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Q&A: J. Roddy Walston & the Business

The aftermath of Miley Cyrus' performance at the MTV Video Music Awards and news that the word "twerking" had been added to the Oxford Dictionaries Online combined to leave J. Roddy Walston feeling giddy.

"There's a pretty serious twerk guy here in Richmond [Va.] that goes by the name J Roddy Rod," said the affable musician, who has fronted perpetually sweaty rock 'n' roll crew J. Roddy Walston & the Business since 2002. "I'm hoping our music gets a bump because of him and the current twerk explosion."

In a recent phone interview, the 32-year-old singer/pianist discussed the band's third studio album (the forthcoming "Essential Tremors," out Sept. 10), converting short stories into songs and the reasons grooming and the Business don't necessarily go hand-in-hand.

You named your latest album "Essential Tremors" for a nerve disorder you have that causes your hands to shake. Why'd you choose to address the condition now?

It just felt right. This record is sort of about owning whatever it is about you that maybe feels secret or weird or a little bit different.

In contrast, what's something surprisingly normal about your life? Is every Tuesday a Taco Tuesday in the Walston household?

[Laughs] Huh. No one has asked me that before. I like to work on my house. That's pretty normal. I've got a dog. I've got a wife. I've got a car I work on. My parents are still married and my wife's parents are married. With this record coming out, and other things in the past, people do assume I've gone through some really terrible stuff, but generally I have a really normal, functional life. I played sports in high school. I wasn't part of the popular crowd, but I wasn't some kid cowering in the corner wearing eyeliner and thinking my parents hated me.

It's interesting people assume you're writing about your own life because I've always been struck by your ability to step into another's shoes. Have you ever tried your hand at fiction writing?

Actually, yeah. A lot of times I'm mining short stories I've worked up and trying to figure out, "Can I tell this in under 100 words and in two and a half minutes even though it's 70 pages long as I originally wrote it?"

Have you ever considered releasing your short stories?

I've talked about it. I considered releasing them with the album, like, "Here's where the songs come from," but generally if something rings a little gimmicky I shy away from it. I don't know if I ever will do something with them. I know I'm good at songwriting; I don't know if I'm good at [writing] short stories. In some ways it's nice to keep it as a personal hobby without all that pressure of, "Is this good enough to actually show anyone? Am I good enough to do this for anything other than my own enjoyment?"

Your wife is a professional opera singer. Does she ever bust your chops about your vocal technique?

[Laughs] Yeah. I used to write in a higher key and she was like, "You're just singing in an insane place all the time." She and her friends marvel at me screaming my brains out, that's for sure. There's a teaser of the song "Heavy Bells" where you can hear me singing by myself, and they're like, "You're a fluke. Physically your voice should be gone after one second of that."

So if you were one of the X-Men that would have to be your mutant ability.

[Laughs] Yeah. The stars aligned for me to be able to blow it out. I can stay up late and eat whatever I want and my voice sounds the way it sounds. In the opera world, you're always striving for this perfect, pure sound. For [my wife] it's a strict diet: Drink water all the time [and] get to bed early.

I read a 2010 Baltimore Sun article that described the band as looking "perpetually a day removed from a shower." Would you care to defend your grooming habits?

[Laughs] Well, I could say that I was in the middle of a three-year tour at that point, so they were probably being generous. Your rules of humanity break down [on the road], and you become this weird, independent animal. But, no, we're probably not a band known for its grooming habits.

You guys are known for your intense live shows, though. As you get older do you find your body takes more of a beating putting yourself through that each night?

Yeah, definitely. The recovery time is longer. This tour is the first time I was like, "I just can't do seven nights a week anymore." I want to put on the best show possible, and I can't do that if we're playing every night.

What takes more of a beating on the road: You or your piano?

Man, the piano is in rough shape right now, so I hope it's true it takes a worse beating than I do. Almost every part that could fall off of it fell off it during the last show, which was dramatic and fun for the audience, but for me it was kind of like, "What am I going to do with this thing?" I don't want to jinx it, but generally if you do some maintenance on the thing it'll hold up. I guess the same is true of our band. [Laughs]

J. Roddy Walston and the Business, 8:30 p.m. Sept. 12 at Double Door, $15

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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