a pledge of $10, $25, $50 or more, you can pre-order a new album, and get many other benefits you can read about on that page.