Throughout the 80's and 90's, Louisville’s music scene undeniably helped shape indie rock, even as we know it today. In 1991, one such band, the enigmatic Slint, quietly released Spiderland, a record that has grown to be a major and inarguable influence over the past three decades. Britt Walford has played a major role in several bands, including Slint, Palace Brothers, and The Breeders (among others). He was gracious enough to speak with us at length about his musical history, pandemic life and social justice in Louisville, our shared admiration of one Mr. Glenn Danzig, his enjoyment of decaf coffee, and more.
Britt Walford. Photo by Britt Walford.
Hey Britt, how’s it going?
Hey, Ben. Pretty good, man. I mean, it’s kind of crazy these days.
Can we start with you just telling us a little bit about yourself?
Yeah, sure. So, My name is Britt Walford. I have a daughter who is 17 and going to college next year, just graduated high school. I have been raising her and started doing restaurant work a few years back and then I got involved with a research project in our public schools called Compassionate Schools Project. I’d been doing that for a couple of years and then just got laid off because of the COVID thing.
Do you think that’s something you’ll be brought back into, and how has the COVID situation affected you?
Yeah, I think it’s permanent, because the project already had an end date and I don’t think school will be normal enough for us to do stuff. It’s fine, I’m happy about stuff, so you know.
Was your daughter’s graduation an at-home thing?Yeah, it was. We had a car parade, and a Youtube graduation.
There’s obviously been a lot of tension in Louisville lately, what has that been like for you?
Oh man, absolutely. It’s been very eye opening and sad. I don’t know. Challenging and cool, too. It reminds me of the pandemic, in that for the most part, I’m cheering it on. That’s a privileged position, and not totally smart, but you want the bad things to be changed, so…
It already seems like things are getting to a better place than before, so I’m glad about that.
The protests have kind of, by design, worked their way up to Bardstown Road from the west end. The protests have been insane, and the same cops that are unable to do their jobs appropriately, or in any way, are the same ones that are running all the counter-protest shit. It’s just been crazy, like Shock and Awe. Helicopters, flash-bangs, tear gas, pepper bullets. Just totally over the top. Then, when they lifted the curfew because this man (David McAtee) was killed by the police or the National Guard, it was almost like the cops took their toys and went home. I can’t say that’s why, but it was like they had a tantrum and then they just completely pulled out. Zero police. Free rein. The protest was larger a few days after, and it’s all just pretty crazy. Once the cops left, there was no more violence. Of course, there are all sorts of white supremacists organizing and all that shit.
Update from 07/01/20
It’s been sort of just heartening and disheartening at the same time. Some bad stuff has happened, but people have continued to be out there. It’s sort of curious to me, the structure of it, I guess it’s sort of like taken on an “Occupy” type position, which really makes sense, but it’s sort of a new thing for me to try to understand. Then, there’s been the election, where Booker lost. That sucked, at least as far as I can tell. Also, the council had to vote on a budget right in the middle of all of this, maybe a week ago last Thursday, and they actually voted to increase the police budget which just seems like a bad move.
So how did you get started as a musician?
I definitely grew up around a piano. My dad played piano a lot, classical piano. We had a full sized grand piano in the living room and he would just wail on it, especially on weekends, you know. So, that was a big influence. I started playing piano when I was 6, and I can’t remember if it was before or after that, but I thought I wanted to be a pianist and live in New York when I grew up. I took piano lessons til I was 18, and got into playing in bands because I did get sort of tired of the normal music I’d been listening to, and almost immediately I met some other people at school that were into punk. They might’ve already had a band, or were just forming one at the time, and I’d go see them play at these punk shows, with mostly older people. I eventually joined the band.
What band was that?
It was called Languid and Flaccid. It was great, and I think we got treated to the absolute best side of what I hope was a really positive and inclusive movement. I joined the band late, and there were some lineup changes and stuff, but it was me and Brian (McMahan), Will Oldham’s older brother Ned, a girl named Stephanie Carta and a guy named Paul Catlett.
Languid and Flaccid. L-R: Britt Walford, Stephanie Carta, Ned Oldham, Brian McMahan, Paul Catett.
So taking piano lessons until you were 18 means you were taking them even after Slint's Tweez was released?
Yeah man, it’s true. I really was. I played that whole time. I actually had two lessons a week for a long time, and I practiced every day for at least an hour and a half. So it was like fairly serious? I don’t remember ever considering going to music school, but it was something that I did.
I'm kind of stuck on the amount of time you were devoting to piano, as well as my understanding of the time and effort that were put into Slint. It seems like as a kid, music must have been similar to a part time job for you, at least as far as hours.
Right! That’s true.
Slint - Tweez
Tweez photo shoot, as seen by driver Will Oldham.
So trying to string the bands you were in together chronologically, would you have been in Maurice after Languid and Flaccid?
Um, there would have been some other playing around and things we did, but the next project, I think it was Maurice.
Brian had a band called Maurice, and eventually the lineup changed and I joined. So that was after Languid and Flaccid, and then Squirrel Bait was during Maurice.
I guess I didn’t realize that Brian was in Maurice!
Yeah, it was actually his band with other people first. It was Brian, Sean Garrison, and Mike Bucayu on bass. So when Brian quit and joined Squirrel Bait, we got Dave Pajo on guitar.
So how did you know Dave?
Through Mike. Yeah, I’m not sure how much punk he had been involved with prior to that. I don’t think I knew him before. He played in a rock cover band that was pretty accomplished. They played a lot I think. He was a super prodigy guitar player.
He’s definitely one of my favorite people.
So, you talk about meeting David, and him being a prodigy in an accomplished cover band, but what I keep thinking about is that you guys were all so young. Beyond that, as teenagers, you went on tour with Samhain?!
Yeah. I know, man. Ha ha! Yeah. I don’t think those guys would remember us too much, but I imagine Glenn still would a little bit, because we used to crack him up and that was a big thrill.
I’d call Glenn at his house, you know? You’d hear his mom calling for him and he’d yell (impressive New Jersey accent) “Hey Ma! I’m downstairs! On the phone!” I just can’t believe it now.
I don’t know the last time you listened to the Misfits, but Jesus, man! If I hear that, I feel like I’m listening to Buddy Holly. That guy is just a fucking genius. He’s just an American fucking icon, you know what I mean? Golly.
We saw them (Samhain) at this club nearby called the Jockey Club, it was truly a special place. Maurice actually played with Samhain at the Jockey Club, but that wasn’t the first time I saw them. I’ll never forget the first time I saw them.
First of all, the fucking sky was fucking orange when we drove to Bloomington, Indiana, which is not a very inauspicious sounding place, but we were freaked out, like “look at the fuckin’ sky!”
I had never smelled Clove cigarettes before, and I still associate that with them. I was like “What is that fucking smell?” I thought it was them! It was awesome.
During their set, Glenn would put the mic out to the 4 or 5 people that could crowd around it and they were screaming, but he would be back like arm’s length with his teeth clenched, and all you could hear in the microphone was his fucking voice. That’s fucking amazing. It was crazy.
Then there’s this one story when Glenn actually got a little drunk.
What? That’s weird!
Oh, totally weird! He just had like a couple beers or something, and he was playing John Cougar Mellencamp on an acoustic! I was like right there, and he was showing us how you play the chords in different positions, and you could just tell how talented he was. I mean he was playing “Small Town” or maybe “Jack and Diane” I don’t remember, but he was making the chords cool, and playing them in different positions. It was really great.
I never expected to make this comparison, but I’m thinking of Joni Mitchell, in that you hear her stuff which is unique and great, and then see her play guitar and it seems like she invented her own way of playing instead of going with a conventional approach.
Yeah man, totally. In a way, I think seeing him do that was kind of an influence, because not ever really knowing how to play I always valued that.
I was so excited to hear about these Misfits shows that happened, I just watched one on video and man, it made me really excited.
I went to the two Chicago shows and they were so fun but also so insane.
Man, I loved hearing Corey (Rusk) lament about when they started playing fast. I mean, I think that stuff is great, you know? But he said Glenn was like (New Jersey accent) “We gotta start playing fast, that’s what the kids like! Hardcore!”
When would you have toured with them?
I think ‘84? Maybe ‘85. I’d seen them before that, touring for Initium. It’s crazy to think that Unholy Passion came out in ‘85, and that’s when Slint started, so there was a lot packed into that year, like life probably seems to most people at that age.
What are some memories that jump out to you from that tour?
I remember once, Dave did this flying kick and hit my cymbal. That was pretty awesome. He’s a really shy guy, he used to go behind his amplifier in Slint if there was a solo part, so that was really cool.
Also, when we played with them, Glenn gave us extra money. Like, a lot. That was really cool.
I remember playing too fast for the bass player, and I think that’s about it I guess.
Maurice, 2014. L-R: Britt Walford, David Pajo, Sean Garrison, Mike Bucayu.
So, you were in Maurice, and you started playing with Squirrel Bait?
Basically, I sort of played drums with them for a while. I think I just wanted to do Maurice, I was more into that. We recorded a whole album worth of stuff, a couple songs appear on Squirrel Bait’s first record, and then after that, Brian joined Squirrel Bait. There was a period when he was in both bands, too. Maybe we even played together in Squirrel Bait.
Cool, and then Slint came after that?
Uh, yes. It’s neat to hear Dave talk about Maurice and Slint, because he really remembers it a lot better than I do. It’s almost like he wrote the first Slint songs, because they were Maurice songs, and they were really weird. They just didn’t really work for the singer, so they ended up being instrumentals. Then, they were incorporated into Slint.
Slint was basically started by me and the bass player, Ethan Buckler, and I guess a song I had written the bass line to. Then, Ethan and I had an idea for the band, so that’s sort of how it started.
So, my understanding is that Brian wasn’t originally in the band? Will Oldham was going to sing?
Uh, yeah. Yeah, I guess that’s correct. I think he was going to sing and play acoustic. Ha ha, I love saying that, too. Like, anything with “acoustic.” Like, if you’re having a party and I say “I’ll bring my acoustic.”
So we played a show, and Will sat in front of my bass drum. It was just a funny show, you’ve maybe heard this before, but we played at this Unitarian church. I think that’s in the movie.
So, after revisiting Breadcrumb Trail, and now with you talking about your years of piano playing, I have to say I was initially kind of amazed to learn how involved you were with the songwriting, as far as guitar and such.
You mean in Slint?
I just played guitar a lot and came up with songs, you know? Dave had songs, Brian had songs, I had songs, and Todd had songs once he joined.
So, Spiderland has 6 songs, how would you break down the songwriting process?
Well, the songs themselves were pretty collaborative, to varying degrees. As far as initial ideas, Todd had one, Brian had two, and I guess I had three.
Slint. L-R: David Pajo, Britt Walford, Todd Brashear, Brian McMahan. Photo by Will Oldham.
Todd, David and Britt with Philip Glass.
It probably goes without saying, but I don’t know that I’ve ever met anyone familiar with the band that wasn’t amazed by what you guys accomplished, especially at such a young age.
Man, that’s awesome. In retrospect, it seems like a very fortunate confluence of events, influences, and opportunities.
Ok, so you were also in the Breeders around the same time?
Yeah, so Steve (Albini) knew Kim and he was recording the Pixies. If Surfer Rosa was recorded in Chicago, I guess that’s what I went to one of the sessions for.
Kim and Tanya had songs, and they needed a drummer, and he told them about me. I’d gone to Northwestern the year before and then ended up living with Steve. Well, basically crashing on his couch for like 6 months. So I went down and met Kim, thought it was cool, and she ended up asking me. Then she said “We’re going to record in Scotland, and we’re gonna go hang out in England and make the songs.” I was like “Ok.”
It makes me a bit upset thinking about it, because I always feel I was insufficiently appreciative of the whole experience and opportunity. Not having anything to do with a career, money, or anything like that, but as an experience. I was just pretty headstrong or full of myself, I don’t know. My concern at the time was “Ok, if this doesn’t work out, you guys are gonna pay my plane ticket home, right?” Then, it was actually great. It was so awesome, I just loved every second of it! I loved writing the songs. We went to the bass player Josephine’s parents house outside of London, and worked on it before recording in Scotland, and overall that was about 2 months.
It was one of the best times of my life, if not the best. It was just so great.
The Breeders, once upon a time. L-R: Kelley Deal, Tanya Donelly, Josephine Wiggs, Kim Deal, Britt Walford.
You just did the Pod record with them?I did that, and it’s a little touchy I guess, but I played on the next record and it was amazing, I felt like we were a band after Pod. So, when Kim called about Safari, she said “We decided to use you again” and I was like “Dang, I thought I was part of this band.” So then, that was kind of a weird recording experience. To me, Kim is just a phenomenal artist and musician. I just don’t see people like her, or hear people like her, I just think she’s really crazy and amazing. I think she tries to write in ways that maybe I don’t think as much about, but I think she was unhappy with how Pod turned out, and the recording process. So, she wanted to produce this next record, and that was a very different way of working. At the time, “producing” was kind of looked down upon, you know? She brought in this guy from England. I feel like the way Pod sounds is definitely very popular with people, but I certainly understand feeling unhappy with something after it’s over and that’s just horrible. It really sucks, but I think the album was really well served by the recording, mixing and production, you know.
So, it didn’t end up working out in the studio, and she decided to get a different drummer.
So in 2014, you recorded with the Deal sisters again on the Biker Gone single. Had you all maintained communication or was that kind of out of the blue?
We kind of have, it’s been very important to me that we did reconnect over the past 5 years or so. In a sustained way that was sort of the beginning, but we had talked some over the years. I hung out with her in New York in the ‘90’s, and sort of always wanted to play with her again. I saw her at Lollapalooza once or twice, and that was pretty much it.
Her singles are great.
Kim Deal - "Biker Gone"
There was a brief period when you were involved with King Kong, right?
Yep. Me, Brian, Dave and Ethan.
Was that while Ethan was in Slint, or after?
So, I don’t know how or why I ended up playing with them. I’m also trying to think about how Dave was involved. I think I just read something about it and honestly can’t remember. I think we all played on that first single, and that was recorded in Steve Albini’s basement. Now that’s funny because Ethan was so upset about the recording of Tweez. After that, I’m not sure how he ended up playing with the other guys in King Kong.
So, if this was recorded by Steve, was it at the same time as Tweez?
I don’t think it was recorded by Steve. As far as when it was recorded, that’s a dang good question. It seems like maybe Brian and I were in college at Northwestern, so that would have been ‘88 or ‘89. I saw a video from Albini’s house, like maybe an interview with Steve, and I think it was the day we were recording that because you can see all of our equipment in the background!
One other interesting thing I can remember is that Todd (Brashear), the bass player from Slint after Ethan, recorded the first King Kong album.
Old Man On The Bridge?
Yeah. That’s such an important album for me, I was like “Whoa, he fuckin' recorded that!?” I’d like to hear about that.
Now I’m thinking about the song "Business Man"…
What do you think that song is about?
No idea, man. A Business man?
I think a lot of those songs are directed at Chicago, or maybe the attitude of Chicago that he saw influencing, or infecting some of us… probably me, mostly. It felt pretty weird because of that, but I still love the album.
So then... Palace Brothers?
Yeah, Brian, Todd, Dave and I all played in Palace Brothers.
Palace Brothers. L-R: Will Oldham, Britt Walford, Brian McMahan, Grant Barger. Photo by Todd Brashear.
Did you play the Palace Brothers show opening for Big Star in Columbia, Missouri?
I was living there at the time, and was at that show. I think this was maybe right before or around the time the first record came out, but had not heard it yet and just went to see Big Star. I think it would have blown my mind to realize I was seeing all of you on stage at the time.
Man, that’s cool. That was really a unique show. Really cool.
How did that come together?
Man, I don’t know. I guess Will made it happen.
What was the extent of your involvement with Palace Brothers? Was it just that first record and a few shows?
There was a little more. At least one more short recording session we did in Chicago, some of which might have come out on something?
I understand how in smaller communities musical endeavors can continually morph into new projects, even with the same members. Do you see these changes having happened organically or simply as the result of a loss of interest?
It was the latter. Brian wasn’t interested in Slint, and as far as Palace Brothers, I think maybe I wasn’t all in? I think Will wanted to do his own thing and he said we didn’t think about it as much as he did, and he was right. I liked playing in it, but i didn’t think of it as my new band.
Ok, then there was Evergreen?
Yeah, they were younger kids here in Louisville and really, really impressive. I liked the music a lot and then became friends with the guitar player, then ended up joining the band. We went on a couple of small tours, and having Hi Ball put out our record was really cool.
But yeah, it just kind of fell apart.
Temporary Residence re-released that record, and I don’t know if people don’t know about it or don’t like it, but it definitely has not gotten a lot of attention.
So then Watter?
Yep. I like those guys, I’m friends with them.
Britt performing with Fred Murphy, a harmonica player and singer. They played together for about 6 months, and Britt describes him as one of the best musicians he had ever seen. This was at a diner called the Coffee Cup where they played early on Sundays.
Have I missed anything?
As far as recording? I recorded a little bit with Sally Timms, on To The Land Of Milk & Honey.
She’s amazing, man. Talk about starstruck. Something about how she’s so gracious and down to earth or something.
Sally Timms - To The Land Of Milk and Honey
Cool! So if I’m not mistaken, you eventually worked for a while as an erotic cake baker?
Ha, yeah, so Evergreen broke up, I think in ‘97 and I moved to New York in ‘98 for a year. That’s when I worked at a restaurant that also had an erotic cake bakery. Really I was just clocking in, I just worked there, they needed some help and I wanted some hours.
I would bake them and ice them, but I was like the helper. I don’t think I got to do the final touches like the veins or whatever it was.
When I turned 30, some well meaning friends got me with a boob cake, but it was a pink/fleshy colored sheet cake with two little boobs in the middle.
Ha ha ha! Whoa, that’s awesome.
Man, that’s cool. It makes me want to open a bakery that just makes really bad cakes on purpose. Have you seen that book Cake Wrecks?
Yeah, I know what you're talking about. What would you call your bakery?
I don’t know, man. Maybe just Cake Wrecks, to try to capitalize on it.
Would all of the cakes be erotic?
I guess they wouldn’t have to be, but those would probably be my favorite ones.
I agree. So, in 2005 Slint reunited as a touring band for several years. What that whole experience was like for you?
It was really great, it was also kind of stressful. There was just a lot to do and we were like really democratic, so every decision was a big deal. That part was difficult, but it was great. I liked touring, I liked playing. It was interesting how different it seemed having a different member, or members, you know? I am in no way casting aspersion toward any reunion members, it was just inevitably different. By the end of it, I was starting to get into areas that were truly uncharted, like “Man, I don’t wanna play this shit anymore, this is weird!”
That was a new thing.
I’m assuming this is something that will never happen again?
Yeah, I don’t think so. I don’t think any of us would like playing that stuff again.
Again, any memories from these tours that stick out to you?
There are a few, yeah. So, our first show was here in Louisville, it was well attended, and in a theater that I grew up going to as a kid. We had been doing all of this work that had nothing to do with playing, and also playing a little bit, and it was just this huge thing that had been set up. I mean, we had practiced, but I don’t know if any of us knew if we could do it. I really didn’t know, even once it first started, the first note, you know? “Is this gonna work or what?” I think we were all really nervous, and we were all sick. We had fevers, because we were just so worn out. We kept full on fevers for the beginning of the tour. The reception at that show was one of the best feelings I’ve ever had. It felt really warm and amazing, so that was like the best experience playing I’ve ever had. It was funny, because lots of people came up to me afterwards and were like “Man, that was so great, so awesome! I’m just so sorry.” or just “I’m so sorry.” It turns out that what they were sorry for was heckling. Ariel Pink had opened the show and gotten that ball rolling, man. It was just the most 19th century tin pan alley/throwing vegetables at the stage reception. It was crazy, they were like booed off the stage. It’s funny because I thought they were great, I think they’re great, and they’ve certainly ended up getting a lot of attention and praise, but characteristically Louisville is really insular so that happened. I felt bad for them, but it was funny at the same time for me. So then when we were playing, we were heckled a lot and the thing that was interesting about it was that to us, it all felt like totally warm embraces. We got it, we understood the language. Most people though were just like “Will you shut up?!” so, I thought that was really cool.
The fact that our equipment was packed up, picked up at the back door of that venue, put on a truck and taken to an airplane was really neat for me. It was kind of unbelievable that stuff that heavy could be treated that way.
Another notable highlight was when we played in Antwerp. I guess that ever since I was a little kid, I had a dream of being a rocker, and this was epitomized by the cover of Let There Be Rock by AC/DC. For some reason when we played that show, I don’t think it was sold out or anything, but playing on that stage made me feel like I was fulfilling that dream, so that was pretty amazing.
What do you consider to be the biggest influences on your work, and how have you seen these evolve over time?
I think I’m not good at that because I’m too much in my own world. I was recently wondering how big of an influence Bill Stevenson is. He reminds me a lot of Phil Rudd from AC/DC.
Phil Rudd and Jeff Nelson are big ones.
So, I was never really a big Rush fan, I liked them a little bit. Then recently, hearing Neal Peart died, I hung out with some dudes and listened to a bunch of Rush albums, and was like “Oh wow!” I thought they were cool and I liked them, and I also realized he was a big influence on me, you know?
I feel like movies were a big influence. I really like the sort of oceanic quality of movies.
Also, traveling Europe as a kid was an influence, I guess. Being on passenger trains.
Are you currently involved in any musical endeavors?
Well, I still think about ideas, and I started playing with the guitar player from Evergreen (Tim Ruth) and Ken Brown (Bundy K Brown) recently.
OK, Let’s talk coffee. You explained to me that you are a big fan of decaf.
Yeah, I don’t know, I think it’s like an enzymatic thing, but caffeine is a really rough ride. It’s like an eight hour roller coaster acid trip. I used to be able to handle it, so I don’t know.
Do you have a go-to if you find yourself out at a cafe?
It depends where it is. I guess my preference is pour over, with maybe French press being a close second. Some places I like their espresso, and I’ll get an Americano. Other than that I like cappuccinos, but it’s hard to get one made right. Maybe it isn’t in Chicago, but it is here.
I appreciate the availability of decaf options for you.
Yeah! There’s quite a bit of roasting going on in town, but it’s kind of dominated by these young Christian cult freaks. People I really just don’t like, or am grossed out by.
There is definitely a faction of coffee people that try to use their access to small equatorial communities for missionary purposes, which I find to be pretty manipulative.
Shit man, I just read this article in the New Yorker (which I don’t really like a lot of, but anyway) about this woman who did that. She set up charity work in Africa, and people ended up dying. She seemed like a horrible nutjob. I didn’t realize that was really a thing outside of Louisville. What’s happening here seems like people running a business but trying to fly under the radar, but still using it to generate income. It lets them get into people’s businesses and lives and I just think it’s gross.
What are you listening to these days?Man, I don’t really listen to music that much, and haven’t for a long time. I don’t know why. I love it when my daughter plays music, it’s almost like she can play stuff that I just can’t play by myself, and I’m trying to think of artists she really liked growing up. There’s so much good pop music, it just blows my mind.
I really love Selena Gomez, and I really love Sky Ferreira. I recently listened to Van Halen - 1984, listened to some Funkadelic. I really like Funkadelic. I’ve been thinking about Junior Kimbrough. Listening to Rachmaninoff a little bit, been listening to Nowhere by Ride, which I hadn’t really heard. I like another one of theirs a lot.
How do you feel about Shoegaze stuff in general?
Man, I love Shoegaze. If I listen to drug music I feel like “Alright, this is my music” which is silly, because there are so many types of music I feel that way about, but I feel like Shoegaze is more that way, even though I haven’t listened to a ton of it.
I like it.
I was listening to Matt Jencik's record Dream Character recently, and was really, really liking that. There’s a local band called Fotocrime, been into them a lot lately,Britt, thanks so much for taking the time to do this. I’ve had a lot of fun!
Awesome. Yeah, man. Me too.
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