“Walking Papers has a lot of different connotations. It actually started in World War Two when they would discharge the soldiers, they would call them their walking papers. Now it’s used when corporations lay people off,” says Walking Papers’ drummer and founding member Barrett Martin from his home in Seattle.
Martin, best know for his work with Mad Season and the Screaming Trees, formed Walking Papers with guitarist and singer Jeff Angell (Missionary Position), played a handful of shows as a duo and then recruited Ben Anderson on keyboards and Duff McKagan (yes, the Duff McKagan) on bass.
“I’ve been friends with both Jeff and Barrett for a long time,” says McKagan, “and everyone in Seattle knows that Jeff Angell is a hidden gem. He is just a prolific writer, a deep thinker, a kick-ass guitar player, and a great singer and a good fucking guy.”
The idea for the band first came to Martin when he was laid up for the summer in 2010. “I’d had ankle surgery, so I spent a lot of my time driving around the New Mexico desert. I had this idea that I wanted to do this band that would be heavy, but have a storytelling quality that would be able to capture the American landscape. Jeff’s got this incredible lyrical ability so I called him and we began working together. So it’s almost like writing a film soundtrack with lyrics.”
Their self-titled album, a brooding collection of vignettes, is reminiscent of a Raymond Chandler collection. It includes heavy, dense, hard-rocking blues tracks such as Red Envelopes and The Whole World’s Watching, but also elegiac, poetic songs like The Butcher and A Place Like This. You can hear Led Zeppelin in their grooves, but artists like Tom Waits and the Bad Seeds are never too far away either.
Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready appears on two tracks. He and Martin were mixing the forthcoming Mad Season box set when the drummer realised he was two guitar solos short for his new band. McCready’s also turned up to play live with the band. “Mike will likely make guest appearances from time to time, but we’re not saying he’s in the band or anything, because he’s not.”
Walking Papers played their first UK shows in November 2010, including a night at London’s 100 Club, by which time they had already started work on album number two. “We’re writing for the next one with piano and upright bass and vibraphone,” says Martin. “It seems to be the way this band is going. Sometimes it takes years for the right project to materialise, but I think the time is right. I think it’s kind of becoming our full-time project.”
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“The closest parallel for me is the first Led Zeppelin album,” says Martin, “when they were real raw, the blues influence was most apparent and they mixed the traditional rock quartet style with acoustic instrumentation as well. That first album is where you can really hear the American Delta blues too.”