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Walter Ehresman

Walter Ehresman Bio


Called "the quintessential Austin DIY artist" by local famed disc jockey Charlie Martin, Walter Ehresman has been a consistent, eccentric presence in the Austin, Texas music scene since the 1980s. A prolific songwriter and recording artist, he is equally at home presenting a delicate acoustic ballad in an intimate live setting as he is busting out screaming lead guitar with a full rock band on a roaring stage. However, he’s just as likely to be holed up in his Snipe Bog Studio, surrounded by odd gear and recording strange, unclassifiable experimental music at 4am with a big grin on his face. The consistent factor is a restless musical spirit, always looking for something new, and a strong commitment to sophisticated and fearlessly honest lyric-writing.

2017 marks 30 years of recording his songs for release out into the world and, to celebrate this milestone, Walter Ehresman is releasing a series of "Best of......" compilations throughout the year, organized by style and mood. They will draw from the over 200 songs he has written and released, across 16 solo and four band albums, between 1987 and 2017.

As those of you familiar with his prodigious output know, Ehresman tends to jump genres on pretty much every song on any given release. As he said in February of 2017, "This is because I take the musical inspiration as it comes, and also have just never wanted to release an entire album of songs all in the same genre, with the exception of 2007’s experimental dark ambient album “The A.D.G. Project” (www.cdbaby.com/cd/ehresman6, written for use with a large art installation at Burning Man that year).......Like many musicians, I rarely think of genre at all when I write and record.....I just pursue the idea wherever it leads, and in the end it 'is what it is,' as they say.

"I never have a good answer when asked by people: “Oh, you’re a songwriter…..what kind of songs do you write?”. Some songs are in recognizable styles, and some I frankly don’t what genre you’d put them in. But given all that, I think all my songs can be sorted out into a few general categories that have as much to do with mood as with a recognizable genre."

Eight compilations are planned, with the first one (Feb. 2017) covering the singer/songwriter type of material that Ehresman has included in his releases from Day One, and the second one (March 2017) covering the world music-influenced material.. As with most of his songs, Ehresman largely handles all the vocals and instruments himself, but some very talented Austin, Texas players and singers appear from time to time to sweeten the pot.

The close of 2016 sees Ehresman releasing his 16th solo album, “Pinches Topes,” which was written and recorded entirely in Mexico. “This is a very special album for me, “he say, “ because it reflects my experience of moving to a new country where I didn’t speak the language and didn’t know a soul…..It’s all about trying to fit in, be a good guest in my new country, and finding my social niche in this small town in Central Mexico.” Ehresman’s permanent move to San Miguel de Allende in early 2015 is reflective of the willingness to try radically new things that has been evident is his music from the very beginning.

Born in Houston, but raised in San Antonio, Texas, Ehresman was heavily influenced by the latter-city’s wildly eclectic, shambolic radio station of the late 70s--KISS FM. At the time, rumor had it that the station was owned by a rich elderly oilman who only held onto it for tax write-off purposes. This seemed to explain the freedom the disc jockeys were given to play absolutely whatever they wanted, as well as those somewhat frequent stretches when a record would skip for about 20 minutes before the DJ would come back from whatever he was doing out in the alley behind the station. Listening to KISS radio was a window on a whole universe of music that Ehresman had never heard before…..BB King would segue into Johnny Winter into Captain Beyond into Aphrodite’s Child into Nektar into Bebop Deluxe into Frank Marino and Mahogany Rush into Black Sabbath into Yes into King Crimson into Mahavishnu Orchestra into Bob Dylan into Lightin’ Hopkins into Muddy Waters into Fairport Convention. You just never knew what would be played next, but it was almost always good. And Ehresman soaked it up like a sponge. Teaching himself to play electric guitar (his father’s wretched Gretsch Astro-Jet) by playing along to Cream records, Ehresman experimented with home recording on his father’s reel-to-reel, thus sparking a life-long fascination with recording technology that continues to this day.

Ehresman moved to Austin in 1980 to attend the University of Texas. Focusing more on his guitar playing than songwriting initially, Ehresman founded several rowdy Texas guitar bands in the ‘80s, including Dirty Dog, Biological Emergency, Loper, and Swine Patrol, and played with The Spanks (which also counted Austin mainstay Kurtis Machler as a member, along with the infamous Bob Schneider) and Brainiac (precursor to Joe Rockhead). During those early years, however, he always had separate solo recording projects ongoing that focused on his acoustic playing (mainly 12-string guitar) and his more contemplative and/or experimental songs. A life-long admirer of Todd Rundgren and his one-man-band approach, Ehresman slowly but surely amassed the gear for a home studio and taught himself the engineer and producer roles. His first solo release, "Honor in the Swine?", compiles these ‘80s recordings. Despite the somewhat primitive nature of his recording gear at the time, the album has a charm derived from its wild, eclectic diversity and its tongue-in-cheek sense of humor. Ehresman’s penchant for stinging social observations, tempered with a bawdy streak, were evident from the beginning. Mandolin and MIDI guitar made early appearances on this first release, along with 12-and-6 string guitars, electronic percussion pads, and keyboards.

Honing this approach through the early ‘90s, Ehresman progressed by leaps and bounds as a songwriter, while also constantly striving to improve his playing and recording skills in the studio. New solo albums followed in 1990 (“In the Path of the Cat Chasers”) and 1991 (“Split Brain Theory”), featuring the first of several covers drawn by noted graphic artist (and USA Today Weekend Magazine Creative Director) Casey Shaw. Rapidly expanding as a multi-instrumentalist, Ehresman would come to use not only various acoustic and electric guitars and (fretted and fretless) basses on his solo albums, but also keyboards, electronic and acoustic percussion, mandolin, 6-string banjo, saz, (acoustic and electric) bouzoukis, (acoustic and electric) oud, theremin, mandocello, electric mandola, Persian setar, Uzbeki rawap, electric sitar, and other obscure world music instruments. The sound of the early solo recordings showed a wide palette of influences, although Bob Dylan and Pink Floyd are particularly evident influences in those very early days. Political/social commentary was (and remains) a common lyrical theme. "My life-long obsession has been trying to figure out why people do what they do," Ehresman stated recently. "Politics seems to be just another manifestation of human psychology, and that's the subject that drives much of my songwriting."

1996 saw the release of "The Blue Shoat Special!", which contained both new and older unreleased tracks and marked Ehresman's first tentative steps into the world of digital recording. The following year saw the release of the spoken word EP "The Rants", which contained two long tracks that would see subsequent release as bonus tracks on 1999's full-length "Handwedge From the Trap." That latter album got its title from an infamous method of cheating at golf, and features another wonderful cover from Casey Shaw. "Only Casey would be so unflappable as to take in stride instructions to draw a group of pigs playing golf, with one of them using a specific cheating method from a deep sand trap next to the green, the other swine standing around up on the green with no clue as to the devious goings-on below them," Ehresman remembers fondly. "I love that cover!".

Later in the ‘90s, Ehresman formed the band Snipe Hunt, which went through several incarnations before settling into a four-piece line-up which gigged extensively around Central Texas and which released two CDs: "We'll Be Right Back!" (‘98) and "Dirty Ditties and Cover Tunes" (‘00). Ehresman chose the name because "it was a perfect metaphor for the many wild goose chases that the public seems so intent on blindly following as they're dangled out there by the powers that be." Check out the logo on the first album, with a nervous snipe smoking and drinking at the bar, as seen through a rifle scope.

By the turn of the century, Snipe Hunt had turned to a duo of Ehresman and rhythm guitarist/vocalist Vic Ramirez, who together released the wonderful "I Saw the Future (But the Damn Train Hit me Just the Same)" in 2002. This version of the band had a bit of a split personality. In the studio, the songs took on a life of their own, with no thought given to being able to reproduce them live. Ehresman played most of the instruments, and shared vocal duties with Ramirez. Live, the duo did more acoustic renditions of the Snipe Hunt catalogue, as well as songs from Ehresman's many solo albums.

All during these years, Ehresman continued to record and release solo albums, with the quality of the playing, songwriting and recording improving steadily as a sign of his restless creativity and desire for producing music that would stand the test of time. 2001 saw the release of the all-digital "Le Cafard." Ehresman calls this his "divorce" album, and songs of frustration and loss are interspersed with compositions inspired by Ehresman's deep involvement in the annual Burning Man Festival in northwest Nevada. The album’s last track ("Soul Called Desolation") also featured the pedal steel playing of the late Jon Bessent, beloved mainstay of the Austin music community and the superlative repairman that kept Ehresman's (and countless others') gear working for decades.

2003 saw the release of the solo album "The Feral Rugby Team Must GO!," with the strongest one-two punch of opening tracks yet. "I really feel like the production on the song 'Jesus, That Blimp is Following Me!' is the best I've ever done," Ehresman recalls now. "It's one of the very few--if not the only--instances of a song where I wouldn't change a thing about the playing, singing or mix." This track is followed impressively by "That's a Fleshy Reality," which Ehresman jokes is his "attempt to do a Steely Dan-type of thing without the jazz chops, knowledge of theory, or dynamite background singers." The hilarious album cover is by his old bandmate from the mid-80s, Derrick Caballero, with Ehresman himself providing the color. It depicts a rugby team infestation under a couch being dealt with by a hand reaching under to spray with “Rug-be-Gone” insecticide.

Snipe Hunt broke up in 2003 when Ehresman temporarily moved to San Francisco with intentions to marry a girl he'd met at Burning Man the year before. Things didn't work out and, tail between his legs, Ehresman moved back to Austin in 2004. The time away had not been a total loss, however, because most of the tracks for the solo album "No Unifying Theme" were recorded on the West Coast, with the CD being released in 2004. Focusing for a time on his solo work, Ehresman performed solo at local art exhibits, The Maker Faire, coffee houses, down by the docks (as Bill Hicks would say), etc....in short, wherever his particular brand of weirdness might be appreciated. He also performed live ambient exotic soundscapes, featuring electric oud, sitar, and bouzouki run through multiple delay and reverb units, at Austin's "artier" venues, often to bewildered onlookers uncertain how to take this strange person playing these strange instruments (with battery-operated lights attached to them and him) and creating a dark, wild music.

In the summer of 2007, Ehresman was asked to join the venerable Austin punk/hard rock band Los Platos as lead guitarist. Held together by his long-time friend Kurtis Machler, who also owned Austin’s award-winning Million Dollar Sound studio and Monkey Boy Records, the band featured the famous, enigmatic LA punk diva, Texacala Jones (of 1980's Tex and the Horseheads fame) on lead vocals. Although a musical deviation for Ehresman, his ability to peel out heavy rock guitar licks and walls of sound made the pairing work, and the band gigged around Austin and went on a brief, chaotic tour of the American West in February of 2008 (avoiding arrest on three separate occasions, but just barely....see pics at: www.myspace.com/los_platos).

Soon after, Ehresman was contacted by Vic Ramirez, from the Snipe Hunt days, who had a new rhythm section and was looking to start an uptempo rock and roll band. Feeling somewhat frustrated with not being able to perform his own songs, Ehresman left Los Platos in the Spring of 2008 and joined Ramirez in a new group that worked under the name Delphi Rising. Ehresman suggested the name to reflect the fact that the US was the only country in the Western world where reason was on the decline and superstition (belief in angels, disbelieve in evolution, rise of fundamentalist christianity, etc.) was on the increase. Recorded at Million Dollar Sound and produced by Kurtis Machler, with Ehresman, the group’s only album “For Granted” was released in January of 2010. The album has a diverse, driving sound: from punk-influenced hit-and-runs to hard rock guitar workouts; from British-sounding pop circa 1966 to a Steely Dan-ish piano and horn song about love in a post-apocalyptic globally-warmed world; from blues to a Dylanesque western ballad. All four band member contribute songwriting and vocals. Ehresman played lead guitar and keyboard (and bass on two songs). The band eventually broke up due to bass player problems (a perpetual situation in a town like Austin with a chronic shortage of bass players).

Still, Ehresman's solo albums kept coming, with two releases in 2007--"March, Scream or Cry", and the dark ambient "The A.D.G. Project", the latter composed and recorded for a major art installation at Burning Man that year (The Ambient Dream Garden)--and a new album to start 2009, "Monkey Paw Situation.” The songwriting and production continued to progress to new levels of sophistication, while the music continued to explore new genres and combinations of styles.

Ehresman performed live at the Burning Man Festival's Center Camp Cafe several times over the years, performed DJ sets at major theme camps on the playa, and recorded the theme song for the venerable Lost Penguin Cafe theme camp (ie. "Benny, the Well-Hung Penguin"). His world music and experimental music shows on Radio Electra, the main pirate radio station at the festival, exposed thousands of people each year to rare music culled by Ehresman from all over the world as part of his avid collecting. Between 1999-2007, each year also found Ehresman bringing his own art installations and events to the desert, and he composed, recorded and donated several original pieces for use with large-scale art installations by other art teams from around the country.

November 2010 saw the release of Ehresman's 13th solo album, "Well.....Let's Look at Your Track Record, Shall We?". The cover photo featured Ehresman as the Devil, sitting behind a heavy oak desk holding the file of the new arrival. Overall, this is Ehresman’s most accessible album to date. The CD contains a typically wide variety of styles. Electric piano-based numbers, sometimes with extensive horn parts, make a prominent appearance and demonstrate Ehresman's affinity for Steely Dan. Subtle electronica grooves underlie some of the tracks and provide a sleek modern undercurrent. Vocal harmonies are stacked, and in some cases key-controlled from a Roland vocal processing keyboard, like never before. British ex-pat and Austin resident Nigel Jacobs contributes a fine 5-string violin solo in the style of Dave Swarbrick to the tearjerker "Flood the Empty Quarter." This album marks Ehresman’s first full-foray into writing love songs with lyrics, and they are a long way from the triteness he feared which kept him largely away from writing such lyrics in the past. Heartfelt, and somehow timeless, the love songs have a sad poignancy given that the girl he wrote them for abruptly left him in the middle of the recording sessions for the album. Songs written after that break-up have a very different tone--some heart-wrenching ("Flood the Empty Quarter"), and some juxtaposing the sad lyrics with uptempo rock and roll (the vintage Stones-sounding "Knocked to My Hands & Knees"). There's also a song written in memoriam to Jon Bessent, recorded the night Ehresman heard about his passing. He remembers now, "Jon's benediction whenever you left his shop was 'may the tone be with you,' so I called this song 'May the Tone Be With You, Jon.' He had a joyous personality and a heart the size of a truck. He left us far, far too soon. He was really one of the good guys." The song features mandolins, bouzoukis, and mandola along with tasteful piano accompaniment. Overall, the entire album has a hint of the melancholy to it, despite the presence of such a purposely light romp as the opening number "Summer Calls the Shots", which recalls the heady teenage excitement of beaches and girls and summer vacations without adult supervision, and which constitutes Ehresman‘s first attempt at a summer pop anthem.

From July 2010 to February 2011, Ehresman played lead guitar and talking drum in the 11-piece West African ensemble Aciable, led by Jean-Claude Lessou from the Ivory Coast. The band gigged heavily during that time, including a show on a paddleboat steamer and later a spot at the Fela Kuti tribute concert at Red 7 in Austin. But the inherent difficulties in keeping a band of that size together, along with his desire to be performing his own material, caused Ehresman to leave that band and focus back on his solo material. Ehresman’s 14th solo album, “Life Outside the Tent,” was released in June of 2012. A more consistently electric guitar-centered album than any of his previous solo outings, the album featured a wide pallet of material, from Ehresman’s first foray into ska to an Irish pub rocker written as a rallying cry for working people to rise up against the parasitic corporations and the rich men who sit atop them.

Around this time time, Ehresman completed a remix of the cover version he recorded with Los Platos of Brian Eno's "Baby's On Fire" (posted on the Los Platos MySpace page). And if you’ve seen the 2012 edition of the venerable musician’s trade publication The Indie Bible, you’ll see Ehresman on the cover montage.

In the midst of preparations to relocate to Mexico in early 2015, Walter Ehresman released his 15th solo album, "Blue-Eyed Devils," as a parting commentary on life in the US during troubled times. Like all his solo albums, "Blue-Eyed Devils" features Ehresman largely in his one-man band mode, with just a few guest spots scattered throughout the album.

The title track has a latter-day industrial Bowie vibe, with lyrics shining a piercing light on the cultural devastation overseas when US foreign policy is used as a mere vehicle to further the interests of giant corporations. The music illustrates the theme by alternating a myriad of world music instrumental vignettes with pulverizing electric guitar. Aside from some some of the wildest guitar yet heard from him, Ehresman shows tremendous versatility on instruments from all over the world.......from Middle Eastern oud to Turkish saz to Uzbecki rawap. The didgeridoo, tabla, and Tibetan singing bowl parts also work really well to create a musical reflection of the lyrics. Austinite Nigel Jacobs guests for small segments of throat-singing. "A Big Day for the Lizards" is a song Ehresman says was written way back in '89 while watching George Bush Sr. get inaugurated, but which wasn't recorded until fished out of a lyric box in 2013. The song has the quirky art-rock danceability of the augmented touring version (with Adrian Belew, Bernie Worrell, etc.) of The Talking Heads. Both these first two songs show Ehresman really expanding his electric guitar palette into new and exciting directions.

The track “Now What?” is an unexpected piece of sublime, melancholy mountain music, full of acoustic guitars, mandolins and fiddles and featuring a lovely duet with special guest Katie Shepherd. Lyrically, the song is a world-weary lament that ponders the very timely dilemma of how to be happy in one's life while keeping engaged with all the problems of the world. The plaintive, wistful vocals cry "I just want to be happy/but I don't want to be blind/it's so hard to dance forward/with this weigh on my mind." This is authentic roots music, with songwriting that's startling to come from the same pen as the aggressive title track.

The next track, "10 Cent Patriots," is a solo vocal/acoustic guitar number with no overdubs (except for a brief acoustic guitar solo), which is a sparse rarity in the lengthy Ehresman discography. To hear him tell it, "I had this title around for over a decade, and was paralyzed by choice in terms of coming up with suitable lyrics.....Finally, just this year, I sat down with it, found a handle into the subject matter by creating small character studies, and at that point the whole thing came together in about 15 minutes." This is a protest song in the classic tradition, alternating scathing social commentary with thumbnail sketches of rage-filled Tea Party fathers who protest abortion rights while terrorizing their own kids at home, and of subjugated housewives who meekly walk behind their husbands (as preached by insidious "Promiskeeper" Christian ideology) as they blindly support the forces that put them there while their innate human potential slowly leaks away.

"Reduction" is really an acoustic guitar suite, with multiple discrete parts and recurring themes. Bowed bass, cello and string section parts interweave throughout, with a stunning, soaring middle section where the strings surge and a sublime eBow guitar solo brings out the chicken skin. Archtop jazz guitar solos bookend this middle passage. Full of emotion and melancholy, this is really one of the most effective pieces Ehresman has ever recorded (check out the beautiful video for the song on YouTube). Largely instrumental, the brief lyrics sing of those very sad moments when you realize that a long-term friendship has somehow ended without you even realizing the exact moment it happened.

In some ways, the lyrics and music on the album display a winding up of themes that have dominated Ehresman compositions throughout the decades of his prolific career. As he stated late in 2014, "As I leave the United States behind and move permanently to Mexico, I see myself writing a different kind of music down there......I'm going to stop reading and talking about politics, and focus more on the matters between people in inter-personal relationships....I've written enough protest songs about the corruption in the world's systems, and I've really pretty much said what I have to say on that.....but I know that there are boundless songs to be written about people and how they relate to each other , and I look forward to soaking in my new surroundings and then processing them into new music......music that I can't wait to share with everyone."

Which brings us to his new album (and first to be written and recorded in Mexico), “Pinches Topes.” Firstly, an explanation is in order for those who don’t speak Spanish: “Topes are these unfortunate speed bumps that are all over Mexico, including on some highways……They are not uniform in size or steepness, and are sometimes evidently built by little towns who have auto repair shops right next to the topes (these seem to be the most brutal topes of all, construction-wise…..)……So I thought cursing topes in the title to my new album would represent something that everyone here in San Miguel—Mexicans and ex-pats alike—could get behind,” Ehresman laughs.

The music ranges from anti-Trump reggae to surf-ska to electro-pop to a Tom Waits-like blues stomp to idyllic acoustic guitar/sitar interlude to romantic Argentinian downtempo to post-rock piano ballads to spoken word electro-mariachi to ambient remix to a classical cantata en español. The album has a novel's sense of chapters unfolding, and was put together to create the feeling of a journey the listener is taking with the artist.


Always looking ahead for new creative avenues, and seeking to hone his musical skills, Ehresman seems to have a bottomless well of inspiration and material to challenge listeners. His political satire, biting social critiques, deeply-emotional songwriting, and abiding sense of humor make for a fascinating journey each time one of his albums is cued up.


--Favorite quote about songwriting: “There are a lot of lighter thoughts or loving thoughts that are very sincere as well. They for me are just harder to write. Not because I don’t feel those things. It’s just very hard to write a love song that is happy without sounding like you fart rainbows.”—Nicole Atkins, on her songwriting.


Discography
--solo albums: "Honor in the Swine?" ('89); "In the Path of the Cat Chasers" ('90); "Split Brain Theory" ('91); "The Blue Shoat Special" ('96); the spoken-word "The Rants" ('97); "Handwedge from the Trap" ('99); “Le Cafard“ (’01); "The Feral Rugby Team Must GO!" ('03); "No Unifying Theme" ('04); "March, Scream or Cry" ('07); "The ADG Project" ('07); "Monkey Paw Situation" ('09); “Well…..Let‘s Look at Your Track Record, Shall We?” (’10); “Life Outside the Tent“ (’12); “Blue-Eyed Devils” (’14); “Pinches Topes” (’16); “The Best of…….Singer/Songwriter” (’17); and “The Best of…..World Music” (’17).

--with Snipe Hunt: "We'll Be Right Back!" ('99); "Dirty Ditties and Cover Tunes" ('00); and "I Saw the Future (But the Damn Train Hit Me Just the Same)" ('02).

--with Los Platos: “Oh, No” EP (’08).

--with Delphi Rising: “For Granted” (‘10)

--compilations (various artists):
(with Swine Patrol) “The Austin Cassette Compendium” (‘86)
(solo) "Monkey Boy Sampler" ('01, '05); and "Several Famous Orchestras" ('03).



www.cdbaby.com/all/snipe
https://walterehresman.bandcamp.com/
www.reverbnation.com/walterehresman
www.youtube.com/user/WaltSnipe
https://soundcloud.com/wehresman
https://twitter.com/austinwalt
www.cdbaby.com/Artist/WalterEhresman

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