Musician Walker Lukens has always liked some of his dad’s music. Any self-respecting rock star loves the brainy albums of Warren Zevon and the funk and soul of the Stax label, but Lukens has finally come around on the section of his dad’s collection that he used to think was “cheesy and lame.”
“I never liked ZZ Top,” the Austin-based songwriter admits. “They were always a little too bro-y for me, but over the last few years, I’ve come around on what I would call ‘beer-drinking’ music.
“There are certain motifs in those ZZ Top records. There’s always a goofy song like ‘Cheap Sunglasses.’ There is always a blues cover. It’s something I came to appreciate later on that I did not like as a kid.”
Lukens melds the down-and-dirty blues section of his father’s classic rock collection with his love of electronic and hip-hop in his experimental second album, this year’s Tell It To The Judge.
The critically acclaimed record rolls confidently through some indie-rock tropes of its own. The eleven songs on the record range from thoughtful dance-pop (“Lifted”), boisterous rock and roll (“Jacket On You Shoulders”), and thoughtful, revealing ballads (“Simple Man”). Lukens’ work on this record proves to the prognosticators they were on the ball.
Behind the boards of Lukens’ latest is Jim Eno, the drummer in another little Austin band called Spoon. As the artist tells it, a friend of Lukens caught Eno using the Shazam app on his smartphone as Lukens’ music played overhead at a local bar. He sent Lukens a text encouraging him to stop by and introduce himself, so the part-time GED teacher said hello to the part-time producer.
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“It’s one of those beautiful things that can still happen in Austin,” he says, “No fancy manager got me into Jim’s room. It was literally seeing him in a bar as they played my old record on the local NPR station. I was just drunk enough to go for it.”
Working with Eno to meld seemingly disparate sounds together is a professional and creative breakthrough for Lukens. There were also some personal motivations. The singer-songwriter’s father passed away several years ago. He believes that reintroducing himself to ZZ Top helped him continue to connect with his dad.
Lukens recalls when his father was really sick. He was reading one of John Mayer's columns in Esquire, in which Mayer asked his dad to make a mixtape. It inspired Lukens to ask his dad to do the same for him and his siblings. Instead, Lukens’ dad gave them an annotated bibliography of all the music that ever meant anything to him.
According to Lukens, the list was filled with some obvious choices like Joni Mitchell and some that went over his head at the time.
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He often goes back to that list as a way to feel in-tune with his dad. Lukens’ favorite record from the bunch is an unusual and personal choice: a collection of symphonic renditions of Burt Bacharach songs his grandmother received as part of her Columbia House record club subscription.
“It is total elevator music,” he describes. “For [my father], it reminded him of being a teenager at home. It took me a long time to appreciate it, but nowadays, Burt Bacharach is one of my favorite songwriters to listen to.”
Lukens also shares Eno’s desire for a time when records were more of an art form than the singles-driven streaming marketplace we have now, but he says he is no traditionalist. When asked if he feels the need to defend his tastes to the music savvy citizens of Texas’ capital city, he laughs for a minute and says no.
“I like to say those people have a '90s hangover,” he says. “You have to ask, ‘Are you Steve Malkmus or something?’ We are living in a post-ironic age. You can like whatever you want to like. It feels so old-fashioned to think you can’t like things because they are too poppy. I think the unique part of living in Austin is listening to the roots-driven traditional stuff more than the indie rock stuff.”
Walker Lukens is scheduled to perform Sunday, November 19, at Valley Bar. Tickets are $10 to $12 and can be purchased at the venue’s website.