Jason Walker has been playing country music since he was 15, and has listened to it for as long as he can remember, which would be as far back as 1969, the year Gram Parsons was in his Nudie-suited prime.
Jason was born in New Zealand and came to Sydney at the age of 18 to become a writer. The desire to perform music soon overtook him and he saw his first Australian rock shows in early 1987 at the Hopetoun (the Hummingbirds and the Falling Joys being two of them). He spent the best part of two years in his bedroom working on the guitar and accordingly, the first few ‘bands’ he joined hardly made it out of the garage.
Jason took a break from playing live for almost five years, during which time he attempted to carve out a career as a writer. In 1997, he joined Sydney pop group Showpony, fronted by two women who were tres sympathetic to country music.
That same year, he was invited to join Golden Rough, a band widely admired for the quality of their musicianship. Jason made his mark on the group as a country-influenced player, with personal influences like Gary Louris of the Jayhawks and the late Clarence White of the Byrds. He added pedal steel to his repertoire in 1997 and began playing live with a number of groups, including El Mopa (playing on their debut album Get Behind) and Youth Group (featuring on their album Urban & Eastern) as well as fronting Captain Scarlett, a power pop band comprising members of the Monarchs, Knievel and 78 Saab. It was the Older Guys that whetted Jason’s appetite for playing more country music. The band developed a devoted if small following and gained some notoriety for, among other things, opening for guit-steel slingin’ honky-tonk legend Junior Brown on two separate tours. It was during his time with the Older Guys that Jason started writing original country songs like Stranger to Someone and The Other Side of the Bar. He debuted them at a country songwriters and performers night run by Bill Chambers (Dead Ringer Band, Kasey Chambers) and Audrey Auld. “It was with their encouragement that I wrote my original songs, and I learned a lot about from performing just by watching Audrey and Bill sing together.” In 1999, Jason worked with Golden Rough on the recording of the group’s second album, This Sad Paradise, during which time the band changed direction quite substantially, diverging from their Americana fixation and looking back towards pop music. Walker toured the United States with the Rough last year before handing in his badge and gun. “I got to see a fair bit of Australia and the world since then, but I had a yen to pursue a more country sound. After This Sad Paradise came out, I knew that anything more country-sounding would have to be off my own bat.”
Jason was still with Golden Rough when he began recording his first solo album. The Rough was in a short hiatus while the band’s members pursued their own projects. “It was the perfect time to start working with Michael Carpenter,” says Jason.
Having worked with Carpenter as a session musician, Jason knew his reputation for achieving a distinct and pure production sound that combined the energy of power pop with a roots rock edge. “I went into his studio to talk to him about doing something. I played him a few songs on my acoustic guitar, and he got this funny look on his face, and said, “I think this is going to be a great project”. It was his reaction that sold me on the idea of working with him. I handed him some albums to listen to, Steve Earle and a few other things, and that was all she wrote.” The album took a year to complete, while Jason battled with trying to complete some of his own songs and choose covers that best represented what he was trying to do.
“It was a bit of a trial, getting through that twelve months – the record as a project kept me going. I was trying to scrape together the money for the Golden Rough tour, and I ended up in hospital three times during the making of the record for various stress-related ailments. It was pretty stressful actually.”
For all the pain and debt came Stranger to Someone, Jason’s debut album. Michael Carpenter’s belief in the project was further bolstered when Stuart Coupe and Laughing Outlaw Records came into possession of advance copies of the album.
“Here is a local talent to match the renaissance of alt-country in the US led by the likes of Wilco, Ryan Adams and Shelby Lynne,” said David Messer of JUICE magazine. Impressed by the album’s ‘subtle and textured arrangements and production’, Messer states that Jason has ‘produced a superb album of what used to be country-rock’.
The next step for Walker is step on the promotional escalator. “Yeah… I’ll ride this wave until it crashes. I’m sure I’ll have some fun doing it.” Whatever ‘it’ turns out to be.