Marion Walker is a
3-piece psych-rock band that came together in 2012 and has been
splitting their time between Seattle and Reno. They are
self-described "sweethearts with sharp teeth...a head-on
collision between doomy, bleak worlds and fuzzed-out,
technicolor tones". Rough in ways that reminds one of what Sonic
Youth sounded like upon arrival, Marion Walker is a pretty
serious collective. Fronted by songwriters
Jessie Marion Smith (Saint
Genet, Dead Bird Movement) and Kyle
Walker Akins (Think in French, Yesir), the band has
received the grants from the Nevada Arts Council and the
National Endowment for the Arts, as well as another from New
Music USA to fund their continued development. They have also
scored some artists-in-residence gigs at The Magnolia Residence
(Quincy, Florida) and PROJECT: Space Available (Seattle,
Washington). Drummer Donovan Jordan
Williams (Spitting Image, Penetration Panthers)
provides the other part of the rhythm section.
Jessie Marion Smith and Kyle Walker Akins
(i.e., Marion Walker) is like a post-graduate art school
project. Jessie is a choreographer, dancer, and filmmaker. Kyle
is a visual artist, sound engineer, and filmmaker. They bring
their collective experience in these other mediums into every
aspect of Marion Walker. Consider the following video:
Jessie and Kyle have worked through the The
Holland Project and The University of Nevada Reno to develop an all-ages intensive workshop on making
dance films, and presented there workshops in Reno since 2013.
It covers everything from choreography to video editing.
Their lesson plan and teaching tools are published as
open-source materials. Jessie and Kyle also recently formed
Pleasure Fool Records to umbrella some of their other
collaborative music and recording projects.
In June 2015, Marion Walker released their
tape EP “Serious Picnic” on Casino Trash Records (Seattle, WA).
In May-July 2015, they went on a full US tour in support of
“Serious Picnic” and several other releases (including a split
7” with Plastic Caves and a 12” compilation featuring songs from
14 Reno bands).
Jessie was kind enough to respond to our CCJ
questionnaire. See the following:
I see in your
band bio that film making and dance choreography figure
prominently into your story, and I watched your video for your
single "We Won't Be In Love Much Longer", which is interesting
from a film maker's perspective, as well as from a choreography
perspective. Can you talk a little bit about how these types of
creative pursuits work as a part of your overall concept for
your band? Is it all part of a vision?
There is no separation between
our life and our practice. We probably never had a choice in our
lives to become anything other than the channels of energy that
result in artistic endeavors. When we sit down, which rarely
happens, we wind up in deep conversations about our projects and
the best means by which to attack them. With the video, we
didn’t want to make a typical ‘music’ or ‘dance’ video and we
struggled for a good bit of time before discovering the methods
that we ultimately employed in producing it. Our greater vision,
across all our artistic platforms, lies in a constant practice.
This type of consistency builds discovery. We are constantly
ripping ourselves to shreds in order to discover the purest form
within the material we are creating.
If you were
going to help people just discovering you to understand who
Marion Walker is, as a band, what other acts might people
associate you with? What other bands might you be considered to
"sound like" and what does that say about who the audience is
for your music?
We are cut from the same cloth as
artists/musicians such as The Velvet Underground, Boris, Tera
Melos, Pink Floyd, Sleep, Neil Young and Crazy Horse, Johnny
Cash, My Bloody Valentine, The Pixies, Gucci Mane, Outkast, Pimp
C, Jawbreaker, Death Grips, and 16 Horsepower. Let us make this
connection for you by saying that all of these artists are
relative outliers even within their own genres. They are all raw
as hell and rarely make compromises. We can say that, while we
can identify with them sonically, we never made a conscious
choice to steer our sound towards them,....it just happened to
turn out that way. As far as our audience is concerned, we
haven’t met anyone yet that hasn’t had a positive response to
our live show. There have certainly been times when we thought
people were NOT going to appreciate our efforts. But, we
constantly surprise people with our ability to turn up some
gritty rock’n’roll and deliver it into their ear canals with all
of our hearts.
You seem to
have a Seattle-Reno connection, which at first glance seems like
two opposite types of environments. Who hails from Seattle and
who from Reno? And can you talk a little bit about how those two
home environments might have impacted the nature of your band,
and what you do as a performance vehicle?
Seattle and Reno both foster some
incredibly talented individuals within their art and music
communities. They are completely different environments when
speaking about climate but, due to the weather in Seattle and
the isolation in Reno, a lot of people spend their time working
on bettering their creative efforts. Jessie has been a Seattle
resident for almost 12 years, and Kyle and Donovan are both from
Reno. When we started working on our first tour we had already
produced a record with a different bassist and drummer in
Seattle, but the drummer was unable to tour with us. That’s when
the sweetheart that Donovan is jumped on a plane and came up to
the Northwest to begin our life as Marion Walker. When you ask
about our performance vehicle, we gotta give a little love to
our tour van, Dame Helen Wheelz, she is a 1993 Toyota Previa
Mini-Van and has been faithfully shlepping us across the US
(minus a few shredded AC fan belts).
I have not
seen you live. Do you do anything to incorporate film and dance
into your trio's performances?
The best way to get to know us is
definitely to see us live! We rip it up, tear it apart, and
throw in a little bass-neck and some headbanging just for spice.
We haven’t had any room in our van for extra gear, aside from
our instruments, so we haven’t even given ourselves the option
of having film/video alongside our live set. To relate a story
that just took place in Jersey City, a knife-fighter approached
us after our set and encouraged us to take up the sport. He told
us that the way we were moving our hands and feet during our
performance was so similar to the way he learned how to fight.
He showed Kyle how he could cut someone five times in 1.5
seconds using identical motions. We couldn’t help but think
about how old Delta blues players would talk about ‘cutting
heads’ when they played shows.
How would you
describe your original music? And what does it take, in terms of
compositional components and execution, to make your sound come
We are reactionary artists in the
sense that we want to be a reflecting mirror for the world
around us. We feel that most artists/musicians are this way
whether they realize it or not. It doesn’t take too much time to
compose the basics of a song, but it takes a ton of time to let
it incubate until we know it is done. We are constantly
upgrading our routines so it allows for little areas of growth,
but the hard part is to remain detached enough from a concept to
allow its fruition.
Is there an
act, a songwriter, or performer that represents the standard for
the type of work you do? What types of songwriters or bands
interest and inspire you?
While we did mention a few
bands/artists above that could certainly be used to answer this
question, we are always inspired by other bands that we meet on
the road. It is truly amazing the amount of creative force that
exists in this world. While genres of music exist, the ones that
we particularly appreciate are not derivatives of a specific
set. It’s the artists that are their purest selves that people
will always be drawn to, and you always know them when you see
Do you go to
rock concerts? If so, what was the last great act you saw -
great in that it helped you gain a greater understanding of what
you want Marion Walker to be?
Two words: Neko Case. Yes, we go
to shows all the time, and every type of show and every type of
music. We subscribe to the rules that John Cage set for his
students/teachers. To paraphrase: go to every show, read
everything you can get your hands on, talk to as many people as
you can, listen, learn, appreciate even if you hate it, and
remain open to discovery.
What would be
your high-level aspiration for Marion Walker? Where can you see
it going, and what will it take to reach your objectives?
We are gonna play on Jupiter one
day, to speak about heights. There is no limit to where we see
ourselves. We are all workhorses and are going to knock on every
door we find, and even build some doors where there aren’t any.
In concrete terms, we want to tour like crazy all over the world
and write/record a million songs (not just as Marion Walker...we
are also constantly collaborating with other musicians/artists).
to your film making interests, is there someplace (a Website,
for instance) that I could visit to see your work? Do you use
Stage 32 to network in the film industry, or any other such
Go to MarionWalker.org!!! It is a
rabbit hole that will lead you to our other artistic projects as
well. There are videos, some visual arts, links to other bands
we are a part of, and a ton of links to other people/sweetheart
collaborators. Most of our networking exists in the
word-of-mouth realm or through DIY communities.
How did you
all get started on the creative paths that you are on? How did
you get into music production and performance?
Kyle never set out to be a guitar
player. He was actually forced by a friend of his who had built
a guitar and modified the fretboard to have a color-coded system
based on where each of the notes were (for example: each A was
red, each B was orange, etc…). When his friend left the room,
Kyle picked up the guitar and began developing his own melodies
based on the colors while his friend was hiding in the stairwell
listening. When he came back into the room, Kyle put the guitar
down totally embarrassed and tried to leave. His friend
absolutely refused this reality and forced him into the dream
that we live in now. Jessie was a late-comer to playing music.
She was a roadie for several of her friends' bands as a teenager
but all of her creative focus was on dance. Being completely
consumed by her professional dance/choreography career, it
wasn’t until about six years ago, while she was experiencing a
lull in her dance jobs and had an itch for a new creative
outlet, that she picked up a guitar. Becoming totally obsessed,
she hid out in her basement, tinkering around with it by
herself, falling asleep with the guitar still in hand. Since
then, she's had love affairs with the keys and now the bass
guitar. Donovan, on the other hand, was early to fall in love
with music. When he was about 4, his cousin took him to a school
dance. One of the bands that was playing happened to be a punk
band, all studded, leathered, and liberty-spiked to the nines.
They saw him pointing and talking about them and came over to
scare him. But, nonetheless, he knew that was IT! And so, when
his friends were joining football in middle school, he opted for
Marion Walker live at a Tiny Desk in The Warehome from Marion Walker on Vimeo.