Style(s): 80’s, Rock
Straight from the cassette player in your first car. . .
WALRUS. A return to the roots of college rock, and the filling of a hole you didn’t even know was hollowed out.
Music is crafty. It can engender possibilities. It can incite adrenaline or foster melancholy.
It can reveal a hollowed-out hole in your memories that you didn’t know existed.
Which is exactly what happened on September 29, 2000, when three thirty-something friends and musicians attended a White Animals show at the Young Avenue Deli in Memphis (one individual was playing bass in the opening band that night). The White Animals, while not a national band on the scale of REM or the Replacements, nevertheless was a huge band in the Southeastern U.S., and especially to Memphis teens in the 1980s. For young musicians growing up at the time, this was the stuff of Friday nights sitting on the bed with a cassette player, a notebook, a guitar and amp. The stuff of clandestine parties when someone’s parents were out of town. The stuff of learning your instrument while simultaneously learning to be part of a band.
The three musicians got together with a guitarist they’d known since high school, and found that they each shared a passion for the music of this era. The college rock of the 80s was seminal to their growth as musicians. They sought to return to this familiar ground, for both the purity of the music and the value of the images it produced. They knew that others would feel the same way. They wanted to play music that could affect its listener the way the White Animals music affected them that night. The White Animals were good that night, but the memories evoked by the music were better. The faces in the crowd, though older, were familiar, and their presence evoked memories of their own. Guitarist John Grilli: “we wanted to get together to play songs that mean something to us. We thought if we did that, the end result would be, for lack of a better word, true.”
This is the story behind the Memphis-based band, WALRUS. Featuring former members of the college rock group Ocean to Goshen, Memphis power pop stalwart crash into june, and 80’s indie rock legends Barking Dog, WALRUS consists of five musicians returning to their roots in the college rock of the 1980s. Johnny Norris on bass guitar and drummer Dan Shumake present a hard-driving foundation that the raw energy of the music requires. John Grilli and Patrick Crump share the guitar work, each adept at support and lead guitar. Shumake and Grilli both contribute lead vocals, but it is the backing vocals that differentiate WALRUS from other traditional quintets. The crisp harmonies and range of the duo indicate an understanding of one another vocally that is beyond the norm. Indeed, this understanding has been forged from twenty years of playing and singing together. In 2006, Keith Tomes joined in on keys and vocals, enhancing the backing vocals and overall sound of the band even further. In addition to the legendary Barking Dog, Keith formerly was in the bands Soul Capitalists, 40 Watt Moon and Hi-Fi Evolution.
Collectively, WALRUS has shared the stage with the likes of REM, The Romantics, Bow Wow Wow, Dash Rip Rock, Modern English, Cowboy Mouth, Uncle Green, Uncle Tupelo (included members of Wilco and Son Volt), Drivin’ N’ Cryin’, The White Animals, The Connells, Dada, Superdrag, Marshall Crenshaw, Neilson Hubbard, Mitch Easter, Edwin McCain, and Better Than Ezra, to name a few.
“We’re having a blast playing this music again. In fact, probably the best part for me has been playing songs that have been on my ‘want to’ list for a long time,” said Shumake. Crump believes that it’s this authentic quality that will bring the crowds. “We’re playing good music that no one else is really playing right now. So whether you want to relive the days of youth or gain a better understanding of the genesis of college music, you can do that at a WALRUS show.” Norris continued, “We’re covering some of the great bands in rock history, from their early years. This music is what made them great.”
REM (pre-Green ), Guadalcanal Diary, the Replacements, Plimsouls, Hoodoo Gurus, the White Animals, the Connells, U2 (pre-Rattle and Hum). If this music affects you, come see WALRUS and fill that hollowed-out place you didn’t even realize was there.