Ventura, CA’s Walter Etc. was formed in 2009 by childhood friends Dustin Hayes, Kris Schobert and Jake Lee, though at first the band was at called Walter Mitty And His Makeshift Orchestra. Named after the fictional character created by James Thurber—popularized by Ben Stiller in 2013’s The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty—Hayes has always channeled his thoughts and emotions through that character, rather than write about himself directly.
“I really related to the character of Walter Mitty,” says Hayes. “He’s known for daydreaming too much and being lost in his head, which has been accurate to the Walter in my songs. But really it's all just a cover up because back in those days we were still on family computers and I didn’t want anybody to see songs by Dustin Hayes on iTunes.”
The band released a number of EPs and albums before going on something of a hiatus in 2015. But the creative itch was something Hayes couldn’t stop scratching, and in 2016 he reformed the band as Walter Etc., the idea being to allow members to come and go as they please, weaving in and out of records as life and schedules allowed. Now, though, Walter Etc. have returned with When The Band Breaks Up Again, a new album made by the original three members with a very telling title.
“The three of us got into music together via Green Day and more ‘90s pop-punk and skate punk stuff,” explains Hayes. “Since we were in grade school, the band has been forming and then going separate ways for college and jobs, but we’ve never technically broken up—we’ve just always had these periods where we’re pretty inactive. It’s also gone through a lot of different genres, but this one’s straight pop-punk. So just as the genre of the album is an homage to the old stuff we grew up on, the album title is an homage to the same three guys who’ve known each other since kindergarten returning to our roots by recording this album.”
That’s not to say Walter Etc. have regressed completely. While these ten frantic, hyperactive songs bristle with youthful energy, they’re also an expression of their current mindset about being in a band in 2023. After all, it feels like the world as we know it is racing towards its end, so why bother making music? This record—produced by Hop Along/Algernon Cadwallader’s Joe Reinhart—is an attempt to reconcile those two opposing forces—the frivolous and joyful in the face of existential despair.
It often feels stupid to pursue a personal goal or a dream in the face of much bigger existential crises,” says Hayes, “especially literal crises with the planet, or much more bigger problems than any one individual person’s life. So a lot of the album is trying to craft your own meaning or morality in a world that feels like it’s like falling apart—like finding reasons why it’s okay to get the band back together again. Basically creating meaning in your own life when it feels stupid, and asking the question ‘How do you build a life when it feels like everything's falling apart all the time?’”
Ultimately, the album is its own answer to that question. It’s a stunningly executed commentary on finding the meaning in life, even if it’s diametrically opposed to what the majority think that is. These three old friends wouldn’t have it any other way.
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