Walker Lukens is a vocal juggernaut whose soulful tenor helms an old-school rock ’n’ roll band influenced by a range of musical styles.
Lukens, a Houston-born Austin resident, and his band The Side Arms have started making waves in the indie-pop world by mixing inspiration from soul, gospel and R&B with an alt-rock attitude and edgier tendencies.
The starting point for Lukens’ music is his voice. Throughout his discography — one studio album, two EPs and two singles — a variety of vocal counterpoints build the foundation of a lot of his tracks. Lukens starts by looping his voice through a loop station and harmonizing with himself. The Side Arms help build the rest of the song around his vocal parts.
“I love a lot of that old blues and ’60s sort of R&B stuff,” Lukens said. “It’s great vocal harmonies. When you’re working a repetitive loop, that’s sort of where it goes with the band. It’s sort of taking these things and finding a groove within that.
“Like that song ‘Every Night,’ that’s a bunch of my vocals being looped. It’s sort of like a doo-wop group in a machine and the band putting a little bit more of a modern groove on that doo-woppy thing.
“On ‘Jacket on Your Shoulders,’ that thing that starts the song is my voice. For that one in particular, I was listening to a lot of Howlin’ Wolf, that Chicago blues. Not that boring 12-bar white boy blues, but those crazy grooves. I love the drum part that Zach [Catanzaro] came up with on that. In another context, it could just be a blues song. I think we kind of turned it into a rock song, but it could just be a blues groove.”
After a chance encounter in an Austin bar with Jim Eno, drummer for the infamous indie rock band Spoon, Lukens headed into Eno’s Austin studio, Public Hi-Fi, to record a host of new music. Starting with the 2015 single “Every Night,” a streaming success, Lukens released the EP “Never Understood” last year. His third collaboration with Eno, an EP titled “Ain’t Got A Reason,” is set to release in early April.
Having a revered rock star who is not only well known as a musician, but also has equal notoriety as a producer and engineer, has helped guide Lukens over the past few years. “Devoted,” his only full studio album, had an indie-rock edge and varied in feeling from start to finish. Eno’s guidance has pushed Lukens to explore a region of indie-pop that still echoes those rock roots, but is more honed.
“Well, Jim, for one, is an amazing engineer,” Lukens said “He has amazing ears when it comes to getting tones and stuff and taking something like a basic guitar part and finding a way to change the sound and make it more interesting.
“Another thing, as a producer, he’s been really good on choosing the songs. There are a lot more songs than the ones we recorded. He’s been really good at choosing the ones that he sees work together. That’s been really big. That’s helped influence the music we’re putting out.”
Paying close attention to how music is consumed in the modern market, Lukens has taken a different approach to releasing material. Instead of dropping all his recorded tracks at once, say in a double album, or back-to-back lone studio albums, Lukens is piecemealing it out over time in EPs, but he won’t be waiting too long.
“We definitely have a lot of material,” Lukens said. “It’s a weird thing when you sit on songs for a long time. Because then there’s more and more pressure to find the best way to release them.
“I think for a band at our level, it’s almost better to take it slow with that stuff. If you make pop music like we do — not Britney Spears pop — you can kind of burn through your tracks a little bit. If you just put out a record, the way things are working right now and how people’s attention spans are, it’s almost better to wait a little bit. Put out less stuff more frequently.”
No stranger to Savannah — Lukens and The Side Arms once played Live Wire Music Hall — the group is excited to return and to be playing Stopover. For their Friday night show at El-Rocko, they’ll be playing a setlist that is little bit of “Devoted” and the new EPs, as well as half a set worth of unreleased material.
“We’re going to put out a lot more music this year,” Lukens said. “We’re definitely playing a lot of new stuff. There are a lot of cool bands on the bill. We’ve only been to Savannah once, but we liked it.”
Midnight March 10
El-Rocko Lounge, 117 Whitaker St.