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J. Roddy Walston and the Business: The Middle-Class Golden Ticket

Mike Ayers | January 20, 2018

J. Roddy Walston is having a pinch-me moment. Before playing a show packed with reps from his prestigious record label, ATO, and fans who know all the words to his songs, the 30-something singer/guitarist/pianist is sitting at the hip Brooklyn restaurant Café Colette, ordering the octopus and watermelon salad off  the menu. Sure, he’d always hoped that, after years of barnstorming clubs, his titular group J. Roddy Walston and the Business could one day pay the bills, headline a tour or even make it to a marquee stage at a major festival; but no aspiring musician ever dreams of being able to afford the octopus. 

“I know it’s cheesy,” he says. “But I always think of that Willy Wonka movie. At the end, he was like, ‘Do you know what happened to the boy who got everything he ever wanted? He lived happily ever after.’”

This may be Walston’s reality now, but it’s been a long time in the making. For years, there was a constant hustle—playing the bar circuit and slowly graduating to bigger venues in towns where they may have lapped up a few fans along the way. They spent a good portion of the last decade driving around from show to show in an old church van—a far cry from anything you’d see parked outside of a restaurant in Brooklyn serving octopus.

This night is more than a culmination of 16 years of hard work. It’s the start of a new era—two hours after getting the check, Walston and the Business take the stage at Brooklyn, N.Y.’s intimate Music Hall of Williamsburg, where they play a handful of new songs from their fourth studio album, Destroyers of the Soft Life. The 10-song collection  finds the band maintaining their upbeat nature through pounding, Southern-rock drenched numbers intermingled with some of their most personal lyrics to date.

The fans are packed in and the band instantly showcases exactly why they’ve cultivated a devoted following over the years. Walston’s a dynamic performer, going back and forth between hovering over a piano and moving out in front, commanding the crowd with just the microphone. At times, he bounces on each foot—left, right, left, right—like a boxer in the corner of a ring, readying himself for a ght. Walston has that look in his eye too—the eye of a tiger that wants to conquer the show, the crowd, the song.

“When we finished making the last record, we were still in the position of, ‘I wonder if anyone will ever really hear it,’” he says. “I felt bolder this time—more excited about making music—because I knew there would at least be a moment where some number of people, right o the bat, would hear this.”

The band actually made a proper bucket list a few years ago. It wasn’t anything extravagant or elaborate—a lot of it resembled what any band would want after a decade on the road, sleeping on beer- soaked couches and hustling to make rent money. And he always aspired for his group to pass a simple test: Would they be better off  as baristas?

“The threshold was always someone who works at Starbucks,” he says. “It was always like, being in a band requires everything and maybe not even getting paid. I remember the first time we broke even after playing in New York. We got paid a hundred bucks. We all celebrated that without thinking that it cost us $60 in gas and $40 in tolls to get here. What if we could be middle-class income people playing music?”

It’s a fair question. So is Destroyers of the Soft Life that middle-class golden ticket?