Monday, 10 March 2008
Walton's ambition knows no bounds. Fretless is a collaborative enterprise on a grand scale. He roped in such disparate identities as The Bird's Simon Durrington, DJ Regal and Jimi Polar for an organic-sounding LP. It will no doubt appeal to fans of Katalyst, funky breaks purveyors Kraak & Smaak, and the dub Mad Professor. Many of whom Mark befriended on the road. “They're musicians I met over the last four years where I've just always sat back and gone, Oh, one day I'm gonna write my own album with you guys on it," he says.
The trick to recording his guests was to aim for one-on-one sessions. "I bought 'em in one at a time and just recorded their parts one at a time. Then I sat back in the studio on my own and produced it - 'cause there was no way I was gonna deal with 'em all at once," he says with a laugh.
Walton initially wrote the songs. He'd then decide who'd best elevate a track. His approach wasn’t about a lack of capability, it was more about how teaming with others might help him realise a musical vision.
Walton is now gigging with an eight-piece which includes some of his colleagues - Jimi Polar, Good Buddha's Ranji Navaratnam and Funk'n Irie. The transition from studio to venue has been smooth, with Walton revelling in the experience. "It was more watching things that I've done get taken to a new level and see them exactly how I imagined them, which is what really excited me.
"I'd do it again," he adds. "I loved it."
The Fretless album kicks off with a smokin' instrumental of JJ Cale's Cocaine. "I wanted to have something on it that would be familiar to people, without it just being a complete cover or rip."
Ironically, Eric Clapton's cover of Cocaine is more famous than Cale's. It's even been made over by Duran Duran's Andy Taylor for an ill-fated solo project.
Walton was given positive feedback from Cale's publishing company. "They came back to me from Europe and just went, this is amazing - this is exactly what we want instead of a complete vocal rip cover of it.
"The next best thing right now I guess would be to get JJ Cale to play live on it at a gig! But, knowing that's probably never gonna happen, just the support from such an amazing musician was really exciting.
"They told me he said he loved it very much. He liked the style of it and was glad it wasn't what he was used to hearing." The elusive Cale is apparently tired of faithful covers.
Walton is inherently restless. He grew up in Brisbane, relocating to Sydney to pursue his DJing. Mark has also spent time in the US. At one point in the mid-'90s he was based in New York. The last seven years he's travelled to Hawaii, his "spiritual home". Mark considers it "a breakaway place." He loves flying to Hawaii in our winter. "I'd been DJing for 20 years and I really felt I just needed to start having breaks." It was in Maui where Walton conceived Fretless. And Mark has vibed with the island's reggae musos.
Over the years Walton has held different roles in the music industry, from audio engineer to retail worker to events manager. He's run labels. And he's broadcast on radio. Mark collaborated with the late DJ Illpickl as 3 Dex 'n' Fx. And he was a defacto Resin Dog.
"Dave [Atkins] decided to take a break, he had his young boy who had been born, and there was a fair bit of work going on there. I've known [DJ] Katch since we were teenagers. I basically came in just to help out in the back area where Dave was [playing] MPC and [providing the musical] beds and some cuts for the shows.
"At this time I was making my own stuff as well, so I brought some music to it that we ended up performing when we were touring over in Europe. I just came on board for a couple of years. I moved up there [to Queensland] with them and did a bit of recording with them.
"We actually used a heap of the early Fretless songs that I did a good three years ago that didn't make it to this album. We used those on the shows to change things up a bit.
"There was a time where studio work was hard for them because they had so many other things going on with the label and that, so I came in with a good five new tracks for 'em which were a bit lifty and bouncy and big beat kind of things.
"It tied over a couple of tours, in a way, of them not having to really heavily concentrate on writing new music.
"I was keen to stop DJing constantly and get out on the road again for a while and do some shows like that. They're such a talented bunch of musicians, so it was just that whole thing of wanting to be around really talented musicians for a while."
Today Walton, who first issued an album as Wet Pants on Resin Dogs' Hydrofunk, is determined to be equally known for his production as DJing.
For now the plan for Fretless is to tour and tour and tour...
"Fretless to me was a five-year plan, so I'm about a year and three months into it. I had a goal for three albums with Fretless and as much touring as we possibly could."
And after that-
"Hopefully in five years time I'll be sitting in my little beach house over in Maui, just writing music. I'll always be doing music - I know that for a fact now."
WHO: Mark Walton
WHAT: New album Fretless
WHEN: Out now through MGM