On Gotta Get Back, North Carolina-born Seth Walker gets in touch with his roots | Music Features | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

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On Gotta Get Back, North Carolina-born Seth Walker gets in touch with his roots

“What was that fire that got me buzzin’ at the beginning?”

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Before Seth Walker started working on his latest release, he had to step back. Releasing eight albums in 14 years is no small feat, and all that recording and touring can wear on a guy. “If you do something long enough, you kind of lose track of why you started doing it in the first place,” he says, on the phone from Kansas City. “I was getting kind of calculated with my songwriting. I [needed to remember], what made me drop out of college in the first place to do this? What was that fire that got me buzzin’ at the beginning?”

These questions were answered with Gotta Get Back, album No. 9, released in September. A resident of New Orleans for the last three years, Walker harnessed the syncopation of that city to his own brand of bluesy Americana, adding some hints of gospel along the way. While the title represents a return to his initial inspiration, it also acknowledges a literal homecoming in the studio, where his sister and parents joined him on a few songs.

Growing up, Walker’s family lived on a North Carolina commune with another family for 13 years. “It definitely shaped my creativity,” he says of the early days. “We would get home from school and we would go runnin’ around in the woods. And I remember my mind and spirit being able to …” — he stops here to find the right word— “imagine. I think that really is important. It’s stayed with me through the years.”

Music loomed large in the family. Both parents were classical musicians, and young Seth played cello before moving to guitar. So when he laid the groundwork for Gotta Get Back, he wanted his family to add strings to it — although his parents had been divorced for more than 20 years.
First, he contacted his father to score the string section. “I had sent him work tapes of some of the songs,” Walker says. “I remember him saying, ‘I got ideas for you, son.’ And he sent me these beautiful arrangements.”

Time had done nothing to diminish the rapport between them. “The first rehearsal we did at my sister’s house in Asheville, North Carolina, I remember sitting in there with the four of us. That room was just vibratin’,” he recalls. “It was definitely some electricity and it was peaceful. You put everything aside, and music and love prevail.”

In the studio, the family recorded live with everyone in the same room. The pure approach means the wood of the instruments can be heard, adding to the yearning quality of “The Sound of Your Voice” and “Home Again.” Walker says it wasn’t intentional, but the album begins in a more electrified mood and proceeds to a more laidback, back-porch feeling. In a sense it signifies the journey home, with closer “Blow Wind Blow” showing that it’s time to move on again. “I didn’t realize that so many of these songs were all connected thematically,” says Walker, “until I put them together.”

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