Feature: Halifax’s Walrus Continue to Evolve on New Record ‘Cool to Who’

Walrus © 2019
Walrus © 2019
Walrus’ Cool To Who sees them replace warbling guitars and screaming wah-pedals with an interesting combination of Oasis, Beach Boys and The Eagles — a medley that suits them well. 
Stream: ‘Cool to Who’ – Walrus

Settling into his coffee shop chair after a busy day of wedding planning, Jordan Murphy — drummer of Halifax’s next big band, Walrus — talks excitedly about the future: “We leave next week [on tour], pretty much until the wedding.”

While their sophomore record, Cool To Who — which came out five days after their wedding and eight days before their hometown release show at Halifax Pop Explosion — enchants fans and redefines the Walrus sound, it’s clear it’s not only Murphy who is evolving.

For a band that has never stayed still long, it can be of little surprise.

Cool to Who - Walrus
Cool to Who – Walrus

Growing up in small-town Truro, Nova Scotia—an hour outside of Halifax—Jordan and his brother Justin started early, mimicking two other musical brothers: “I started taking guitar lessons and not long after that Justin started taking drum lessons. It was the classic Van Halen thing where Eddie was the drummer and Alex played guitar and they switched—we did the same thing.”

The Murphys looked to other Truro rockers Wintersleep — only a few years older but already making great records—for inspiration:  “When I was in high school, Loel [Campbell] from Wintersleep was a big influence on me. I loved his drumming. Still do. He’s an amazing drummer so it really stuck out to get to see someone like that live. Playing a rec-centre and you’d go see shows and you’re standing right next to him watching him play, you don’t really get that chance with a lot of your favourite drummers.”

Starting as an electronic duo and morphing through various forms, Walrus settled into a steady beat by the release of their first EP, 2014’s Glam Returns. There’s a natural chemistry even in those early recordings: “The four of us are super old friends and we’ve always hung out. I know it sounds silly but it seems like we’re all brothers at this point.”

Cool To Who feels like a huge step towards finding out who Walrus are: Not four kids in the big city anymore, the music reflects this hard-earned maturity. “A few years have passed between the two albums and that makes a big difference,” Murphy says. “Sound-wise, the songs are different. We’d toured the songs quite a bit by the time we recorded and there’s some different people on this record too. That changes the sound as well. It still sounds like us, but not as many long, drawn-out psychedelic jams—that stuff is still in there but it just is all tightened up.”

The psych-rock tag that hung ‘round the band’s necks can probably be retired now; its impact mostly materializes as dream-pop or short instrumentals you lose yourself in, rather than any drawn-out, Grateful Dead ode. As the band continues to grow, Murphy seems fine losing the psych mark: “ We started in 2012 and Family Hangover came out in 2017, so there was five years’ worth of psychedelic stuff hanging around there. Family Hangover was recorded at least two years before it was released, so it started out pretty psychedelic and by the time it came out we weren’t as into the the super heavy psych stuff.”

What has replaced all those warbling guitars and screaming wah-pedals is an interesting combination of Oasis, Beach Boys and The Eagles —an intriguing medley that never really holds in one spot for long.

While Murphy struggles to pinpoint one specific influence, he points to certain tracks that evoke favourite artists: “Sometimes we’re just trying to sound like Oasis. That was the only way to do ‘Mr. Insecure’, because we wanted it so badly to sound like our version of Britpop. And “Out For A While” is definitely a Beatles-y-vibe song; everything else on the record is a little more blurry but those two will stand out to people.”

Recorded in two whirlwind days at the legendary Old Confidence Lodge—birthplace of Canadian classics such as Matt Mays’ Coyote and Shotgun Jimmie’s Transistor Sister—the record’s short, sharp, urgent tone shines through the mid-tempo rock. “We recorded all night then got up super early and started recording as soon as we got up. We’d take shifts and just do our thing.”

While the psych-rock suited them during their days of ponchos, bongos and beards, Cool To Who feels like an evolution towards the real Walrus sound—whatever that is.  “I don’t really know. It’s a good question we’ve never been able to answer. Like on this album [Cool To Who], there’s so many different sounding things on there.” Murphy pauses, trying to sum up seven years of constant evolution. “Justin’s voice is a huge part of it, and just the four of us individually bringing our own stuff. At this point we’re not necessarily trying to make it sound like anything more than it is. It’s poppy, maybe a little psychy—I would say we all enjoy older music. That’s a big part of the sound. That’s a bad answer, but it’s all I’ve got.”

Walrus © 2019
Walrus © 2019

With this new sound under their belt, it’s time for Walrus to return to what they do best: Being one of Canada’s hardest touring bands.

Banned from Avis for being a “high kilometer risk”, you can’t accuse the east-coast rockers of taking it easy. From the good (nights out with NHLers, seeing the world and of course playing great shows) to the very bad (being arrested at the border due to mistaken identity, being broken into in San Francisco, and countless van meltdowns) the band wouldn’t have it any other way: “If you’re broke and sleeping on the floors, that’s not for everybody, but at the end of the day you get to travel and hang with your friends all day and then at the end of the night you get to go and play a fun show for new people.”

Only two albums in, the future is wide open for Walrus – with Cool To Who creating the opportunity to evolve in any direction they want. “You always feel like that’s the goal, just try to be the band that you actually are.”

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:: stream/purchase Cool to Who here ::

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Cool to Who - Walrus

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Cool to Who

an album by Walrus

Written By
More from Oliver Crook