Interview: Walden Takes Over 50 States on 50 Dollars and Returns with New Music

 indie/alternative band Walden

We jumped on Zoom to interview Andrew (Drums/Backing Vocals) and Eric (Vocals/Keys) from the indie/alternative band Walden! First forming in 2012, Walden originate from Athens, Georgia, with their band name and music influenced by Transcendentalism and the works of Henry David Thoreau. 

Recently, after falling into the dull routine of being in an indie band that’s trying to be like every other indie band, Walden took the daring leap to play a show in every US state starting with a budget of just 50 dollars. What began as a struggle for the group grew to a major success, and got the creative juices flowing for the four-piece. 

In this interview, we get an in-depth look at what this crazy “50 States for 50 Dollars” tour was like, the band’s journey from Georgia to Tennessee, and how transcendentalism influences their music. We also touch on how their approach to making music has changed recently, and how their sound has evolved as a result. Finally, Walden teases the possibility of music in the not-so-distant future. 

You guys started in Atlanta but are based in Tennessee. Being surrounded by a place that’s so full of country music, what was that like, considering that you don’t make country music?

Eric: That’s a good question. I think that there’s a great scene that we have in Nashville that’s centered around all the other genres that aren’t what you would immediately think of, like that country/pop singer-songwriter. There’s a great alternative-indie scene that we have in Nashville right now. So we definitely feel a little bit on the outside of the main culture, but there’s still an awesome subculture of indie artists here that are doing really cool things that we’re proud to be a part of. 

Switching gears a little bit, on a podcast that you guys did a few months ago with The Internal Outsider, you guys mentioned Walden connecting with transcendentalism and the philosophies of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Thoreau. How would you say your music is representative of these sorts of philosophies? A lot of the sound that you guys produce sounds very whimsical and almost spiritual in a sense. 

Eric: That’s a great question, and I’m impressed that you even listened to that podcast. The real way that it influences our music is the way that transcendentalism inspired us to march to the beat of our own drum and the way that we wanted to pursue this thing that growing up in suburban Atlanta it really isn’t a path that many people take, and so for us we were kind of outsiders, no pun intended. But we were outsiders in trying to pursue this music thing. So by channeling just the experiences and thoughts and emotions into music that alone is a really fulfilling process that we’ve over the years we’ve been willing to sacrifice a lot for. We continue to do so because it means so much to us. Again, we were only inspired to take that leap by hearing about things like transcendentalism that truly gave us that motivation to do something that was viewed as different and maybe a little bit scary, but it’s paid off in such an awesome way.

 indie/alternative band Walden

I WANNA TALK ABOUT YOUR “50 STATES FOR 50 DOLLARS” TOUR. IT’S A GREAT NAME, IT SOUNDS LIKE A CRAZY CONCEPT. WHOSE IDEA WAS IT? WHAT WAS IT LIKE PITCHING IT TO EACH OTHER, TO WHOMEVER, WHAT WAS THAT LIKE?

Andrew: Yeah so it’s definitely a cool story and one that we’ll probably be telling a lot. Because of our current manager we have, Matt Ladis, is awesome. He didn’t actually come up with the idea, but the idea actually happened when we met him for the first time. So we were grabbing some drinks here in Nashville, down the street actually with Matt, and Eric brought up the idea.We were talking about the state of our band and what we wanted to do and kind of the conclusion we had was we wanted to do something that was fun and reflects us, our honest selves, to the fullest extent, and that was ultimately decided on. Us getting out, playing our music for people, meeting new people, traveling.

So ultimately, Eric came up with the idea and it kind of happened fast. He brought it up, we all laughed about it while we were drinking a beer and then we were talking about it seriously and then we all just kind of had the attitude of “Why not?” It was still when the pandemic was making things difficult but there was a light at the end of the tunnel so we felt like there was a chance we could pull it off and we did. There really wasn’t that much back-and-forth, it was pretty much like “Here’s the idea, do wanna do it? Yes? Alright, let’s start doing a million things.” That’s what it was for months. Pretty much nonstop for everyone in different ways. And we did it! And now we’re back and it’s kinda crazy to think about a few months after and getting back out. It really happened like a whirlwind.

Eric: I feel like the concept of the tour really came from asking ourselves as a band, “What do we want our career to look like?” For the first time since we started we kinda had an ample amount of free time to ruminate on this. I feel like so many musicians are caught in the rat race of being like, “I gotta release a song, then I gotta go on tour, then I gotta do this.” We had so much time to just sit and think about our career and what we have and haven’t done. We finally got to ask ourselves the questions of, “If we could choose, if we could steer the course of our own career, what would we want it to actually look like?” And honestly, we’ve been a band for quite a long time in band years. We’re kind of like the old cranky grandparents of bands like, “We’ve been doing this so long, we just wanna do and say what we want.” So, what do we want? We wanna tour a bunch, we wanna have some really great experiences, we wanna meet some awesome people from all over the world, or in this case the country. We wanna just share our music. So with that in mind, we were like, why don’t we just try to tour all 50 states? Maybe that’s not as crazy as it sounds, but I feel grateful that I’m in a band where that idea wasn’t immediately shut down because it turned out to be an amazing experience. 

Do you think that if Covid hadn’t been a thing, you could’ve created a tour like this?

Eric: We could’ve, but we wouldn’t have. The pandemic was a huge part of it, especially for me, I’m such a big traveler and to be stuck in the house for so long, I was just dying to get out of the house and see some things and experience some new, awesome adventures. So I was antsy, even if it wasn’t with the band, to travel. I had this bucket list item of seeing all 50 states. And while we’re sitting there with our current manager Matt at this bar in Nashville, it got me thinking, “How can I combine this goal of wanting to see all 50 states with our band?” Then it just struck me, and I was super set on it and I wouldn’t shut up about it until everyone thought it was a good idea. 

Do you have a specific state or city that really sticks out to you as a favorite? 

Eric: There was so many special experiences, we could go on for days. The tour itself is a total conversation blackhole. We could talk for hours about it. But I’d say one that was a pleasant surprise was a state that we had pretty low expectations for was Philadelphia.

Andrew: We had never played Philadelphia before. It was kind of a special circumstance because we had a show cancellation, and it was the first or second week of the tour. We were canceled on kind of last minute with only a couple days to figure something out. A part of this tour wasn’t us being able to say, “Oh the show’s canceled, moving onto the next date.” We’re playing every state, no matter what. So, Matt really took it upon himself. Long story short, he just went crazy mode trying to figure something out and he did. He pulled a lot of strings on the phone in the van at 1 a.m.

Eric: We were in Washington D.C. on an off day and we were at the Lincoln Memorial and we’re all just enjoying seeing this for the first time, and Matt is in the corner of the Lincoln Memorial on his laptop calling bands in Philly trying to put together a show.

Andrew: Ultimately, he did pull it off, we found a venue and some local openers who were amazing and really down to make a sweet show. The room ended up being fully packed, it was a great night. All the bands killed it and we went on last and it was an amazing thing. One of our favorite shows of all time. Crowd-surfing, everyone sweatin’ up a storm, just going crazy letting loose to the fullest extent which is my favorite thing. It was so unexpected, we had some amazing other shows in places like Hawaii, Denver, LA, New York City. Boise was another one where it was our first time there and we played a unique show where some of the local scene just killed it. Getting people out, people playing. Part of the tour was restoring faith in humanity, seeing how much people really went out of their way to help us. We couldn’t really do this without people helping us both with information, with organizing, and financially. We really could talk endlessly. It was 51 shows in 90 days.

Eric: It wasn’t like we sold out a bunch of stadiums across the country and it was a smash success in a ticket sales way, but it was such a success in getting our band back out on the road and having so many amazing experiences and stories to tell. What an unforgetting three months for us that we’ll think about for the rest of our lives. It turned out to be such a great thing.

What’s your go-to gas station order on tour?

Andrew: There’s definitely a spectrum in the band, including Matt. He’s the gas station champion. He loves his energy drinks. We’ll get some different snacks. Sour patch kids for example. 

Eric: You’re missing the key one. 

Andrew: Rips?

Eric: I don’t know if you’ve had Rips, the sour candy? They’re not at every gas station so it’s a special occasion. It’s like a special dinner. 

Where in the country are they? I’ve never seen them.

Andrew: I haven’t noticed them being in one location, but they’re around. You just gotta find them. I find them in maybe 40% of stores we go in. They’re there, you gotta look. They’re not flashy, but they’re delish. 

Eric: Rips are definitely the best sour candy. They’re just packed with flavor. 

Andrew: A flavor punch to your face. 

Walden performing

During the tour, you said it happened pretty quickly over the course of 90 days. Were there any moments where you were like, there’s no way this is gonna happen? You mentioned Philadelphia almost didn’t happen. Were there any moments where you were like, this is a mistake, what are we doing?

Andrew: Honestly, really no. And that’s just a testament to how committed we were. The reality was, if there was a rain out or if there was a crazy circumstance where we couldn’t play a show, there was always simply going onto a busy part of a street corner in a city and pulling out our instruments. Luckily that never really needed to happen. We were always able to pull off a show. We pulled off a show in Kansas at the last moment. Literally that day we played a barcade.

Eric: It’s a funny story because we had already played Kansas and Kansas City. We were gonna play Kansas City again but this time in Missouri and make that the Missouri show because the city borders both Kansas and Missouri. Matt was like, “We booked our Missouri show!” And we were like “Are we sure it’s in Missouri?” And we pull it on a map and we zoom in and it’s just barely in Kansas. Literally on the river that is the border. So we had a big hour long discussion on whether or not we were gonna reschedule this. And we decided we had to stick to our mission and not play the show so we could actually play Missouri. We found a different place.

There was a moment for me, nobody else, when I thought the tour was over because we were in Montana and we were gonna stay with one of our friends in Bozeman. She was nice enough to house the entire band plus our manager. But some of us were having stuffy noses, and in covid times that makes you go get a test. We pull up to a Walgreens or CVS Pharmacy or something. I was completely fine. All the people who went and had cold symptoms, they went in and were getting a test. And they come out, and they all have heads hung low, kind of stumbling over to the van. I was like “Oh my god. This energy right now…” And they open the door and are just “It’s over, man. We’re positive.” I was like, “Shit!” Just freaking out, and running through what this meant. We were almost halfway through the tour at that point, things were going so great. And they probably let it go on for 60 seconds before being like, “Sike! We got you!” 

Andrew: It was Eric’s idea I think because right before this, me and you were talking about this. One of us was like, what if we do have covid right now? That would just really bomb the whole thing. Luckily the tour happened when things were really quieting down in terms of cases. It was before Omicron. The tour happened right before that second wave where it was more milder cases. But a lot of people were getting sick. It would’ve been really hard to go out there when we knew it was getting bad again. It kind of just worked out right before it got really cold again. 

At least it worked out.

Andrew: Yes! No covid, we faked Eric out, we pranked him.

Eric: At the end of the tour too, we thought our manager and me both thought we had Covid and the tests came back negative. We got home at the end of the tour, and then it turns out we had mono. So much worse than the typical case of Omicron. 

What was your overall takeaway from the experience? What did you learn about the music communities that you’re apart of?

Eric: There’s a lot we can unpack, but we all kind of had some different takeaways from it, honestly. I would say for me, one of the biggest things was one, the support we received was really overwhelmingly positive. I think what people love is when they recognize someone is chasing after something they really believe in. In this case for us, I think for us it was the mission of this tour, playing a show in all 50 states. People bent over backwards to make this happen for us. And not only make it happen, but in a really incredible way where we had someone donate cryptocurrency so we could go skydiving in Hawaii.

There’s things like that where there’s so many great people helping us along the way, and I think that was really inspiring. It’s great proof that when you are chasing after something you believe in, people are going to rally behind you and help you achieve that. On top of that, too, I would say, like I was touching on earlier, especially with musicians, we all feel like we have to play the game, we have to do the same thing that everyone else is doing to try to stay afloat and climb out of the abyss of the millions of musicians who tried to have their voice be heard and accomplish something.

But I kind of realized from this tour, that when you reverse engineer it, when you create something that’s perfectly made for you. And something that makes sense for your passions and who you are, in this case, who our band was, what made sense for us, that got us excited and got us off the couch or out of the bed in the morning, then that’s going to turn out so much better than trying to pander to whatever the typical game is, or whatever the typical strategy is. You know, so many great things came out of that tour, we made so many lifelong fans, just by doing what we’ve always wanted to do, which is tour all over the place, have crazy adventures, meet great people, and do things in sort of an unconventional way.

That’s really special.

Eric: I think at times too, like for this for us, especially when it got, you know, we thought for a while, I’d be like sleeping in the van all the time. And then when we realized people were paying for us to go skydiving and this was no longer like, as you maybe what we’ve described as a struggle. We almost there was almost a little bit of guilt creeping in. We were like, “Wow, we’re just having people donate to us having a really great time, basically, and like letting us have the time of our lives while other people are still stuck at home doing whatever they’re doing.” But then we realize we had so many people reach out and tell us, “What you guys are doing is so inspiring and has completely motivated me to chase after XYZ.” That made us realize like, “Oh, no, that’s really what it’s about, is that when we chase after something we really believe in, and it turns out to be a huge success, it just inspires other people to do the same thing for whatever they’re interested in. Whatever they’ve been wanting to do.” 

 indie/alternative band Walden

How do you feel like now that you’re back home and kind of settling in?  How do you feel like that’s changed your approach to making music?

Eric: Another great question. I think it’s really opened us up a lot. I think I get less of the experiences and more of the tour itself. The fact that we did something really unconventional, and it was, the response was overwhelmingly positive. We’ve kind of realized in our music too, like we’ve been playing, the idea behind the tour, was we’ve been playing it safe. For too long, we’ve done the same touring strategy that every local band does, where you play a couple of key clubs or venues in your area for us, it’s the southeast. So we play a couple shows in Georgia and Tennessee and Florida, or whatever. And then you work outwards from there.

But we’d always wanted to do a big tour, we’d always wanted to do something kind of ambitious. And finally, we decided, like, “Why can’t we just do that?”. And we did something that wasn’t safe. And it turned out to really work in our favor. And now we’re realizing the same thing about our music is like, we’ve made safe decisions musically for a long time. And thinking like, “Oh, you know, what are people going to like? Hopefully, they like this, maybe we should record this song because we think it’s going to be popular.” And nowadays, we’re just realizing, we need to completely approach it from the opposite way, again.

Where we need to do what we think is most exciting, regardless of whether we think it’s scarier whether anyone’s gonna like it or not. And so, a lot of the music that you’re going to be hearing from us over the next year, you know, and beyond is going to be some of the most unique in probably interesting and compelling music we’ve ever put out. Because we’re finally letting our guard down and doing things that we’re just excited about and not so worried about what people think, again. It’s the cranky grandparent complex, we’re just we’re done worrying about what anyone thinks, we’re doing things our way now. And we’re having a lot of fun doing it our way too.

Andrew: Yeah, I think the biggest thing was the idea of how can we do something that is like the truest thing to ourselves. And in terms of touring and getting out there, this tour that we did was that. And for the music, it’s kind of shedding a lot of the walls and the boxes we’ve put ourselves in for the past, you know, 9-10 years as a band, and actually do something that isn’t, you know… instead of trying to take our influences and do something that’s reminiscent of them, but our own thing is do something completely brand new. And something that makes us incredibly excited, because it really is our own.

Which is a nice segue to that we have a new song out, that’s probably going to be out by the time anyone listens to this or reads it. It’s coming out in two days. I personally think it’s by far the most unique sound and song we’ve ever put out. I normally am quick to be like, “Oh, that song sounds like this, that song sounds like this.” And with this song, I really can’t do it. And I’m excited about that. So I think the tour kind of inspired us to continue writing and performing and, and putting out music that has no boundaries on it. Just like what do we think is cool? What do we think is catchy? What do we think feels good and has a cool vibe. And that’s what’s what we’re doing now and hopefully for the rest of our career as a band. Yeah, absolutely.

BEFORE WE TALK ABOUT THE NEW SINGLE, HOW DO YOU THINK MUSICALLY THE PROJECTS YOU’RE WORKING ON NOW COMPARE TO THE APPROACH THAT YOU HAD FROM YOUR EARLIEr WORKS LIKE “THE STATIC” AND “GREENLIGHTS?”

Eric: I think like Andrew said, those early works are very derivative of our influences. And it’s probably easy to hear what our influences are just by listening to those, where I think now, you know, the thing with any musician is you’re always going to be influenced, even if it’s subconsciously. So now we’re really chasing down things that seem, I can’t think of the word I’m looking for, but basically seem completely original. Of course, they’re probably not somewhere deep down inside.

And we’re probably influenced by one of the artists we admire. But the ideas seem exciting to us, because they are original. And now, I just think that it I don’t know, it’s a little less traditional, it’s a little less straightforward. I think we’re taking more risks as a band, especially in a time and age where everything has gotten pretty formulaic, and you feel like you have to have a song under three minutes or, you know, it has to have the chorus within the first 60 seconds or, you know, there’s silly things like that, that musicians worry about these days. And I think we’re less concerned about that now than we’ve ever been.

And we’re more so concerned about just making something that we feel like is exciting because the artists we really admire are the trailblazers, they weren’t the artists who were just following the current trends are styles. They’re the ones who are kind of reinventing them. And I think we’re finally starting to get to a place where we are hopefully reinventing some styles instead of just following what the trend is.

Andrew: It’s not in something concrete, that’s also the answer to your question. A lot of our earlier music was born kind of, in a way songs are traditionally born, someone having a feeling or a thought and writing a song, and it coming from an individual, and then it being brought to a group of musicians, and then playing the song. That’s how we kind of started, Eric was the first songwriter in the band. So that’s kind of where our earliest music, “The Static” maybe being the last of that kind of music, I would say, came from. And now, while we still write like that, a lot of the music that’s coming out, is started from someone’s individual idea, but then really taken through the band’s kind of formula. And that, I think, is our key of taking it out of like, this sounds like some of our influences, too. This sounds like, this brand new thing that only could be created by having, you know, maybe someone wrote the verse melody, but someone else wrote the chorus melody, that creates a really unique kind of interesting feel that you may not get from a music that is coming out of one person’s head alone. And so, that’s something that’s really exciting me, and I think is exciting all of us, and I think is the source of some of the new style of our sound. I think some of our fans are going to be like, “Okay, this is definitely like a different style here.” But we hope they like it.

Eric: I think to put it to put it succinctly, the music we’re making now, is the first time we’re making music that could only be made by our band. I don’t think anyone else can make music like ours going forward. I think the music we’re putting out could only be done by us, because it really channels, what is unique about the dynamic of the four of us. So that’s what’s so exciting, is that like, because yeah, as an individual songwriter, I have so many ideas, but it’s the way that our band writes together and creates music together is what makes it so special. And so, all we want to do is channel that these days. Because what’s the point of being a band, if you’re if you’re just going to let one person run the whole show? No, it’s about the magic in the chemistry between the members. That’s why people still love bands. That’s what makes bands special.

YOUR SINGLE “If GOD IS DEAD” WILL BE OUT BY THE TIME THIS INTERVIEW DROPS. WHAT CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT IT? LIKE, WHAT WAS THE INSPIRATION? WHAT WAS THE PROCESS LIKE?

Andrew: Well, what’s cool is that you got this half of the band on, because the it this song specifically came out of us jamming together. So it’s kind of cool, because I think it is kind of like a great definition of what I just talked about. I think I threw out a melody. And then he heard that it inspired something for him. And then he threw out the next one and created a song that like, I’ll be honest, doesn’t sound like something Eric would just write by himself. And that’s cool. So that’s kind of how it started the two of us. And then Eric’s a wordsmith and kind of, you know, took the melodies and the feeling that we were creating. And, you know, he can talk more about the lyrics and like, the meaning of the song, but that’s kind of how it was formed. Just upstairs, back there in our attic, which is our studio slash band room right now. And, you know, it did kind of come together in one night in a way and then came from there.

Eric: And while we were jamming together, you know, the way that it usually works with us, is that we’ll just be singing sort of gibberish lyrics, but then the words and phrases come out of them. And for some reason one of us was singing, “God is dead. God is dead.” And it was like, what was interesting about it is like, just talking about that, it seems like it’d be really dark, but in the moment, it felt reverent, it felt important, and spiritual almost, in a weird way. It was like the phrase “God is dead” framed in a in a context I’d never heard it. And that really made me excited and got me thinking like, “What does this mean?”.

And so yeah, from there, I just got really excited about the lyrics of the song and I wanted to make something that that I felt I was kind of inspired by an album by Bon Iver where he talked a lot about using religious sounds and imagery, or words, to maybe contextualize things that aren’t even religious. And in this case, the secret is, it’s actually really not about religion at all. But contextualized in this way, it makes it really interesting. And so I was excited to use a subject matter that might be taboo to some to talk about something important to me that is, quite honestly, not even really related to it at the end of the day. And I think that’s kind of what makes it exciting.

Walden performing

TO WRAP US UP, BESIDES THE NEW SINGLE, WHAT ELSE CAN WE EXPECT FROM WALDEN? AND WHAT ELSE ARE YOU GUYS EXCITED ABOUT?

Andrew: Music, music, music. A lot of music is coming your way. We are, we’re working on getting a lot of music out, and then ultimately hitting the road again, Maybe not in a 90 day setting, but we want to, there’s a lot of places we want to get back to, with a bunch of new music released over the next, you know, six months or so. So that’s what’s coming from us.

Eric: I think we’re gonna have a few surprises over the next few months and years that hopefully people will resonate with. I think at this point, what’s exciting for this band is to not take the conventional path anymore. So we’re excited both musically and career wise to be dishing out some surprises to people who are fans or followers.

Be sure to check out Walden on whereswaldentour.com!

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