The dream is finding
By Naughty Mickie firstname.lastname@example.org
The title of this story could actually be interpreted several ways. Trying to catch up with busy local Los Angeles musician Joe Walla is almost an elusive dream. Getting caught up in the Walla charm is like being in a dream about a good friend who you haven't seen in a long time. The dream of making it in the music business is coming true for Walla. All three statements apply.
Walla's achievements read like a future rock star's grocery list. All Access magazine named his band "Best Southern Artist" at its awards show in 2004. They appeared on the television show, "Street Music Los Angeles," which earned an Emmy for Information/Public Affairs Series for its producer/host Jerry Day. The group's song, "Train of Revolution" is on Los Angeles radio KLOS 95.5 FM's playlist and the tunes "Let's Get It On" and "I Can't Wait" were used in the soundtrack of the mini-documentary "Saving the Azusa Drive-In." A copy of the film has even been sealed in the city's vault. Walla, himself, is also endorsed by Minarik guitars, Spalt Instruments and Cool Picks and has a myriad of other things in the works.
If you gave our Guts and Glory column a look-see recently, you may have read my review of Walla and his recordings, "Roll the Dice" and "Back the F*ck Up," as well as his live performance. He is a remarkable guitarist, a formidable vocalist and a creative songwriter. He is also very personable and positive, which can prove to be a great networking and marketing tool. In fact, it was the New York-born axeman's attitude that lured me into sitting down with him over dinner. That, and the fact that I'm always seeking a good story.
"Here I am with Joe Walla, who I will be interviewing as soon as he's done playing with the condiments on the table," I quipped into my tape recorder.
Walla peeked up at me, put the mustard down and sat at attention like a school kid caught being bad. I quickly asked him to tell me how he formed his band.
"The current lineup up was February of last year with (bassist) Tony Siqueido and (drummer) Janet Taron," Walla begins. "I stole Janet from another band. One of the ladies that used to be in her band years ago was booking for our club and she said, 'You should call Janet.' So we called Janet. Me and my ex-bass player, Don, went down to check her out. We go, 'Well, we'll see what happens.' It turns into a three hour jam, so we knew that we found our drummer.
"Tony played at the same club and he was in another band as well. I stole him. I'm kind of like a musician thief. If you were in a band I'd probably steal you too, that's how that goes. You have to be in a band, that's how that works," Walla laughs.
The idea of lying to him that I'm really still in a band rolls around in my brain, but ever the journalist, I dutifully query him about his childhood and music.
"I messed around with guitars for a while, but didn't know how to play the damn things," Walla tells me. "At about 11 years old, my dad bought my mom a big Lowry keyboard with three keyboards, it was crazy. My mom taught me how to read notes and the next thing I know I was pushing my mom's ass off the bench, 'See ya mom, I'm playing now.' That's how it went.
"When my dad and my mom split up, my dad left the guitar behind, he sold the keyboard. It's a sad story, but it's true." Walla continues, "I was 13 and since I was playing music all the time, my life was to play more music, so that was it. Didn't know how to tune it; didn't know how to play it for about two years, just wrote songs. I tried to sing, I wasn't really a good singer. I still don't consider that I am either."
Walla isn't entirely self-taught.
"I took one lesson when I moved here in L.A. One lesson, just to learn how to use my fingers properly," Walla admits with a chuckle.
Walla attended junior college briefly and is no stranger to day jobs.
"I hung drapes, I worked one day in food service, I was a janitor for a women's clothing store, I ran receiving docks for a few different companies," Walla lists.
Walla was also a DJ, Jammin' Joe, at Q96FM (KSIQ) in Imperial Valley for 1 1/2 years and is currently working in sales.
From the bio on his Web site, I know Walla has been involved in quite a few music projects, I ask him to tell me more.
"I was playing in a band called Venom, it wasn't the one from England, the Satanic one," Walla says. "We were playing out in clubs around Los Angeles for a while. This is the first band we ever played clubs with and the singer sounded like Jethro Tull all the time. He hooked us up with some lady from Jet Records and she came to see us one night. She came in and saw the band, didn't like the band. Incidentally, she brought Janet, Cindy Tripp, the lady that was playing bass and their drummer and their guitar player with them so we're all interconnected from 20 years ago.
"The lady came in, she saw the band, it sucked. She didn't like the band at all, she didn't think we had an image." Walla goes on, "The singer had a rock and roll image, I played guitar, the drummer was just a muscle man who played the same Beatles' riff and the bass player looked like a little pudgy guy with a 'fro. We all had different things, but she didn't like anybody but me. She said, 'I've got a place for you to go in a band called Velocity.'
"That was a signed band from 'Frisco, but it never got off the ground. The guy was such an alcoholic, that was his downfall, alcohol and fighting. Me and him got along like we were two brothers, but the rest of the world just didn't matter. So I had to get out of that deal fast." Walla continues, "I played in a band called Maydog, we released a little demo tape around 1986, did some video shoots, but we never really got launched off of the planet. We had a couple of things and just played around."
Walla was in many other bands and projects, but he took a break from music from 1990 through 1996.
"After playing with all these bands that never went anywhere, 1996, one of my customers at the time came into my office and saw my guitar sitting in the corner and goes, 'Oh, I host an open mic.' So years after not playing, from 1990 to 1996 just sitting in my house playing with myself," Walla laughs. "I know you can't quote that."
I grin because I plan to let his quip slip past my editor, but keep quiet.
"From those years I just sat home and rediscovered guitar and then this guy goes, 'Hey come and play some songs, I know you can play,'" Walla continues. "Next thing you know, I'm doing an acoustic show and one thing leads to another. I got the bug and I'm writing my own songs, I'm meeting people along the way and this started doing all these open mics, hosting shows at open mics, having my own hours of shows at open mics."
I steer slightly off course to ask Walla about his hobbies.
"Motorcycling," Walla says, adding that he has a silver metal flake old school chopper parked outside. "I used to be into playing hockey, but it's been a long time. Now I collect junk, toy cars, automobilia. Video games, I'm a grown child, I haven't gone through my first childhood. It's mostly kids' stuff for me. I don't drink, I don't go out partying."
"How do you write?" I ask. "What is your approach or inspiration?"
"Depression," Walla states. "Music usually hits me first, sometimes
I'll have a lyric line in my head. I'll go home and play it. It's really weird where inspiration comes from, it's hard to explain it. I could just be sitting here and go home and write a thing about what I just saw about the cook and make a song out of it. Inspiration is a weird thing, it just comes from wherever. It's like God gives you this gift to write piece.
"Most of the stuff I write out," Walla goes on. "I don't write it out physically, but I write out the music pieces or the ideas in my head and try to work with them until they sound like they should."
I wonder if the songs are ready to go when he takes them into rehearsal.
"Most of the time." Walla explains, "It's hard to get all three people to commit to putting their pieces together and it's hard to get us all to work on the same thing. If somebody doesn't put an idea together and say 'Here.' Nothing I've ever played with any band has ever seemed to click as "OK, we'll do this right now' and it works. The drummer and I seem to click a lot more. Me and Tony, we're just still on two different plateaus when it comes to music. Tony's out in left field and I'm more of a pop writer, a commercial writer. It doesn't click with what I write, so I have to bring all my thoughts to everybody and say, 'Here, this is what we're going to do.'
"But writing, inspiration comes from everywhere. I mean there's songs I've written that I don't know where they came from-- 'Crack Whore' or 'Little Rain.'" Walla continues, "'Little Rain' I wrote about my sister's life, it just reflected both sides of the story. The guy wakes up and he realizes that he pushed his girl away and the girl wakes up and realizes that she's fucked up something. Whatever hits your mind."
Since he's in the middle of it all, I pry Walla for his take on the scene.
"Today's music scene, there's very few bands that sound like they're original. There's one in about a million of them. I wish it was a little more intense, but maybe I'm just getting older and I don't realize the intensity of the bands. I don't find any talent to a lot of it. But I'm listening to new bands to find what they're doing, like System of a Down. I just bought that, I'm kinda hot on that album for some reason," Walla pauses to think. "Who else am I listening to that's influential to my thoughts? I can't really think of anybody who really stands out."
And then there's the Web.
"The Internet is very useful," Walla states. "My Web site doesn't have a lot of download stuff on it yet for full songs, but you can sample songs. People can go to my site and e-mail me letters and tell me what they think. It's a good way to get your music out there to people who would never hear it. I see it on my Web site, I read the logs and see that there's people from all over the world checking in on me. I get hits from Korea, I've seen some Mid-Eastern hits. I see a lot of overseas, not a whole ton to say anything, but I get them."
Noting Walla's range of music on his recordings - flamenco, pop, blues, ballads, rock, metal - I put him to the test by asking him to describe his sound.
"I don't even know how to describe my music," Walla shakes his head. "I wake up and play what I feel. That's the best way to say it. I'd like to say I was a metal head or I'm a bluesman or I'm a pop writer, it's just whatever I feel like playing and that's the truth of it. It's like how do you describe somebody's art?
"I try to make sure people know that I can do more than one thing because most people that's all they're known for is one thing. If nothing else, I'd like to be know as somebody who played everything. I haven't really touched much on country and western yet, but my father thinks I should be a country and western artist," Walla says. "I know you're rolling your eyes, but hey, there's a lot of money in country and western music, but there's a lot of people who think they are going to make it big too. I don't have the twang anyway."
Yes, guilty as charged. It's hard for me to picture this larger-than-life rocker in a cowboy hat, although he is often in jeans and boots.
Walla has a variety of pans in the fire, including working on a movie soundtrack and trying to snag a record deal. Minarik is also pushing his releases to a smattering of labels.
"Hopefully I'll get a record deal. My guitar endorsement company is really hot on my music and they want to open the door. They want to help push my sound out there somewhere God bless them," Walla grins.
As for the band, "We're trying to play bigger venues. I play every weekend pretty much consistently." And, unlike many bands, the group is able to score some paying gigs.
The waitress has taken our empty plates, the check has come and gone and the hour is growing late, so I ask Walla to share some final thoughts.
"I've got a million guitars, that's one of those things that just don't go away," Walla admits. "I've got 32 guitars and looking to hit 100 sometime soon. It's my drug habit, everybody's got to have a vice in life.
"I wish I could get more people to come out and see us live," Walla continues. "I wish they would come out, they don't know what they're missing. We try to give a good show and try to make people have a good time because life's pretty tough as it is. It's difficult for them to spend their money, so a lot of my shows are free. They've got no excuses why they can't see me.
"I don't have a real message, I just want people to have a good time. I just appreciate that they like what I do and that they're there for me. That's the main thing. I don't have a real thought on this, I just like playing music, that's my thing, that's what I've got to do," Walla smiles.
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