Name: Jon Patrick Walker
Occupation: Singer, songwriter, actor
Current release: Jon Patrick Walker's The Rented Tuxedo & Other Songs is out October 8th 2021.
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Where does the impulse to create something come from for you? What role do often-quoted sources of inspiration like dreams, other forms of art, personal relationships, politics etc play?
In terms of “where” the impulse comes from, I find it really depends. Sometimes I will hear or read a phrase or get a lyric idea.
“I cannot Autotune My Love” was just a line I thought of one day and wrote it down. Quickly the first verse was written and I still didn’t have music for it. For “The Stars, the Moon & the Sun,” I started strumming a G chord in a waltz-time, and the opening line just sort of appeared. Then it felt like the rest of the song practically wrote itself.
Others take more work to shape and find.
For you to get started, do there need to be concrete ideas – or what some have called a 'visualisation' of the finished work? What does the balance between planning and chance look like for you?
It hardly ever feels planned for me. I love to sort of follow the song where it leads, I like that sense of exploration.
Do you have certain rituals to get you into the right mindset for creating? What role do certain foods or stimulants like coffee, lighting, scents, exercise or reading poetry play?
Coffee and marijuana make lovely bedfellows, creatively speaking! But I certainly can’t count on anything external to create the mindset. It’s really, for me, about staying open. Open-hearted, connecting to the present moment.
The album’s title track, “The Rented Tuxedo,” started from an idea that just popped into my head on a tour bus from Kansas City to Memphis—I was touring with Hamilton, playing King George—I got a flash of a man waking up in a motel room—anonymous setting—wearing a rented tuxedo—anonymous clothing—and having no idea how he got there.
Four days later, in Memphis, I’d booked a session at Sun Studio, quickly recruited two local musicians (one of whom I had met on the Sun Studio tour I took—he was the guide; the other I discovered busking outside my hotel) and exactly one week after the idea came to me I was standing on the spot where Elvis supposedly stood when he made his earliest recordings, strumming my guitar and singing my song-- and it all felt like a larger power was somehow guiding the whole thing! It was uncanny and magical.
What do you start with? How difficult is that first line of text, the first note?
As I said, sometimes it is a line or phrase that will appear to me, other times I’ll read something and go, aha! I can use that!
I have a song called “Jack O’Bells” (from my “You & I” EP), and the spark was reading Catch-22 by Joe Heller and coming across the line, “He wears a pipe in his face …” which I loved and thought would be a great opening line. I wrote out the verses but hadn’t come up with a name for this character I was creating. One day a friend was describing how her son, when he was a toddler, couldn’t pronounce the word daffodils, and would instead call them “jackobells.” The minute I heard it, I had another Aha! moment, and had found my name.
What makes lyrics good in your opinion? What are your own ambitions and challenges in this regard?
It’s tricky to pinpoint or define a “good lyric.” It’s sort of like you know when it’s good because it just feels right. I often gravitate to alliteration or sounds that flow well together.
My song “Oh, Rosie” includes the refrain “Oh, Rosie, don’t you know …” and it's that flow of “O” sounds that make me dig the line. And I love infusing humor/wit into my lyrics whenever possible.
On “Station Wagon,” I set out to write a “car” song, and I had such fun name-checking various songs/artists. (“We can head to the beach playing “Eat a Peach” and “Puff the Magic Dragon …” Also: ”We can head to the shore playing Leslie Gore and Frampton Comes Alive”). I love asense of playfulness in a lyric. Dylan and Beatles are big influences in that regard.
Many writers have claimed that as soon as they enter into the process, certain aspects of the narrative are out of their hands. Do you like to keep strict control over the process or is there a sense of following things where they lead you?
It’s mysterious to me, and I fully believe that creativity is tapping into a spiritual plane, that anything we create, especially if it’s from the heart, is in a very real sense “co-created” between the individual and “Spirit.” When one is “inspired,” one is literally connecting to “Spirit.”
Especially in the digital age, the writing and production process tends towards the infinite. What marks the end of the process? How do you finish a work?
I tend not to over-work songs. Some need it, but mostly they flow out of me and I don’t tinker much.
What's your take on the role and importance of production, including mixing and mastering for you personally? How involved do you get in this?
I love being in the recording studio, it’s definitely my happy place. I love the process of building up a track, adding sounds and so forth.
Mastering is a bit of a mystery to me, honestly!
After finishing a piece or album and releasing something into the world, there can be a sense of emptiness. Can you relate to this – and how do you return to the state of creativity after experiencing it?
It can feel that way, yes. Especially if one has built up expectations of a certain response from the world. I strive to live by words of wisdom from the Bhagavad Gita: “Act without attachment, surrendering our actions fruits … Act for actions’ sake … Self-possessed, resolute, act without any thoughts of results …Open to success or failure.”
Also, from the Tao: “Do your work, then step back. The only path to serenity.”
Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you personally feel as though writing a piece of music is inherently different from something like making a great cup of coffee? What do you express through music that you couldn't or wouldn't in more 'mundane' tasks?
I think somewhere in an early “Harry Potter” book one of the wizards talks of how music is the most magical thing that Muggles can do. Music is tapping into that eternal pure Light of the Creative Intelligence in the Universe. So, as much as I LOVE a good, well-made cup of coffee, it ain’t music!