Words: Alex Wexelman
Over email I ask Felix Walworth what, in retrospect, is a dumb question: What do you wish your fans understood about you? Their answer was a resounding, “nothing!” It seems obvious enough. Walworth already gives so much of themselves through their lyrics in musical project Told Slant that revealing anything more would strip them bare.
Going By, Told Slant’s sophomore LP out now on Double Double Whammy, is as life affirming as it is heartbreaking; it oscillates between the highest highs and lowest lows inflicting on the listener the emotional heft of both the sender and recipient of a break-up text.
Felix brings the candor of their songwriting to their detailed answers of my questions. Read our interview below.
TGE: Going By will be your first release in four years. You've been playing a few of these songs live for several years, but did the album come together across those four years or was there a concentrated effort to put a full album together?
Felix Walworth: Going By took a very long time to put together! I’m hesitant to call it a “concentrated effort,” because for much of the writing process I wasn’t exactly sure what the record was trying to say, or what I wanted its points of return and reference to look like. Those things revealed themselves as I began recording.
TGE: Your music often touches upon personal themes, but manages to stay universal. Do you have an intended audience when you write? If so, who?
FW: I’m not sure I’d call my music universal, but I do find it useful to search for broad meaning in personal experience or small moments. I’m writing for people who have found themselves in a state of illegibility in an otherwise ordered world.
TGE: Has your songwriting process changed over the years?
FX: My songwriting process hasn’t really changed since I began writing songs. I tend to walk around thinking of different melodies and words, and wait until I find a melody and language combination that I feel works to the larger goal of what I’d like to try to explore with a song. I almost never write with any instruments present, but I’ll write out basic chords on guitar after I’ve finished all the melodies and lyrics for a song.
TGE: What mood inspires you most to write? Do you feel more motivated by happiness or sadness?
FW: I think sadness gets me more motivated to write, but often draws out sloppier, less articulate, over-specific songwriting from me. I think I’m better at using the broad brush when I’m upset, but without specificity I can’t really access secret angles that I try to access with my songwriting. I take a lot of time with my songwriting, so it’s pretty rare to find an entire song written within the context of a particular mood, and I think it can be important to give yourself time and space to approach an idea from different places.
TGE: With each member reaching a larger audience in the past few years, how has the Epoch been evolving to keep up with your budding careers? What have been the positive and negative effects of your growing profiles?
FW: The Epoch has been an experiment in mutual support, creative community, non hierarchical decision making, and skill sharing. I’m not sure it has changed much since its beginnings, but over time I’ve noticed what works and what doesn’t about an organizational structure like this. First off, I don’t really believe there is such thing as non-hierarchical structure. I believe that folks can keep non-hierarchy in mind when approaching decision making processes, but I think power always seeps into the cracks and inevitably creates disparities that always have to be called into question, discussed, worked on. Like all other non-hierarchical spaces I have occupied, The Epoch has struggled with dissensus where consensus isn’t possible. On the other hand, with all of this messiness comes a wealth of creative energy, and a level of commitment to one another’s projects that can be very rare. It’s a lot like a V of geese. We are constantly losing things, gaining things, changing shape and form, but trying to do it together.
TGE: Which artists challenge you the most to evolve as a songwriter?
FW: There is a band called Loone who I just came off of a very long tour with, who have a very different approach to songwriting than I do. Noel’le, who writes the words for the project, writes with descriptive, world-painting language that asks you to leave your grief and tiredness and join her somewhere else, in some other space where those things can be safely and lovingly unfolded. It’s music about showing up for people in a sort of shepherding sense, but instead of sheep we’re a bunch of queer freaks who are having a hard time finding each other. Seeing Loone perform each night was an experience in collective healing. I’ve been feeling totally inspired and I hope that I can do for other folks with my songwriting what Loone was able to do for me over the course of that tour.
TGE: One obvious sonic shift from Still Water is the addition of vocals from Emily, Oliver and Gabrielle. What was the motivation behind adding them to the performances?
FW: Recording this album was a pretty isolated process for the most part, and the songs themselves explore a certain kind of contextlessness. Other voices appearing on the album was a way of pushing back at detached feelings, and of trying to look to relationships for some meaning or sense of self. There is a lot of asking happening on this record. Lots of grasping, too.
TGE: You and Emily both sing about creeks often in your lyrics. What do the references to bodies of water and, creeks in particular, evoke for you?
FW: I’ll never tell you what water means to me! It has meant quite a few different things in different contexts, and I’m sure Emily’s water has a different significance than my own. Sorry for not answering this question, but I’m pretty sure you don’t want to know. Art is no fun if you can’t write your own meaning on it.
TGE: What would you say the main themes of your lyrics are?
FW: Legibility, assemblage, unclear relationship with oneself, distance, asking, becoming, unbecoming, and water.
TGE: Is writing a cathartic experience for you?
FW: Not really. Or, at least, writing doesn’t lift a weight from my chest. It is not a process of translating feelings into something useful, but rather an exercise in a sort of archiving or mapping of feelings. Or of trash fires. There is no “ah yes!” or “now I understand.” I think it’s more like “let me try to figure out what happened here, and how to revere or deconstruct this idea or this feeling.” I wonder if people think that I write songs in a fit of emotion with an acoustic guitar…Really I’m just walking around my neighborhood singing to myself like a weirdo.
TGE: Your songs have always been about very specific moments and memories. Is it ever difficult to perform them live as a result of this?
FW: It can be difficult to perform a song shortly after it’s written, but in general my words have meanings that shift and change over time. They might be about specific people and places, but in different contexts I can read them and perform them in service of other things. The songs don’t exist in a static or congealed sense just because they’re finished. Instead we grow around each other.
TGE: Who in your musical circle, Epoch members aside, do you think deserves more recognition?
FW: Hello Shark has some of the most beautiful lyrical moments I’ve ever heard from any songwriter. Lincoln, who writes for that project, has a way of accessing secret emotional places with a series of small thoughts, fragmented memories, and glances around his surroundings. His songwriting has been hugely inspirational for me.
Anna McClellan, who I toured with recently, is an amazing songwriter from Omaha, Nebraska. Lots of wisdom in her lyrics, and an almost structureless, meandering approach to arrangement. Her songwriting is really concise and direct, and her voice and piano playing are both really amazing! Gabby, Oliver, and I have called her a “sly master.”
Yowler is another project y’all should check out. Maryn put out her first record under this moniker on Double Double Whammy last year, and it’s been one of my favorite records for a while. Utterly despairing words and sounds, feelings of stuckness, freezing, sitting, lack of movement in general under the weight of something huge. I don’t think my record is anything like this, but I was listening to Maryn’s music on repeat while I was recording Going By.