Interview: Britt Walford on Slint, The Breeders and his new project with Evergreen bandmate Tim Ruth

In founding Slint, Britt Walford established a new standard of rock-music as well as the drumming-technique he introduced as a member of the band. However, Britt himself never been tied to a particular genre, whether with Slint, Languid and Flaccid, The Breeders, Evergreen and more recently with Watter. As he puts his latest project together, Dan Volohov spoke to Britt Walford about the punk-component of his creativity and the collaborative aspect of his work, about playing the guitar and the early days of Slint, about Spiderland and current activities.

Before our interview you mentioned the project you’re working now. Something new, I guess?

I have been playing a little music with the person who was in the band Evergreen [Tim Ruth]. But yeah, we’ve just started out. So it’s sort of taking shape.

When did you start this project? Do you have a name or something?

Actually, we really don’t have any information yet!

Your musical path started with playing piano at the young grades. Later on, with your school band – Languid and Flaccid, you switched on drums. Your school, J. Graham Brown, was well-known using the methodic of self-learning. How important was this kind of attitude for you?

Yeah, I think it was very important. We were encouraged to express ourselves, given the idea that I guess what we express might be important. Does that make sense?

Definitely! And how old were you when you discovered punk rock?

I was 11.

What was your introduction to punk rock?

Well, my introduction was some people whom I met at school. And then we went to see shows. In particular, I guess it was one show. Mostly older people. Who’ve been doing it since the 1970’s. It was a very friendly positive scene. We had a really good time, we felt very welcomed and accepted.

What was musical environment like in Louisville back in the days, especially when you became a part of it – during Squirrel Bait-early Slint era?

Erm… Again, I feel like the tone that was struck in the music scene by the first-generation punk rock explorers was very positive. It was sort of like a “safe space”. So it felt like a refuge. It felt validating because there were people from all different parts of town in the music scene. [They ] had all different backgrounds. There could be more wealthy crappy kids and more working-class type of people. And everyone wanted to get along. Like, it was a safe place.

Once you said that your approach to playing drums was based on listening, re-creating and learning of some of the particular elements. But at the same time your drum-parts are usually quite expressive – from Spiderland or combinations of loud-quiet beats on some of the Watter stuff. What helps you to understand where to place your main accents on the recording?

I guess it would purely just be something like a feel-thing. I don’t have much musical theory training. I don’t really think that way about writing music. It’s just what I feel while playing.

While working with different bands – The Breeders, Evergreen,  Watter, how different is usually the degree of your collaboration? Is it important for you to have a full kind of interaction?

Yes. It’s important for me. I like to know that other people like what I’m playing. And I also like to like what other people playing. I don’t know if I could play in a band where people aren’t really making those kinds of determinations.

Wasn’t it hard for you to find the common language with all these people you’ve been playing with?

In a case with the people I’ve played with – I would say: No! It’s been remarkable how that has come about. But at the same time, it’s hard thing to find. So it just depends on a person. If you understand each other, then that’s a huge deal. That’s probably the most important thing. But it may be hard to find the people like that.

I think there’s also interpersonal factor involved. Feeling each others’ personality. Does that make sense?

Totally! Yeah! Absolutely!

Britt Walford Slint

When you just formed Slint, each of you had different influences. Wasn’t it hard for you to find your sound at the beginning of the band?

No. Not at all. Because, I think my sound was how I felt like playing.

What was your approach when you started working together?

It was remarkably the same. Our personalities, the way we look at things sort of lined up. And that was a big deal. We had all played together since we were very young. Brian and I were 11 years old. With Dave – I was 14. So we played together for…At least 7 to 10 years.

How do you remember your live shows at that point and what was the reaction like?

I actually was very young! That was when we started going to shows. Brian and Languid and Flaccid was already a band when I started. Immediately we were playing shows. Picking up instruments we didn’t know how to play and writing music. I definitely remember being nervous and also being excited to play with my friends. So that’s about it. I haven’t been in a band that really thought about performing as just playing the music.

While recording Tweez with Albini you didn’t have the strong sense of what you wanted. How did you approach that recording?

Erm….(laughs). I think, I was more excited just to be recording with Steve Albini than anything else. The ideas I had for recording sound going into recording were pretty un-thought-out. They were just rough. I hadn’t thought much about it. And then, when we started recording all of us… I think some of us. Not probably not all of us. Some of us were really excited. And we just immediately started doing lots of crazy-fun stuff in the studio (laughs). That really was for the moment.

I listened to ‘Ron’ just today. It’s exciting how organically all these additions to the recordings sound. Bits and pieces of your conversations etc.

That’s good! Yeah, I think it’s pretty funny (laughs).

Tweez is focused on your surroundings. Your family members and “Rhoda” – your dog. What was the concept behind this record?

I think the idea for the names of the songs being our parents’ names… I’m not sure who had this initial idea. It might have been Brian. Probably, it was Brian. I just though it would be funny. Or we though it would be funny to have all these louds songs to one of our moms. Such sort of things. We though it was funny. But also, we were pretty… I suppose our relations with our parents were very important to us. So I think we did a sincere tribute to our parents.

And what was their reaction like?

Erm… I don’t know if there really was much of reaction. I don’t remember any reaction (laughs).

It seems that on Spiderland you continued the tendencies you’d been exploring for a while – with Tweez and later on, bringing a certain feeling of anxiety to the recording. Wasn’t it hard for you to incorporate that feeling you had at that point into your music?

Well, I think it was. Because, recording was sort of heroin-process. But we knew what we wanted when we went in to the recording. It was just a matter of getting it on tape.

What was the process in Slint like?

I think it started individually. One of us would have to come up with the ideas individually. We would record them during the practice. And other people would write parts for those ideas to go with them. And we would work on the arrangement all together, collaboratively.

At certain point, you started contributing not just as a drummer but as a singer, lyricist and guitar-player. When you really started doing this?

Well, it actually was from very beginning. Because, in our first band – Languid and Flaccid, we always switched our instruments.

What was the idea behind that?

I think it was just because it was fun. We were like: “Oh, I wanna play bass now!” – it was for fun. Just for fun.

Comparing it with Pod or Evergreen’s debut, I’d say that in these two cases you were focused on the beat rather than on expressivity of your drum-parts – so it’s all about dealing with this chaotic element?

That’s a good question! I don’t really know if I could differentiate these two different kinds of playing. For me beat may be just as expressive as anything else. While I’m playing less or more complicated it’s all expressive to a point.

Commenting on The Breeders’ Pod, you always credited the record as one of your best works. Obvious question – why?

I just really had a good time. Making the record and helping to come up with the songs. It was just willingness to collaborate. That’s the most important part to me. It’s just the most meaningful and fun. About working with other people and something you’re trying to express. With The Breeders these were people I’ve known. They were from different parts of the world than I was from. So it was thrilling to collaborate on those songs. And reach sort of agreement on those things.

In what way did your approach to creating music and musical accents changed when you started working with the instrumental music – in the context of Watter?

I wouldn’t say that my approach changed. It might be a little more demanding. Because, you might have freedom to create a dynamic variation.

And with your current project – would it be just an instrumental music?  

Well, actually the other person in the project – his name is Ken Brown. And he’s a musician and producer. He’s been in a number of bands from Chicago. We talk about finding a vocalist. Probably a female vocalist.

After you released Spiderland there was no tour supporting the record as the band broke up. What did you feel after you reunited and started playing this material ?

It was fun. It felt good. It was a little different without the original bass-player. Not worse but just different. Other than that… By the end of it, by the last reunion tour I was sick of playing those songs.

Interview by Dan Volohov
Header Photograph by Matt Jencik

 

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