While for many Joe Walsh is best known for his work with the Eagles, the singer/songwriter/guitarist has also enjoyed tremendous success as a member of the James Gang, and as a solo artist. He just released "Analog Man," his first solo album in 20 years, earlier this month, and will tour in support of the new record throughout 2012, both in the U.S. and abroad. He spoke with Billboard.com about the new record, why he loves electronic music, and what it's like to be an analog man in a digital world.
Billboard: Let's talk about the title of the album. What's it like being an "analog man" these days?
Walsh: You have to make some adjustments. I have found that technology can really effect the music, if you let it. The biggest temptation is now you can fix anything, and you can make it perfect. If something's blatantly wrong or annoying with a performance, it's okay to fix that, but the temptation is to fix a lot of things that don't need fixing. You can end up taking all the mojo out of a human performance. When it's perfect, it doesn't have any soul to it. So I try to think analog and go for a human performance that has magic in it. And, as tempting as it is, I try to leave it alone.
The virtual world that we're all spending more and more time in doesn't exist, really, and meanwhile our bodies are in chairs waiting for our brains to come back. We're in there a lot; it's easy to get lost. These are all observations, not a judgment, and I thought it would be good to embed them all into an album, being that my last album was totally analog.
Is that something you've observed in live performance these days?
I just noticed it in recording. The old analog was so transparent, all you did was capture a performance. But with the digital end of it, there's so much more you can do, which is great, I guess. It's really fun to be able to fix everything. I'm enjoying it. I had to learn all the digital technology as much as I could. But I don't know where it's going yet, so I'm just a little leery of it. I know it ate the music industry infrastructure, I know that it ate intellectual property, and to some degree it ate radio, and I'm just not 100% for it until I see what else it eats. I hope it doesn't eat me.
"Lucky That Way" sounds a little country -- it's sort of introspective. Do things really come to you as easily as the song suggests?
That song was fun. It kind of ended up being the sequel to "Life's Been Good," but I didn't really plan it that way. [The late] Barbara Orbison, Roy Orbison's wife, took care of his publishing and had an office in Nashville where a bunch of writers worked. A lot of what comes out of Nashville is because of this group of people. Barbara Orbison sent a guy named Tommy Lee James out to Los Angeles to work with me, and he brought the beginnings of "Lucky That Way," which I immediately loved. So we co-wrote it, and we went ahead and wrote three other songs on the album. But that has a little Nashville air to it, sure, and working with Tommy Lee James, he's great at the craft of writing songs.
"The Band Played On" has some really nice fretwork, and it has this Middle Eastern vibe, then it just rocks.
That's another one by Tommy Lee and me. We were talking about the Titanic, that's what got it started. There's so much about it on TV with the discovery of it and diving down to it and stuff. So we were talking about the Titanic, and I wanted to leave a lot of room so I could play guitar. After we got the words, I left some room at the end so I could play. If you listen to the words, there's also a little social commentary in that. It seems to me like we're standing around like ostriches with our heads in the sand, pretending that nothing is wrong, pretending that things are going to get better, or somebody somewhere is going to fix everything, and I'm not sure that's the case. This complacency, this sitting around waiting for things to get better without doing anything is not a really good way to go about things, and maybe the ship's just starting to sink a little bit.
"Family" is actually a very poignant song. I imagine that a lot of your fans feel the same way these days.
I got married three years ago to Marjorie, and I feel like she's a part of me that's been missing. This album was pretty much her idea. Along with Marjorie came an extended family that I married into, and it's really close and they have each other's backs. That's really a dynamic I've never been around, and learning to be part of it is an ongoing process. But, like I say, I feel really different, and I look at things differently being in this family, and I feel more complete. The family unit is the foundation of spiritual life and everything good for kids to be around growing up. If a kid's from a good family, the chances are that at least they have good manners. That's song is just my experience being in a new family and how much it means to me.
"One Day at a Time" has kind of a James Gang thing going on.
It's about recovery. I ran out of options, and I had to do something, so I got sober. It was not easy, it was the hardest thing I've ever had to do, and I had to stop and learn how to do everything over again sober. So that song is about the way it was and what it's like now, which I have a wonderful life I never could have imagined back then. So I wanted to put that song on the album for anybody that comes across my music and might be in trouble too. It feels like the phone weighs 80 pounds when you pick it up, but you gotta pick it up and ask for help.
"Hi-Roller Baby" feels like a radio summer song. Any thoughts of that?
'd like to hear it on the radio. That one grew on me. That as written by a guy named Tim Armstrong, who comes from a band named Rancid. Tim's a great songwriter, and he's about 180 degrees different as you can get from me. But we got together, and I really liked that song. It was a demo, he was still writing it, and I helped him with it, and gradually we ended up finishing it. There's another girl he wrote it with named LP, a young kid who has written some songs for other people, and I have to recognize her. I YouTube'd her, and she's pretty darned brilliant. That song doesn't sound like all the other ones, that one sailed out in a different direction. It grew on me and I had to put it on the album, but I felt like I was really part of it.
And then thre's "Funk 50," which, after hearing, definitely is in the same vein of your "Funk 49," though definitely more contemporary. Why revisit that song?
(Laughing) At the beginning of the football season, ESPN called me for a minute of music for the their NFL Sunday Morning Countdown, Chris Berman and those guys. They just said, "we need some background music for the ins and outs of the show, we're James Gang fans, we love 'Funk 49,' so do some music like that, but don't do 'Funk 49.'" So what do you call that? I don't know. I gave 'em a minute of it, and they used it for the whole football season. It's Sunday morning so not a whole lot of people kow about it, but I thought, "this works out pretty good, I could throw some words on here and make it a little longer than a minute and put it on the album." I didn't know what else to do but bump it up one and call it "Funk 50."
"India" is sonically ambitious. It reminds me a little of "Thunderstruck," but with some electronic edge.
I really love the electronica guys, the young guys who are doing the house and the trance and the remix, all of that. I really salute them, they're making great music. I was in India with my wife, because we ended up in Australia at the end of an Eagles tour and we didn't want to come home. In Mumbai, I went into a little club and I heard a young band, but they weren't playing instruments, they were playing laptops. They had sub-woofers and lights and all, but these three guys with these computers made amazing music, and I said "that's it! I don't know how to do this, but based on that, I came home and made some loops and decided to play guitar on top of it, and that's how that song came about. I never would have attempted it if I hadn't seen those guys live, so that was my first attempt at it, and that's why I called it "India."
So you like what you're hearing in terms of new music?
There's young people making good music, you just gotta go looking for it. There's so much out there on the Internet, every once in a while you'll bump into something that's great, but it's a lot of time looking. You've gotta go fishin', I guess you'd say.
After playing arenas and stadiums, now you're going to be playing in a lot of smaller venues. What's that like?
I've got a great little band from Austin, Texas. Austin is a great little island in the middle of Texas where music is alive and well. There's some great players around Austin, and on any given night you can go hear a good band, there's lots of places to play. So I signed up these guys from Austin, and they're really kickin' me, they're making me play. I love being able to go into smaller venues. I miss it, and I'm gonna be able to go out and do it this summer. The interaction with the audience is much better, everybody has good seat, there's a lot less variables than playing an outdoor summer gig and, in general, I think the music is better for it. It reminds me of the old days. I know how to do this really good, I think I play my best in a small venue when the bass drums are kicking me in the pants. I'm really looking forward to it, I've got a great band and some new music to play, so I'm excited.
What are your audiences like now?
The people that have been with me for the whole journey, most of 'em live in the woods, I guess. But there's a whole new generation of kids, I guess because their parents played my music when they were growin' up, but they're coming to see me for the first time, and they're kind of curious, "what is this guy?" Not "who", "what in the world is this guy, let's go see." I've got grandparents down to 10 year-old kids with their grandparents. I can really feel the new energy, and I've got to bear in mind that a little section of the audience is coming to see me for the first time. I can't look at my songs like, "oh God, I've got to play all these songs again." I've got to perform it differently with the new crowd. But it's great energy, I'm grateful for the longevity. I like to say that in my audience there's one of everything.
What's your rider like today compared to 20 years ago?
Just that the alcohol's not on it -- got rid of a couple of pages.