Q&A: The Greyboy Allstars’ Robert Walter Talks About New Music, Improvising, and Fried Chicken

Posted on Tuesday May 17th in

Jazz-funk-soul-fusion outfit Greyboy Allstars return to Brooklyn Bowl this weekend on Friday and Saturday night. And before their arrival, keyboardist Robert Walter discussed falling into a groove, returning to New York City, and appreciating his heroes with Knockdown Alley.
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How does preparing to go on the road with Greyboy Allstars compare to preparation to tour with other projects of yours? The music is mostly improvised, so there’s not much you can do to get prepared. It all depends on the interactions from moment to moment between the players. We brush up on songs and stuff, but the good stuff happens once we are onstage.

And since Greyboys have been around for more than 20 years now, each time you guys get back together, is there a shorthand involved, like you pick up mid-conversation? Or does is still take a while to get everybody back on the same page? The band comes together incredibly easy even after long breaks. Usually by the middle of our first set we fall into a groove and it’s on from there. There are just a lot of hours between us all. It’s a very natural feeling group to play in for me.

I know Inland Emperor came out just three years ago, but is there any talk of new material? And would you road test new stuff live before recording it? We just started working on some new things. There is also some material we’ve been playing live for the last few years that never made it on a record. Sometimes it’s good to play things live before recording, but I usually prefer to track things before a bunch of habits and expectations have developed.

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West Coast Boogaloo came out in ’95 and A Town Called Earth followed two years later. When you play stuff from those albums, is it just like when you were first playing those songs in the ’90s or have they changed over the years—intentionally or otherwise? Mostly it feels the same. Some things have become more improvisational to keep them fresh. I think we are all more confident and relaxed than we used to be.

You’ve come through Brooklyn Bowl plenty of times in the past. Does anything stick out from your previous performances? It always feels like a special event to play in New York. Even after doing it a million times. Good energy there. Also the Bowl has that fried chicken.

Do you ever notice different crowd responses depending on which of your bands is performing? Like, do audiences have different responses to the Greyboy Allstars than they do to Robert Walter’s 20th Congress? Greyboy has a broader appeal than my own stuff.  There’re some vocals, so that opens up the experience to people who can’t get into listening to instrumentals all night. I also think there is a nostalgia factor for people who have been seeing the band for so many years.

Scott Metzger’s Wolf! opens your first show at Brooklyn Bowl. Can we expect a sit-in from him? Any other guests you can talk about? You never know, but GBA has never been much of a sit-in band. I love Scott and those Wolf! tunes.

And what can we expect from these shows? Just Greyboys stuff? Anything from any of the members’ other bands? The set lists are never planned on too much in advance. I prefer to respond to the vibe in the room day of show. We’ve been playing some of our older tunes that have been out of rotation for a while. We do a couple of my tunes, some covers of stuff we dig, and things from all of our albums.

There have been some big deaths in the music world this year, and I’m wondering how — or if — David Bowie and Prince might have influenced you? I’m a big fan of both of them. Artists of that caliber are obvious points of reference for most bands and musicians. Not sure I can add much that hasn’t already been said. I guess all these deaths have made me want to appreciate my heroes while they are still alive.
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