I meet The Walters at Chicago's Music Garage, located in the city's West Loop. The five person rock band, who sound like they might soundtrack a drive-in movie or a sock hop, is practicing in one of the studio spaces to prepare for their show the next night. Arriving at the spot, there's no need to ask which space they're in as the catchy pop/rock music oozing out of one of the rooms is a dead giveaway. Even before entering the room, it's obvious that they're well rehearsed and loud as hell.
For those unfamiliar with The Walters (they've been active less than a year), it should be noted how often they perform in Chicago. From Subterranean to The Metro to Evanston's Space, they seem to be crafting live renditions of their songs almost every week. They just finished playing House of Blues Chicago on September 22 with Hippo Campus and The 92s, perhaps their biggest show to date. Despite the local hustle, they have ambitious visions beyond the Windy City, of one day signing to a respected label and touring the country.
Once the song finishes at Music Garage, I step inside the room and I see five curly-haired twenty-somethings, playing keys and guitars, wearing backwards hats and sporting scruffy shoes. We go through introductions one at a time. There's the lead guitarist Walter Kosner (23), lead singer and guitarist Luke Olson (24), Charlie Ekhaus (23) on drums, vocalist and guitarist MJ Tirabassi (23), and bassist Danny Wells (24). After I shake everyone's hands, they finish their rehearsal with a new song that I'm told will be on an upcoming project, that they've been performing live. Lead singer Luke tells me that 2015 has been the best year of their lives.
“A year ago, all of us were not on shit,” Danny says. “And now, we've all started taking it seriously. Everyone takes their lives seriously now.” “Serious” being a relative term. While The Walters are certainly handling their craft professionally, there is still a constant element of humor involved: their debut EP, which was released late last year, is called Songs for Dads, while their newest single is called “Hunk Beach.” Despite the half-cocked grin, their music is heartbreaking, fitting for lovemaking, emotional, and fun; all of the elements of a cocktail for life. But, like life, like most groups of five twenty-somethings, there's laughter and jokes.
“I think that's what The Walters is,” Luke says about the band name and their song titles. “It's being aware of the absurd stuff. If you catch us live, I'm a little wacky, so it's something more than soft rock.”
“Songs for Dads was a joke,” MJ adds, laughing. “They're not actually songs for dads.” They tell me that the title “Hunk Beach” was just a demo name, that it has nothing to do with the song, but they never changed it because the name was too good to turn down.
Although humor is an obvious piece of The Walters' craft, their music is poetic and catchy, sublime and groovy. Think Weezer, think JEFF the Brotherhood. They come across as a youthful ensemble who listen to garage rock and Dr. Dog, who probably smoke pot and drink beer as soon as they're all done rolling their eyes at their day jobs. But when they get behind their instruments, during their free days and restless nights, they truly shine.
Given that one of the members is named Walter, I ask him if he came up with the band name The Walters, but no one recalls how it originally formed. “I think it's the best name,” Luke says. “The Walters sounds like The Beatles, you know? It has that English feel to it.”
Following last November's EP, The Walters linked with Canvasback Records, a New York label who signed Chicago band The Orwells last year, to release their most recent split single of “Hunk Beach” and “I Wanna Be Good”.
“We just put those singles out on Canvasback and we don't know what's going to happen now,” Charlie says. Working on a follow-up and hoping it gets into the right hands, they're not sure when, but they seem hopeful. “It's about being patient,” Luke continues, “and waiting for the right opportunity.”
“I just wanna do it so it gets out to as many people as possible,” Charlie adds. “So if that means waiting to release it, we will, but we will have it done by next month.”
I ask them if they have any bands to recommend and someone suggests Triathalon from Georgia. “Super beachy,” Luke says. They mention the band The Rotaries from New York, Twin Peaks from Chicago, as well as Jaill and The Growlers. Branching out from rock 'n' roll, two members (Charlie and Danny) of The Walters formed the hip-hop/R&B production duo Haff Jraff. While they don't have too many songs on their SoundCloud (and less than two hundred followers), it's obvious that the creativity amongst these five guys is undeniably strong. It's only a matter of time before they properly expand outside of Chicago's concrete swamp.
As we wrap up the interview and I thank all five members for their time, Walter closes by giving some advice for artists working on their craft. “Don't try so hard to be different,” he says. “We just made music that we wanted to make. We like catchy music so we made catchy music.”