Doc Walker goes back to school

If the intent of their 2009 record Go was to give a glimpse at life on the road of a travelling band, with their new record, 16&1, Manitoba country hit makers Doc Walker are taking a reflective look at their lives and career accomplishments.

Don’t be fooled though. Despite the sentimental nature of many of the songs featured on their new record, the boys in Doc Walker also show they are not reliving the past in a wistful type of way.

For the making of 16&1, the band returned to its roots. The group’s new record was conceived in an old schoolhouse owned by Doc Walker vocalist Chris Thorsteinson. The sentimental nature of many of their new songs may be in large part due to the fact that Thorsteinson attended that same school in his younger days and was able to see both his property as well as that of his parents from inside the school. The sense of nostalgia was too overwhelming to ignore.

“I had bought this old schoolhouse which I had attended when I was younger. It closed approximately 10 years ago. My father and I bought it from the community but hadn’t bought it expressly for the purpose of it being a home for the band,” Chris says from his rural Manitoba home. “I was raised and currently live in a small community and buying the school was more to ensure that the building wasn’t going to be used for something that it shouldn’t be.”

As their band name grew, Chris says that Doc Walker started using the old school for storage and rehearsal purposes. But as the group conducted their rehearsals in the school, they discovered that the rooms within the school offered some great acoustics. Combine that with the fact that the band was looking to travel down a new path for making 16&1 and you’ve got a recipe for success.

“When we set out to make this record, we wanted to do something a little different that we hadn’t tried before. Instead of paying to be in a studio, we built a studio in the school and bought a bunch of vintage gear to help us make the record.”

Chris likens the experience of being in a recording studio as “watching a taxi’s meter run up” where every minute and every hour count whether the band is making music or not. By taking control and building their own studio, the group was able to focus on what really matters at the end of the day: getting the best performances and songs out of the band.

“The fact that we didn’t have to watch the clock and that we could record when we wanted to and for how long we wanted to just gave us that much more freedom. We could take our time and think of different song arrangements and whatnot as we went along,” he says.

Having such a hands-on experience while making 16&1 helped Chris and his bandmates Murray Pulver and Dave Wasyliw gain a whole new perspective on making records. Despite the fact that 16&1 is the band’s fifth record, it was the first opportunity that the trio had to really get their hands dirty.

“Being so hands-on with this album really helped us understand the backbone of the record and all that goes into the getting the right sounds for the album. I think we have gained a whole new respect for recording engineers and what they do,” Chris laughs.

Being responsible for making their own record had an added benefit upon the group. Because they were in the thick of making sure that everything they were capturing sounded great, Chris insists that it ultimately helped the band to avoid overthinking their songs.

“I was so busy putting microphones on guitar amps and dealing with pre-amps and compressors that it allowed the other guys to play a much bigger part in helping arrange the songs. We have been playing together for so long anyway that we implicitly trust each other with the fine details that make up the songs. We are absolutely all on the same page.”

Asked how he sees the future of Doc Walker unfolding from this point, Chris insists that all he and his bandmates have been after is a career with longevity. And so far, the group has been lucky in realizing those hopes. With 11 Canadian Country Music Awards to its credit, Doc Walker has consistently been one of Canada’s hardest working country acts, graciously acknowledging past success while setting their sights firmly on the future.

“A lot of people who are looking to start a career in music go to Nashville and have themselves a hit song and start playing arenas as quickly as they can. These days though, longevity is being recognized. Look at Rascal Flatts and the Zac Brown Band; they had been playing for years before they finally broke.

“Longevity is definitely not lacking in Canada, either. You’ve got artists like Dean Brody and ourselves who are absolutely in it for the long haul. It is survival of the fittest these days. Producers and managers can spot those not thinking long-term from a mile away.”

Article published in November 15, 2011 edition of the Times & Transcript