Walter Etc.: a revolving door of music
Under a ceiling filled with gold stars, disco balls, colorful metallic spirals, streams of paper cutouts and Christmas lights, a group of overheated millennials enjoyed the magically validating experience of watching, or rather participating in, a performance by up and coming west coast band Walter Etc. As the band shifts from its former identity Walter Mitty and his Makeshift Orchestra to its new one in Walter Etc., Dustin Hayes, lead singer and guitarist, is the string holding these eras together, charged with the responsibility of continuing the beloved sound that they have produced since 2009.
“There’s kind of like 'oh shit' now that people are watching us, I don’t want to fuck up,” Hayes said. “Back when it started, we didn’t give a fuck. And now we don’t want to let people down, which kind of sucks. But I try not to think about it like that. We try to keep our heads down and just do what we want to do.”
Although the band started recording in 2009, Hayes' first musical collaboration was a Green Day inspired band in the 6th grade with friends Chris and Jake. They continued playing together through high school, until Hayes decided he wanted to do more with it.
"At the end of high school we started to play less, and I really wanted to still be in a band. I didn't have a drum set at my house, so just by mistake, I basically recorded the acoustic guitar and had to use a tambourine, because that was all I had.”
Thus the Walter sound was born. Hayes described the progression of the tone of his albums as him starting out not really caring, followed by a lot of cliche angst, which lead into more experimentation with sounds like tambourines. Their last album was a real shot at trying to come together as "real musicians" and make a "real record."
"I feel like we're not real musicians," Hayes said. "We're kind of just friends jamming."
The band was originally supposed to have a “revolving door of friends” which at first, consisted of a group of high school friends.
“[We] couldn’t even play music, but we just tried,” Hayes said.
Eventually, that core group of friends solidified into regular positions. The band had become so consistent that there was no longer a need to swap out players, and the revolving door stopped moving. Now most of the members are attending graduate school, so the door started spinning again. The recent change in band members prompted the creation of Walter Etc.
“It’s kind of come full circle to how it started with friends going in and out," Hayes said. "It's really cool because it really is the same group of friends from when we were kids, and people we've met along the way."
VLHS, a warehouse in Pomona, is the bands favorite venue.
"The quintessential Walter show is at VLHS," Hayes said. "This is definitely our go-to venue. It’s always fun. You always see all the friends.”
While the crowd was more than happy with the previous bands, the mood shifted as Walter Etc. set up to play. It was the kind of show where you really stood out if you didn’t know the words.
“I just try to write honest songs,” Hayes said.
For the young person today, Mitty’s lyrics have an innate relatability to them. The world that Hayes describes is one that looks a lot like our own. What's more is that they’re written plainly and concisely, with references to specific places and people. For example, the reference to ex-girlfriend Shelby Jacobson, who is mentioned in "Otterpops in the Icebox," or the reference to PCH in “Community College”.
“I do like to name specific things in songs, because it's fun to remember. I like to try to make them a little bit autobiographical so I can document phases of my life,” Hayes said. "Some very specific lyrics sound kind of a little young to me, and I kind of laugh at them. But as a whole, I'm actually surprised that I still get into it. I really still do feel those old feelings.”
The lyrics are raw, for sure, but not in an exaggerated, in-your-face kind of way. They’re raw in the sense that they represent life as a millennial in the 21st century without the hyperbolic, glamorized image that permeates the pop-music scene today. His songs accurately depict our dialogue, our relationships, and modern world anxieties.
Few mention the details that decorate our lives, like watching season three, spending an hour on the 55, and eating milk and cookies quite like Mitty does. However, the greater themes that tie together the millennial life are not forgotten. The songs embody the stress of entering adulthood as a young person, finding direction, and defying “cliche definitions of success.”
The most intriguing prospect of this young group is that the music they release is reliably quality stuff. The songs are unusually short, averaging two minutes a song, and the lyrics are tight and to the point. Consequently, everything you hear is pithy, comical or downright lovely. The same individual who comes up with “I don’t need no metaphors to say I feel like shit” also wrote “God thinks it's me who doesn’t actually exist.”
“It's like, every single song that has been recorded and put out, I thought it was the greatest song at one point," Hayes said. "Every new song I write I'm like, ‘Fuck yeah, this is my best one.’”
As the members have grown older and gained more experience, the content of the songs has evolved.
"The global scale lyrics were definitely influenced by learning shit in college, and that intellectual fire you have when you're in college. I still hope I have that fire,” Hayes said. "I thought about it after I graduated from college a couple years ago, I was like, 'Am I still going to try to be writing these songs?'"
Probably the band's most unique feature is the juxtaposition of cynical lyrics and the cheery sound behind them, including the acoustic guitar, tambourines and a kazoo — the combination of which form the essence of the Walter sound.
According to Hayes, the band has gone through times where they've specifically wanted to produce songs that avoided confinement to the formal verse-chorus-verse-chorus style. For the sake of being different, many of his songs are freeform, without any hook.
With the new Walter Etc. identity, Hayes wants to begin to experiment with the genre and instruments. He might even add a little electric guitar.
"I think going forward it'll start to have a couple different sounds," he said. "There'll be a distinct Walter Mitty sound, and kind of have a foot in the door of that old sound... I'm really stoked and proud that we're able to maintain it and keep going. We haven't made it or anything, but we can keep the ball rolling."