Take Five With Walter Ehresman

Walter Ehresman By

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Meet Walter Ehresman:
Called "The quintessential Austin DIY artist" by famed disc jockey Charlie Martin (host of KOOP radio's Around the Town Sounds), Walter Ehresman has been a consistent, eccentric presence in the Austin music scene since the mid-'80s. A prolific songwriter and recording artist, he is equally at home presenting a delicate acoustic ballad in an intimate club as he is busting out screaming lead guitar with a full rock band in front of festival crowds. However, he's just as likely to be holed up in his Snipe Bog Studios, surrounded by gear and recording strange, unclassifiable experimental music at 4am with a big grin on his face. The consistent factor is a restless musical spirit, always looking for something new, coupled with fearlessly honest lyric-writing. He's released 13 solo albums since 1989, three with his old band Snipe Hunt, and one more recently with the band Delphi Rising.

Guitar, bass, percussion, keyboards, vocals, mandolin family instruments (saz, oud, rawap, Opti-Freak).

Teachers and/or influences?
I've been a musical sponge for as long as I can remember. Voracious. My music collection at home is bursting through the seams of available space to keep it in and getting bigger all the time (especially since I avoid MP3, since I want no part of the inherent audio degradation). I'm a voracious hunter for new music (well, new to me, anyway). When I was a kid, it was all about The Beatles for me. Yellow Submarine was my first album, and I have always been particularly fond of psychedelic Beatles. Then, growing up in San Antonio and listening to KISS FM back when it was a free-form independently-owned station, I heard a crazy mix of music on any given day that had a huge influence on me... they'd go from B.B. King to Nektar to Be Bop Deluxe to Black Sabbath to John Prine to Iron Butterfly to CSNY to Aphrodite's Child to Tangerine Dream to Muddy Waters to Johnny Winter to Traffic. On and on.

Somewhere around those years, I fell in love with those 70s Yes albums, and to this day Close to the Edge is my favorite album of all time. And it says in my will that the song "Awaken," off the Yes album Going for the One, has be to played—loudly—at my funeral before my friends burn my body (with Viking helmet) in a rowboat off the jetties at Port Aransas. If this violates some of those state laws put in to feather the nest of that giant funeral corporation that's friends of the Bush family, so much the better.

By the time I got to college, I was a full-blown Dylan freak as well, and that influenced my songwriting a great deal and still does to this day. Pat Metheny and Louis Armstrong were my gateways into the jazz world, and I've woven my way through it is an twisting, turning path to this day. I am continually knocked out by the forward- looking "post-everything" jazz that's coming out of Norway. Also, I have to say that Todd Rundgren has also been a huge influence, in many ways but primarily because I saw that the one-man-band concept was possible....along with getting hooked on the magic that can happen with creative use of the studio. Many many others, of course......Grateful Dead, Lou Reed, Stones, The Band, Gatemouth Brown.

Over the last 12 years or so, I've experimented quite a bit with using electronica groove beats in song forms where it's not typically heard. I was largely prompted to do this by my exposure to a lot of world music electronica that I collected from overseas to play on my daily radio shows on the infamous pirate radio station Radio Electra out at Burning Man. But, also, I was heavily influenced by the early pioneer of this kind of synthesis.....Bill Nelson, who has been so prolific in his solo releases since disbanding Be Bop Deluxe all those years ago. He's such an amazing artist.....so diverse....and it's criminal that he's not more widely known these days. He was doing thoughtful, well- conceived and executed merging of rock and jazz with electronica years before Jeff Beck started putting our his early, primitive experiments in that area. In the last year or so, I've really been excited by the Nu- Jazz band State of Monc out of Rotterdam.....in terms of the DJ/beats guy being an equal member of a jazz band and interacting off the other musicians just like any jazz player would. Phenomenal and a real window into where I think music will be going in the future.

Let's see....the other big musical influence I need to emphasize for me is world music (although I don't really like that term). I went whole-hog into exploring this area starting in the mid-'90s, after dabbling around the edges of it going all the way back to the early '80s. It's had an incalculable effect on me as a musician and songwriter.

I knew I wanted to be a musician when...
Music has a tremendous emotional impact on me and always has.....there are some songs and artists that can give me chicken skin every time, and some that can open up a floodgate deep inside of me (hearing Sandy Denny makes my eyes tear up each and every time, and Sarah Vaughan can do that to me as well with the ballads). The first time I experienced this cathartic experience to music as a kid, I knew that something important was going on that I wanted to be a part of.

I've never had a shortage of ideas for songs and music, and it's always been more a matter of trying to find a way to translate it (through my self-taught musical skills). I look forward to learning and growing as a musician and songwriter until I croak.

Your sound and approach to music:
People often ask me "what does your music sound like?" I keep hoping that I'll wake up in the middle of the night some day, inspired with a pithy short phrase that encapsulates what I do. Thought it was happening the other night, but it turned out I just had to pee. Basically, I write, record and perform songs in a bunch of different styles, because I get ideas—pretty much fully formed—for a piece of music and then set about trying to record it (whatever style it might be in) to the best of my self-taught abilities. Although I've had bands over the years, most of my material comes out on my solo albums where I play almost all the instruments myself. On any one album, you'll find anything from singer/songwriter material to jazz to electronica to rock to pop to reggae to ska to world music to experimental to dance to spoken word. Lyrically, it seems I'm most often writing about human behavior—in the micro and the macro.... why people do what they do, which includes politics, which is really just a reflection of a person's character (or lack of same).
About Walter Ehresman
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