Between The Lines Of Age #3: Richard Walters

Throughout the year we shall be asking Oxford musicians to talk to us about the importance of lyrics in music. Each interviewee will be asked the same six questions in an attempt to discover which writers, poets and themes Oxford’s musicians find the most moving and inspiring. This time, we asked one of Oxford’s, nay, the UK’s, best current singer-songwriters Richard Walters.

1. Who is your favourite lyricist of all time?

I can think of several, it’s a tough call to single out one. But Jeff Tweedy of Uncle Tupelo and Wilco writes some really incredible, and often times bizarre lines. I love  ‘She’s a Jar’ from ‘Summerteeth’, it puts my head somewhere else everytime:

“She’s a jar, With a heavy lid, My pop quiz kid, A sleepy kisser, A pretty war, My feelings hid, She begs me not to hit her.” – ‘She’s A Jar’

2. Which lyrics make you smile or laugh the most?

Everything ever written by Stephin Merritt, and a majority of 69 Love Songs by Magnetic Fields. It’s a genius concept for a record, and the fact that he can seamlessly stitch bleak, genuine tenderness, and tongue in cheek, sometimes in the same song, makes me so green.

“I could make a career of being blue
I could dress in black and read Camus, smoke clove cigarettes and drink
vermouth like I was 17 that would be a scream but I
don’t want to get over you.” – ‘I Don’t Want to Get Over You’

3. Which lyrics emotionally move you the most?

‘Martha’ by Tom Waits always gets to me – it’s very clever in terms of the scenario, a man phoning an old girlfriend many years later, but more than that it takes into account something that everyone must consider at some point, the apparent glory of the past…getting old, regrets and all that business.

“And I feel so much older now, and you’re much older too,
How’s your husband? and how’s the kids? you know that I got married too?
Lucky that you found someone to make you feel secure,
‘Cause we were all so young and foolish, now we are mature.” – ‘Martha’

4. Who is your favourite Oxford lyricist?

I have a great deal of time for Stornoway’s songs, and I think Brian manages to write in a way that seems at first quite naive and simple, but is in fact full of secret passages and clever asides. There’s something very timeless and emotive about the song ‘Boats & Trains’, particularly the title, it manages to remind me of somewhere and something…but I can’t think where, maybe it’s nowhere real.

“Once more I woke up in the moonlight
Once more our paths crossed through the night
And a moment’s hesitation
Your silent invocation
But you shielded me from your glow
Like a moth against your window
And I’m too shy to stop you in your tracks
Oh you leave me in the dark” – ‘Boats & Trains’

5. How do you approach writing yourself?

I tend to write melody and lyric together. I do have a notebook full of titles, and I often use those as a prompt to find a greater thread, but I rarely write a lyric as a thing separate from music.

6. Which lyric(s) are you most proud of?

I’m incredibly proud of a song I wrote for the new album called ‘King Of Leaves’ – it was just one of those lyrics that started and was complete in ten minutes, and I felt no need to adjust or redraft, it just seemed to sit exactly where I wanted it:

“I’m the Bridge of Sighs
I’m the Blue Ridge Mountains
I am what you know
I am your old home

I’m the Hudson River
And I’m Laurel Canyon
I am where you went
I am where you went

I’m a great lost record
I’m a great lost record
Brian Wilson’s baby
Brian Wilson’s baby

You will know me when I come

Do you want a piece of me now?
A scrap, a word, a brick or anything
But I don’t even remember you” – ‘King Of Leaves’

Richard Walters’ new EP Young Trees is available for download.