Benny Walker is gearing up for his second ever gig in Hobsons Bay and WAH spoke with the Yorta Yorta singer/songwriter ahead of his appearance at the Summer Sounds Music Festival on January 20, 2018.
Growing up in Echuca, Walker was surrounded by musos. His grandfather Archie, whose name is tattooed on Walker’s arm, was and still is a guitar player at the age of 89. His father Rob also played in bands for decades and Walker’s grandfather on his mother’s side, Elwyn Anderson, was a jazz saxophonist, so it was inevitable one way or another Walker would pick up an instrument or have an interest in music.
“I remember being at family functions and barbeques where there was always guitars and people singing. It started there and stemmed into me started my own bands. I started my first band when I was twelve and played right throughout high school. I started writing in mid to late high school,” Walker said.
With a lot of musical talent across many musical genres, it’s no wonder Walker’s music spawns a unique mix of Blues and Roots with hints of Soul.
“My grandfather grew up in regional Australia and listened to a lot of country music so I probably got a bit of an influence from that, but on the other side my grandfather on my Mother’s side was a jazz saxophone player and Dad listened to a lot of blues and rock. I’ve found with writing my own music that it can change genres. It just depends on what day it is and how I’m feeling when I sit down to write,” Walker said.
From a musician that’s journeyed from Surf Rock to Alt Country and into Southern Rock, it’s Blues that has always had an influence in Walker’s music and how he describes his current sound.
“It can be difficult to put a label on it, but when I release music I have to put it into a Genre for it to be released in iTunes, so I guess it goes under Blues/Soul. I’ve always had influences of Blues through all my music. I’ve listened to so much Blues music and played so much Blues guitar throughout the years of playing guitar and I think that’s something that’s going to find its way into the songs I write and the way I perform,” Walker said.
Walker’s latest EP Undercover saw him work with ARIA award winner Jan Skubiszewski.
“I really wanted to go in a different direction with the latest EP. Dan Sultan introduced me to Jan and from the moment we sat down he immediately took me out of my comfort zone, which is what I needed and what I was looking for. Jan opened me up to different approaches to writing, melodies and production and it just became a really fun time as far as creating goes,” Walker said.
A couple of tracks that made the EP were actually singles prior to release, with ‘Oh No You Don’t’ being one of them. At first listen the track alludes to someone dragging Walker down, but on second thoughts, it becomes clearer that it wasn’t someone, but something that was dragging him down.
“It was me talking about going through a rough patch, battling with anxiety. It was a song about reflection. I was looking back on that time and seeing how far I’d come and how much I’d learnt about myself and how good I was feeling. It was an empowering thing for me to write that song. It was the song that spawned the rest of that EP and all the songs I wrote at that time,” Walker said.
The second single release prior to the EP was ‘Save’, but the track was actually conceived at the time of writing the first single.
“When I was doing ‘Oh No You Don’t’, I was looking for another part and I came up with what became the chorus for ‘Save’, so while we were in a recording session I got the iPhone out and quickly recorded it and went home and thought about how much I really like the chorus and started thinking about what to put around it. It turned into a twisted tumultuous love song. It’s a little bit dark and it’s also a little romantic, but it’s kind of twisted,” Walker said.
Both singles shot to number one on the AMRAP charts, which saw Walker receive four nominations at the National Indigenous Music Awards (NIMA) and collect Winner of the Best Aboriginal Act of the Year at the Music Victoria Awards in 2016, which certainly provided some validation and encouragement for the Yorta Yorta single/songwriter.
“It keeps the confidence up and as any artist goes through you go through moments of self doubt, but there’s no right approach. In the middle of recording an EP the timing was really good and gave me the confidence to really go in and take a few risks and not to feel like I had to honour anything, but just go out and write and make the music I want to make,” Walker said.
“I just want to make music that I want to listen to and music that I want to play and write what’s coming out at the time. It’s not something you think about when you’re in that process.”
Moving into 2017, Walker released his Undercover EP and the first single was ‘Ghost’, which debuted at number one on the iTunes Blues chart and number two on the AMRAP Regional chart. The track earned its title from a Tibetan Buddhist philosophy referred to as the ‘hungry ghost’ and talks about greedy and short-sighted people ruining the world.
“It came out of a place of frustration. My son was new in the world at that stage and that gave me a new perspective and outlook on things. There were definitely things I was already frustrated with, but then when the next generation of your own bloodline comes along, you do take it in a different way. The concept of the Ghost does come from a spiritual metaphor, but the subject matter itself goes down to people who are willing to sell anything or sell themselves or sell all of us up the river to make a quick buck for themselves. It was at a time when there was a change in leadership in a few different countries in the world and none of them necessarily for the better in mine and quite a few other people’s eyes,” Walker said.
Walker revealed exclusively to WAH that the next single off the EP is ‘Undercover of my Skin’, which sees him speak about being of Aboriginal decent yet having a whiter shade of skin that has caused some to not realise his heritage.
“It’s something that started really early on in my life when kids at school didn’t really how hurtful it was to call people a ‘nigger’. They think it’s just a name they’re calling someone but it’s so much more. In Adult life, I might meet someone and they don’t know what my heritage is because of the colour of my skin or my appearance and we are establishing a relationship and then they say something completely disgusting about a person of colour or an Aboriginal person and I’ve had to learn how to conduct myself or how to react in those moments,” Walker said.
Rounding out the EP with turbulent love songs ‘Stay In My Arms’ and crowd favourite ‘Without You’, fans who were lucky enough to see Benny Walker on his intimate solo tour in late 2017, will be able to see him on the festival front, as he comes to Williamstown for the Summer Sounds Music Festival on January 20, followed by appearances at the St Kilda Festival in February and Brunswick Music Festival in March.