“If you were in Seattle, you would have known 15 years ago what Jeff Angell was capable of,” begins Duff McKagan. “You would have seen him in Post Stardom Depression and gone, ‘Fuck, he’s killer.’ You would have thought to yourself, ‘He should be the biggest thing in the world; he should be the next Nick Cave or next Tom Waits.’ “You could have watched him get a big record deal with Interscope,” continues the bassist. “They had 200 songs and didn’t record one–and you would have seen drugs come in with the money they got. You could have seen him in a lot of phases, but he’s always had the songs.”
Those songs now have a home in the band Walking Papers, Angell’s sonorous voice and darkly captivating wordsmithing powerfully supported and augmented by McKagan, drummer Barrett Martin (Screaming Trees, Mad Season) and keyboardist Benjamin Anderson (The Missionary Position; which also featured Angell). Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready plays on the self-titled album; musician/producer Jack Endino (Skin Yard, Mudhoney) mixed the record.
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For McKagan, who spent 12 years in Guns N’ Roses, but boasts a punk soul and has numerous diverse bands to his credit (Loaded, 10 Minute Warning, Neurotic Outsiders), joining Walking Papers is a dream finally realized. “I loved Jeff’s voice, and when VR [Velvet Revolver] was starting in 2003 he was one of the first guys I thought of,” McKagan recalls. “He played with us, jammed, but I think it threw Slash a little for a loop with the baritone voice.”
Cut to a decade later, where Angell’s leading a lineup much more suited to his Bukowski-like poetic lyrics, swampy-spare blues-rock stylings and resonant vocals. “I’ve always wanted to do something with Jeff and Barrett,” McKagan says. “Barrett and I jammed in the ’90s, and we were like ‘Someday, dude…’ Here it all came together–Jeff and Barrett.”
Angell’s songs are dusky aural vignettes redolent of a life not always spent in the light. While “Leave Me in the Dark” has a U2 commercial-cool vibe, the other 10 tunes are more akin to the soundtrack of a Southern Gothic novel. Stunners include “The Butcher,” a spare, beautiful piano-based dirge, whose lyrical refrain, “Just when things can’t get no worse / That’s when they do, baby” is matched by melancholy musicality, while “Two Tickets and a Room” is the aural answer to “Leaving Las Vegas.”
While Walking Papers isn’t a “noisy” album, live, notes McKagan, the band’s cinematic sounds are “dirtier in all the right places.” While ubiquitous bass player–a journalist, father, musician, and businessman–has a full plate, Walking Papers occupies a key role in his life, and the band already have enough strong material for album number two, where McKagan looks forward to “giving Jeff a safe place to express himself even further. I think that’s my part in this, going forward,” he concludes. “It’s a bunch of smart guys, and it’s really an honor to play with somebody whose words flow out like his. This band is a very real thing I believe in.”
Walking Papers play August 17 at PNC Bank Arts Center, Holmdel, New Jersey, and August 18 at Nikon at Jones Beach, Wantagh, NY