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New Music To Know: Walking Papers Consists of Rock Legends, But Are More Than the Sum of Their Parts

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“I think that ‘blues’ is a valid description,” singer Jeff Angell says of his band, Walking Papers.  “You can find blues and soul in hip-hop or metal or even electronic music. That’s the key ingredient for all good music. But people can hear the term ‘blues’ and put it in a little compartment.”

So, if you hear the term “blues-rock” in reference to this band’s self-titled debut (out now), it’s worth noting that they don’t sound like Eric Clapton or B.B. King. Their sound is closer to the dustier, warped blues of Tom Waits, or Screaming Trees.

As it happens, their drummer Barrett Martin used to be a member of the latter, as well as another classic Seattle band, Mad Season, which also featured Alice In Chains’ late singer Layne Staley and Mike McCready of Pearl Jam – who guests on the album, and has contributed to records by R.E.M., Queens Of The Stone Age and Stone Temple Pilots.

Their bass player, Duff McKagan, has also played in a few bands prior to this as well.  He’s the frontman of Loaded, and a former member of the punk bands 10 Minute Warning and the Fartz. He also spent time with hard rocker Neurotic Outsiders and Velvet Revolver. And, oh yeah, he’s a Rock And Roll Hall Of Famer as a member of Guns N Roses.

“I’ve learned my lessons with humility and egos,” Angell told Radio.com, in references to the singers his fellow bandmates have worked with like Axl Rose, Mark Lanegan and Layne Staley.  “I’m just going up there to make the best music possible with the best players that I know.  I’m just as big of a fan of these guys and these records as anyone who comes to see us play. I feel like I’ve got the best job in the world. I think it would be awkward if I was trying to imitate those [other singers].”

McKagan agreed, “We’re all fans of each other’s music.”

Indeed, he’s been a fan of Angell’s for a long time. He said that he saw the singer in 2000 as part of his then-band Post-Stardom Depression — “Who should have been the biggest band in the world,” McKagan said as Angell looked on smiling – and has wanted to work with him ever since. He suggested Angell for the singer gig in Velvet Revlover, but they ended up going with a more famous guy named Scott Weiland (perhaps, you’ve heard of him?). Though Angell may have been a better choice in retrospect.

RELATED: Alice In Chains, Jane’s Addiction, Walking Papers Highlight Uproar Festival

Walking Papers marks McKagan’s return to the instrument he’s most associated with, bass, after being the lead singer and guitarist for Loaded. McKagan doesn’t even have a vocal mic on stage with his new band, Martin and keyboardist Ben Anderson provide the backing vocals. “I keep telling them: ‘I’m here!,” the bassist joked. “You’re missing the angelic backing vocal stylings of the McKagan!’”

Angell said he’s fine with how things are right now and that if his more famous bandmate did have a mic, he might start giving him orders during shows. He’s joking of course. Moments like this make it clear that despite their different career paths, the two men have an easy and warm friendship, which partially stems from their past substance abuse problems.

Angell got clean with help from the MusiCares organization, funded by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. “MusiCares took care of me, as they have done with a lot of people,” he said. “They put me through a rehab I wouldn’t have been able to afford otherwise, and the state wasn’t going to give to me, and they saved my life. I’m very grateful for that.”

Walking Papers

Walking Papers (Maria Ives for Radio.com)

The band is currently on the Uproar Tour with Alice In Chains and Jane’s Addiction, among others.  McKagan and Angell hang out and watch several other bands on the bill, and have cited Middle Class Rut, Danko Jones and Beware Of Darkness as artists that they’ve been enjoying. In addition to Alice and Jane’s, of course.

And while, in the past, Duff would have been playing on the main stage with his legendary bands, headlining the smaller stages with the Walking Papers allows him to gets a bit closer to the fans who crowd the front of the stage, amazed that they’re getting so close to the former Gunner.

McKagan admits that sometimes the shadow cast by his (and Martin’s) musical history can be daunting. But says, “When you’re in a band, you leave that all outside of the practice room door and you’re just creating something that feels right in that moment. If you’re lucky!”

Judging by the audience response to their music, they’re getting pretty lucky so far.

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