One-on-One with Walrus

Walrus playing NXNE on June 18, 2015
Walrus playing NXNE on June 18, 2015

by Michael Thomas

As I meet up with Walrus a few hours before their NXNE set, Jordan Murphy says “We drove from Rivière-du-Loup.” The previous day they drove from Halifax. He is not saying this as an excuse; this is just a part of this quartet’s reality. Though they won’t say it about themselves, they are warriors. They are not the only band to tour endlessly and to play in a million other bands (The Age and Shadow Folk, to name a few), but their sheer tenacity—perhaps not unlike the mammal with which they share a name—is impressive.

Though Walrus haven’t been together as a band for an exceedingly long time (their debut Onetwotree came out in 2012), they’ve come a long, long way. Initially consisting of brothers Jordan and Justin Murphy (Justin is the primary songwriter), it was a simple bedroom-pop operation. Band membership eventually expanded to as much as six people, before it finally settled on the core of the Murphy brothers plus Justin McGrath and Adam LeDrew.

As the band solidified and Walrus became a live act, it also changed the feel of the songs. The band’s most recent EP, Glam Returns, is their loudest yet. According to Justin, live performance is the reason the songs changed so much.

“My first time recording the songs, we’d never played a live show or anything, so that idea or that aspect of it wasn’t even in the process of writing songs,” he says. “Now we have a whole band and tour and stuff, and you’ve got to incorporate the live idea into when you’re writing a song.”

Along the way, they also hooked up with Out of Sound, home to great acts like Whoop-Szo, WTCHS and Lonnie and the Garden, and Out of Sound released Glam Returns as well as one PIE split release featuring the band.

Fast-forward to 2015, where Walrus is once again starting up the tour cycle with a vengeance, and with an album recorded and in the mixing and mastering process. Their live set and yet-to-be-released album are a present and past scenario, in a sense.

“Everything we play tonight will be newer than the album,” McGrath says.

“The songs that are on the album, we only play a few of them now,” LeDrew adds. “They’re a year-and-a-half old.”

“We play too much. We gotta keep ourselves interested,” Jordan says.

Their thoughts about the album mirror what other musicians have said in the past about the recording process: by the time it comes out, the band has already moved onto even newer material.

“You know, we’re listening back to the album after we recorded it and it’s like ‘Jeez, I don’t even play that song that way anymore!'” LeDrew says. “It’s funny. It’s like a snapshot of where a song was back then.”

“Some of the songs that are on the album are songs when I wrote them, I was like ‘This is awesome’ and you listen back and you’re like ‘Uh… it’s on there now!'” Justin says.

In a way, this furious pace of songwriting makes sense, Walrus being a band from Halifax and all. The band members describe the scene just as it’s been described many times before: hypercreative, where everybody helps out everyone else. Besides the aforementioned The Age (featuring McGrath and LeDrew) and Shadow Folk (McGrath and Jordan), a few band members played on Scott Nicks’ upcoming album.

And they get very complimentary when talking about fellow Halifax bands, They say plenty of good things about Best Fiends and The Everywheres, and later McGrath brings up No Bodies—only to be saddened a few seconds later when Justin tells him they’re probably broken up.

At the end of the day, the guys of Walrus aren’t necessarily trying to become the biggest band in the world. They’ll be happy to break even, at least.

“We don’t want to go broke driving to all these places and putting money in vehicles just to play,” LeDrew says. “I mean I love it, that’s fun and what you gotta do, but at the end of the day we’re trying to get the name out there and get by.”

Driving has certainly had its risks, especially in the winter.

“I don’t know if you’ve ever been driving in the van as the engine blows, quite an experience,” LeDrew says dryly.

Still, they’d like to play shows abroad. They’ve played as far as the States (LeDrew said it was his first time out of Canada) and would love to someday play Europe and maybe elsewhere.

Even LeDrew’s call-to-action is rooted in modesty: “If you see our name when we’re in your town, come check us out. Maybe you’ll like it.”

You can check Walrus out on the east coast in the Ontario/Quebec area this summer:

June 26 – Saint John NB – Pepper’s Pub
June 27 – Gagetown NB – Feelsgood Folly Fest
June 30 – Halifax NS – Red Bull Tour Bus/Dine Alone Records 10th Anniversary  w/Tokyo Police Club & Spencer Burton
July 4 – Ottawa ON – Mugshot’s Jail Bar
July 5 – London ON – Out of Sound Haus
July 6 – Waterloo ON – Princess Café w/Yonatan Gat
July 7 – Toronto ON – Burdock Music Hall w/Dusted
July 9 – Quebec City QC – Festival OFF de Quebec
July 10 – Montreal QC – L’Escogriffe
July 12 – Antigonish NS – Evolve Festival
July 17 – Halifax NS – Gus’ Pub
July 18 – Charlottetown PEI – Baba’s Lounge
July 24 – Fredericton NB – Shifty Bits Circus Inf4rno
August 1- Sackville NB – Sappyfest

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