INTERVIEW: Joey ‘Chicago’ Walser of DEVOUR THE DAY

In less than a year, Blake Allison and Joey “Chicago” Walser, late of Egypt Central, went from total uncertainty about their musical future to becoming one of the more successful new rock bands of 2013 with their new outfit, Devour the Day. Hit singles “Good Man” and “Move On” have introduced listeners to a band that prefers honesty to writing songs for sports arenas and the two ever-evolving artists at its core. With a revamped version of their debut, “Time & Pressure,” in stores now, and appearances lined up at the festivals Welcome to Rockville, Carolina Rebellion and Rock on the Range, 2014 could prove to be an even bigger year for Devour the Day. Joey recently called in from the road to discuss all things Devour the Day with Live Metal’s Greg Maki.

LIVE METAL: You just finished up the Hellpop 2 tour with In This Moment and Butcher Babies. I’m sure that exposed you to some new fans. How did it go?

Hell-Pop-tourJOEY “CHICAGO” WALSER: It was a wonderful, wonderful experience. I say wonderful twice because there was the first half of it on the West Coast, a bunch of sold-out shows that were really, really great, and then we went through a little bit of rough waters when (In This Moment vocalist) Maria (Brink) got sick and she had to cancel two shows. Those actually turned out to be amazing, because we were able to headline in places like Ft. Wayne and had a really, really good time. The people, the cast of characters is just amazing. They were really, really cool to us—very, very kind. It’s awesome to see so many bands trying what they firmly believe is a new wave of trying to bring rock ‘n’ roll back to the forefront. Everyone has their opinion on how that’s getting done, but everyone’s trying for the same goal. It was really, really great.

Devour the Day has only been playing live since last May. Since that time, how do you feel you’ve grown or changed as a live band?

We’ve changed a couple times pretty dramatically. We had our first lineup, and then we did a lineup change as far as drums and guitar, kind of three quarters of the way through the year, and brought in some young but very, very talented guys. Honestly, since that, I feel like every single day, it has been a fresh approach as to how we’re attacking the music, and the congruency between all the guys really makes for an awesome artistic atmosphere. So I feel it’s kind of the never-ending growth that we have.

Over the past couple weeks, they’ve been announcing a lot of the festivals coming up, and Devour the Day is playing a lot of them. Are you looking forward to festival season?

Oh, dude, I honestly cannot wait. Festival season, summertime is the most fun that bands get to have. All your friends are there, everybody you ever toured with. Especially for guys like Blake and I who’ve been around a while, we get to see a bunch of old friends. And also, the exposure for the band is unparalleled. So it’s really, really great to be able to have the opportunity to go out and do these shows.

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On stage, you are very intense and energetic, jumping around. Have you ever taken any bad falls or had anything embarrassing happen?

I’ve had two kind of major falls. One time because I used to drink before I played—not a good idea. Don’t do that anymore. And then one time, actually, I was in Texas, I got my foot wrapped up in a cord, and I fell. I started to go, and I think it was the slowest fall of all time. It felt like it took 10 minutes. But it was so funny. Our manager was there, and there was this big radio team that came to see us. It was a very, very important show, and I just fell over like a goon. That’s happened twice. I can remember both of them. Horribly embarrassing. The hardest part when you’re on the ground is not staying there—“Ugh, I’ve got get up and see people’s faces.” Especially when—this happened in Egypt Central—I turn around and see Jeff, my guitar player, literally in tears crying. There’s not even a moment of, “Are you OK? Should I help you?” Not even close. Just crying with laughter at my misfortune. That was pretty bad.

I feel like traditionally a lot of bass players on stage, they’re kind of in the background, mysterious, and lots of times on recordings, the bass gets buried. And I think because of that, bass players don’t really get the respect that they deserve. How do you feel about that?

I think that is true. When I picked the bass as an instrument when I was 13 years old, I picked it because it was an underdog instrument, because there was 900 guitar players at my high school, and I thought all of them were tool bags, so I wanted to play the bass. And then the secondary thing is that my lead singer happens to be an amazing drummer and like rhythm, so he allows the bass to be important in our band, which most of the time, singers are like, “I think the bass is too loud. It’s really getting in the way of the vocals.” Blake never does that. In fact, he probably has to be told that his vocals should be turned up. The combination of a good choice early on and a supporter like Blake makes the bass important. We want it to stand out. We want to be different.

2e23129153fc593bdb4c05bd47131ddd.1000x1000x1Last week, you released a new version of the debut album, “Time & Pressure.” What was the reason for that new version of it?

We wanted to do something to the record to re-establish that this was a new chapter, but then, also, show something that Blake presses on really hard, and I agree with—this kind of constant evolution and this constant learning and restructuring and changing and risk-taking that we felt like we weren’t able to do before. It’s been six months since we released the record. Our mindset on music has changed a little bit. We have continued to evolve, and we wanted to show that our songs are evolving with us, too.

Ultimately, we had an opportunity to work with Brian Malouf, who’s done everything from Michael Jackson’s “Bad” to Dave Matthews to (Red Hot Chili Peppers’) “Blood Sugar Sex Magik”—amazing records, an amazing ear, amazing mix and amazing artist. So it was very cool to work with him, and we loved having the opportunity. We started on one song and ended up doing six because we liked working with him so much.

And then we had a couple other songs we had written from the road, and we wanted to do a really great acoustic version of “Good Man” that Blake had done in Chicago at Richard Marx’s studio—we put that on there, too. Just a way to re-enhance the record, show new attention, but also make it cool for the fans that have been there the whole time. We wanted to create a kind of limited-edition version of the record that everyone who had bought that previously, had been there from the beginning, would have something that was not available anymore and that you couldn’t get. We thought that was really cool, too.

It’s also available as a physical copy in stores now. Is that still important these days?

To me, it is, but I don’t know if I’m old or not.

I think it is.

I think it’s important. I have two things to say about it. One is that I’m as nostalgic as the next guy. I miss the artwork. I remember picking records out of Tower Records, which is not even around anymore, and picking them only because of the artwork on the record, because there was something about it, and that’s a really, really cool experience. On the other side of that, I don’t think necessarily going backwards is always gonna be a good idea for the future of music. With the industry being where it is, relying on old ideas as to what music and people’s music consumption looks like, I don’t think we should be afraid of change. So I think there’s a place for both. I think ultimately, vinyl will probably live as the one that stays around, because CDs, the quality of it, eventually, it’s just too hard to have all of that. But at the same time, I don’t want them to do things so digitally that we lose the warmth of that kind of stuff. So I think it’s about balance. I was at FYE yesterday, found my record on the shelf, and I liked it very, very much.

Yeah, that’s got to be a great feeling. You started this band a little more than a year ago. How has how things have gone over the past year or so compared to whatever expectations you had at the beginning?

Honestly—Blake and I talked about this—with other projects that we had, we felt like there was such an expectation of “Are you writing a hit?” or “Is this gonna be good for WWF?” or “Is the singer gonna be able to explain this correctly?” There’s always these rules on us that, especially as rock artists, we felt like we had become stale to. I think when we wrote the record, we wrote it without expectations, and I think that’s why it came out the way it did. We weren’t trying to do anything, we were just doing it. I don’t know if that makes sense, but for us, it really did.

At this point, the only thing I can say about the success is that we feel totally blessed, man. We feel totally blessed and proud that honesty translates. We’ve said it many times, the fact that honesty is winning right now makes Blake and I both very, very happy and proud that we’re a part of it.

Talking about honesty, what was it like opening up more in the lyrics? Were you nervous about that?

It was terrifying. Totally and utterly terrifying. I think, as it is with a lot of things, you have this wound and you’re afraid to show it, but until you kind of get it out in the open and start dealing with it, it just festers. For us, it was therapeutic and it was terrifying, and it was really, really hard. We had to put songs down and not touch them for a while, because you needed to just feel OK for a couple days after bringing up and emerging some of the stuff. But at the end of the day, it deserved the risk.

We talk a lot about the fact that we like to talk about the human condition, and that is that we’re all broken people. Whether we admit it or not, the human being itself is a broken vessel. Once you admit that and you’re OK with that and it’s OK for that to be, then you can get on with your life. It applies the same way as me as a drug addict. The thing I had to deal with with my drug addictions in my early 20s was only until I really started to deal with the fact that this wasn’t gonna go away was I able to stop putting myself in a position to put a bunch of coke in my nose.

It’s got to make it even more satisfying to see people connecting to these songs that are so close to you.

Absolutely. The irony of it is that yes, the fans who we have a responsibility to be honest to—and yet that’s so hard for artists to do all the time—because they’re supporting us, they’re putting our kids through college, we have a responsibility—but at the same time, knowing that these people relate to me out there in the world, all over the place, lets me feel a sense of community that I’ve never had before, because I know these people felt the same way, so now I don’t feel so alone. It’s actually a beautiful thing that I think maybe many artists don’t even realize they’re robbing themselves of. When you’re honest and you expose yourself like that, when it comes back, you realize that you got more out of it and the song means something totally different to you. So it’s been a really cool experience. I will reiterate: totally and utterly terrifying, but ultimately rewarding.

What would you say is the biggest lesson you learned from your time in Egypt Central that you’re able to apply now in Devour the Day?

That any issue, no matter what it is in the day-to-day life of two people making music or three people making artwork or four people creating—you can’t let an issue fester, because it will eat away like a cancer, and I watched it happen. Blake and I are very, very, very, very adamant that any kind of argument is dealt with immediately, any kind of issue is dealt with immediately. We live so happy because of it, because if we have issues, we just discuss it with each other like two grown adults. I say it over and over again: The necessity for honesty was in our lives because we had been lied to by so many people for so long that it really is the encompassing cloud of Devour the Day—that you wake up, and with honest vigor, you attack that day. And it’s working. I can’t say I’m the genius that made this up; I just figured it out. I’m just a late-bloomer that took 30 years to connect it.

And that’s important not just in a band but life in general.

Absolutely. And I think that life and art and music—why shouldn’t it all be together? We wanted to make a clear separation, Blake and I, of art that we needed to get out, and I hope it helps people, and when we find out it does, it helps us. Full circle thing.

Looking ahead, I can kind of tell where your head is at, but what kind of goals do you have for this band?

Since I was a little kid, my goals have always been these ridiculously, seemingly unattainable goals, like I wanted to be as big as Led Zeppelin, I want to be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, I want to win a Grammy, and I want to drive a fast car, and I want to put my kids through college. These are the things that I want out of life, and whether they’re ridiculous to some people, if I don’t shoot for that, then I don’t know how I’m ever gonna get there. So those are the ultimate goals. On the short term, Blake and I really, really want to push the limits of what a rock band sounds like. What are the rules, and how can we break them? That’s what we’re about. What do you just not do and how do we do that? So that’s what we’ve been thinking about the most, just figuring out how to continue to separate ourselves artistically as individuals within this medium.

Well, it’s been a nice little chat here. I don’t want to take up too much of your time. Is there anything else you would like to say?

Go buy the record, come out to the shows, hang out with us, but ultimately, I guess I would like to just say thank you to everyone who is supporting Devour the Day. We’ll do our best to keep it up.

LINKS:
www.devourtheday.com
www.facebook.com/devourtheday
www.twitter.com/devourtheday
www.youtube.com/devourtheday

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