Originally from Kentucky, but calling Nashville home for the better part of fifteen years, Wheeler Walker Jr is a legend, but at the same time known to few. That, however, has been changing rapidly since the release of his profanity laced three song EP at the end of October. Walker Jr, long known as someone who refuses to get along with “the man,” simply tells it like it is; albeit with plenty of blunt language. In anticipation of Redneck Shit, his first full length album (called “the filthiest country album in history”) due in February, Walker Jr kindly took the time to talk about everything from the record, to writing, to what’s in store.
So, apparently you have been around Nashville 15+ years. Where have you been and why haven’t the majority of people heard of you until now?
It was a mix of bad luck and having a couple of major label deals fall through. I don’t play by the rules and if you have heard any of my music, you know that I don’t censor myself. A couple of labels wouldn’t put my albums out and wouldn’t let me get to the videos locked in vault.
There certainly wasn't a video or a song to be found on the internet.You didn’t even have any social media accounts until very recently.
I don’t understand computers that well, so I just signed up for the social media stuff. Apparently that was something I was supposed to be doing all along, but my manager is kind of a dumb ass and didn’t tell me. My thing though was that my music is just so powerful that I thought I would get it done without all this shit, but apparently that was not the case.
Being that you had multiple deals with various labels that all fell through, why is now the right time to put all your money into this EP and forthcoming album?
I’ve been through the ringer and that’s what kind of lead to this record. I just decided that I was going to make an album, uncensored. No one has done what I’m doing. I don’t want to call myself a revolutionary, but I just did, you know? People are dying for this, like they were with Sturgill. He didn’t say bitch and tits, but fuck it, this is what I’m singing. Once people find it, hopefully they will get it. I think it has a lot to do with….I’ll say intelligence. The album’s not for everybody and I have no problem admitting that, but I think if you’re smart and like good music - I think you’ll get it. Maybe people won’t, but if they don’t, who cares because I’m telling you now, it’s the best country record of the year. I’m calling it.
That’s a bold statement. You certainly don’t seem to have any self-esteem issues.
I’m covering up a lot of fucking insecurity and depression. It comes off like I’m a fucking badass, but deep down I know I just blew all my money on a record where you can’t even say the fucking titles on the radio much less play them.
Just because you can’t say titles on the radio doesn’t mean that you won’t eventually find an audience.
You worked on the record with some well known names. It was produced by Dave Cobb and has some of Nashville’s finest players on it, and Jared Followill [Kings of Leon] is in your recent video. Were these people you knew, you sought out, or vice versa?
I knew a lot of these people from around town. My buddy Sturgill had done some records with Dave, so he told me to check him out. I don’t think he had dollar signs in mind when he heard the language, but he was one of those guys that was like, “It’s your record, do what you want.”
I play country music, the kind that in the old days was called outlaw country because they said “damn,” but I was like “I’ll take it one step farther than that.” None of us are fucking outlaws, we aren’t on the ranch fucking shooting the enemy….we’re just playing music, but I wanted to not put a filter on it. I wanted to put out the first real country record where there was no filter between the artist and what the listener thought. There’s no way some of this shit I hear on country radio doesn’t have fifty executives, managers and publicists giving 8,000 fucking notes to make sure it’s slick enough to be on the radio. It’s just dogshit. Dave got the sound I wanted.
In addition to working with Cobb, the record is being distributed by Thirty Tigers, a label that is known for letting their artists stay true to themselves.
The record was done before I went to them. I told them that they could have it, but they couldn’t change it, and they said okay. I paid for the record myself and went broke making it. And probably will have no return on my investment.
What about going the Kickstarter route, which is a fairly popular way to make a record?
Nah, fuck that. If you want to do something that’s real you don’t ask other people to pay for it. I’ll pay for it, I mean I can’t anymore because I blew all my money on this record, but every time I see that Kickstarter shit it’s some rich kid asking me for money, and I don’t like it. I’m like “Pay for it yourself you fucking asshole.”
Maybe, but there are many who use those platforms who truly cannot afford to make a record on their own. Many work day jobs in addition to the music. How have you been getting by in Nashville? Were you playing out, writing, or did you have a day job?
I’ve been floating around Nashville. If you have the right manager, which I don’t, most of the major label deals can get you through; they kept me going. They pay you big money in advance - it’s almost like the Sex Pistols where you keep getting a bunch of deals, and all of a sudden you’re a musician making a living, but none of your music is getting out. What’s frustrating to me is that I kept getting deals when I was the cleaner version of myself, and I took them because I wanted to make music, to have that artistic release. But I realize that if I can’t get the music out, I don’t give a shit about the money.
After banging my head against the doors of Nashville for fifteen years I just got so upset…and my wife leaving me didn’t help things either. So I said fuck it I’m gonna make the album I want to make and not censor it. So I put every last cent I had into what I consider one of the great country records ever. It’s real country music so it’s not going to get played on the radio anyway, so why censor it at all, you know?
Well, mainstream might not play it, but Sirius Outlaw likes the music and have been spinning it.
I like those guys, but that was the thing, I just don’t listen to mainstream country radio so I didn’t know how bad it was. I’ve missed probably the last five years of country radio, and for that I’m thankful because I didn’t realize how shitty it’s gotten. That isn’t country music, and if radio isn’t playing real country music, then what chance do I have? I talk a little salty at times so I was like, “Why don’t I just sing how I talk?” which is how my heroes Waylon, Willie, Hank and Merle did it. Why don’t I do a record like that? So I did and it’s fucking killer.
They sang honestly, but your songs have such blatantly strong language, something people may expect in rap or pop, but not country.
Yeah, I mean I guess you’re right. I didn’t think about it that much. Hip hop has been cursing like this for years and they sing it a lot louder, but I sing it a lot clearer…..it’s like when they moved porn into HD - you can see everything a lot clearer.
I just wanted to make the songs I wanted to make. I love country music. The stuff I’m drawn to is a little more traditional, which I guess is not what people do nowadays, but I guess that’s why people are freaking out because they’ve never heard such blunt language over such traditional country. For me it wasn’t that shocking because that’s how I am at rehearsals and when I sit down to write. Maybe people are freaking out because the two don’t sound right together, but it wasn’t done as any kind of gimmick; that’s what I was feeling, that’s what I wanted to say and like I said, why censor it.
One can hear those words annunciated pretty clearly on the three tracks of the EP. Sonically, it’s very traditional with great musicianship and lyrics that can be funny, shocking and vulgar yet, and maybe it’s the combination of the melody and the delivery…..but by the end of the songs I heard a hurting or loneliness in your voice and I felt for you....and surprised myself by liking it.
I really appreciate that. “Fuck You Bitch” is a good example of that and why people have been responding to the song. It’s a sentiment that men and women can get behind; everyone has been dumped and everyone’s getting pissed. It’s not like women are bitches and men are dicks. This girl fucking dumped me and broke my heart and that’s how I felt at the time it happened. Listen, I still talk with her, she isn’t a bitch, but at that moment that’s what I felt. I have a lot of women telling me they get it too, they’ve been in the same situation.
I told an interviewer recently that someone has to do the response song like “Fuck You Dick.” It has nothing to do with crassness, but the music I am drawn to is the kind of music where they tell it like it is and the second she dumped me the easiest way to say it was “Fuck You Bitch.” Maybe someone more mainstream would calm down for a week and change the song to “That’s Not Cool,” but that’s how I felt at the time. Why not just write it down when the emotion is there? When Hank first came out, people had never heard anyone talking this real before, they never heard anyone put that much emotion, being so heartbroken, down or whatever, into a song. Look, I’m not comparing myself to Hank, but the only lesson you can learn from them is to think from the heart……and unfortunately my heart has a dirty mouth.
Maybe just a bit (laughing).
Redneck Shit, the full length album, is due in February. Did you write all of the songs and do they follow along the same lines as what we heard with the EP?
Oh yeah, you heard the clean ones. But it isn’t bad words just to say them. With my old deals, I would write songs and then change them later to the clean version, all I did with this album is I kept the first draft.
I wrote all of the songs, sang and played the guitar. The band sang harmony on one song, but I sang harmony on most because I like to sing my own harmonies. I love the sound of brothers singing together like the Lumen Brothers and the Everly Brothers, but since my brother isn’t a singer I figured I would play the part of my brother. I love when two people can harmonize together, especially when it’s coming from the same gene.
So were all of these songs new or ones that you had in the vault?
A couple were in the vault and that’s what gave me the idea to do this raw country record, but once I put it in my head and said I’m fucking going for it, the record kind of came out of me and I wrote it in about four months. We had like 30 songs, so hopefully I’ll get to do a second one. I have two hopes, one is that we make enough money to make another record and two is that we make enough money to buy a fucking house, and an island. According to my manager though, neither sounds very likely.
I watched the CMAs and thought, if that’s what they want, they ain’t getting it from me. Sorry man, errr I mean Tara, sometimes I say man when I’m talking to a woman and it makes me feel like an asshole. There were a couple of good performances, but for the most part it was just shitty song after shitty song and if that shit I saw on the CMAs is what they’re looking for, I don’t want that anyway. I just couldn’t handle it.
Country music has certainly changed to include many different personalities. It was written that you are like Borat meets Tim McGraw, so how do you want people to respond to the music and you? As a serious artist, or as someone who is funny?
The music is so emotional to me, so serious, that I want to be seen as the most honest man in country music. I want to be seen as the only guy who has the balls to tell it like it really is. This is the only album you can buy to get that so I have the market to myself. The confidence is coming back!
Are there any plans to play out?
That’s the plan. I’m no spring chicken anymore, so I’m done playing the empty clubs and sitting in that van. I need a bus. When you talk about goals, my goal is a fucking bus.
But, I am opening up for David Allen Coe December 13th at the Exit In in Nashville, and other than that, when the album comes out and if the audience is there, fuck yeah we’ll play everywhere. Somebody put a post about how I was the best of all time and all these dumb fuckers were like, “What about Hank and Willie?” Listen, I don’t think I’m better than Waylon, Willie or Hank….but damnit I’m fucking closer than you think.
No doubt, the record is sure to garner much attention.
In closing, is there anything you would like to add?
Yeah, in Billboard I said that I was going to outsell Adele’s new record….can you add “maybe?” Someone showed me her numbers and I realized that may be tough. I don’t want to give up yet, so say “maybe or I think” just so it’s not a definitive. When I see her numbers and my numbers, we’ll stack them up to one another, but I’m not as confident as I was about outselling Adele as I was three weeks ago. We got a chance though, “Fuck You Bitch” is way better than “Hello.”