Jason Walker leaves it all behind
There's a decipherable bravado and confidence surrounding Jason Walker these days. The vocalist with one of the most powerful voices in pop music today admits to the eager anticipation that awaits him. "I have to admit... I'm a little nervous," he tells me. "I can't help it! I get it from my mother... we're nervous people." Walker is actually basking in the uncertainty of what could well be the riskiest album project of his career, yet perhaps the one that most of his fans will admit he was always meant to deliver.
Jason Walker emerged onto the music scene as the powerhouse sound behind the dance/club hits produced and schooled by super-star producer/remixer Junior Vasquez. His debut album This Is My Life impressively demonstrated that as a singer, Walker was unparalleled among his rising dance music piers. "I was very happy with my first record -- My Life was very solid. But my second album never got a chance to be what I wanted it to be, but I also knew that at that time -- I wouldn't have been able to do this. I wanted to do something without anybody telling me what to do." As soulful as George Michael, and as vital in his development as an artist coming into his own skin realizing the glory of the gift that he is given, Walker bided his time and nurtured his skills as both a signer and songwriter. "I've been waiting to sing these songs."
Stripped to the core
Appropriately entitled Leave It All Behind the album is all-new and invigorated territory for this artist. Even the title track appears a declaration of Walker’s ability to shed the skin and dogma of a career that perhaps was thrust upon him, but now able to strip himself to the core and reveal a musician better able to stand the test of time. "I don’t want anyone to misunderstand the meaning behind the title of the album... I’m not leaving anything behind," he assures his dance music fan base. "But I’ve always wanted to do this -- it’s going to be a little unexpected," he says of the 10 new tracks on the record. "People will be expecting another electronic album, but before I moved to New York I was signing with blues bands [in Pittsburgh]." Jason certainly wasn’t going to deny himself the chance to produce alongside the team that infamously propelled the most popular musical icon of our generation: Madonna. "I had an opportunity to work with Junior -- and I took it. That doesn’t mean that’s all I know, or all I am."
Not intentionally bridled by the commerciality of an image, Walker has a voice, the voice to be reckoned with. Impressively slight, charmingly handsome, as a performer Jason Walker’s talent bares little comparison -- because it’s very easy to match his skill to the most powerfully potent voices in r&b and gospel. Names like Aretha Franklin, Chaka Khan come to mind -- comparing Walker to Martha Wash’s own distinct dance melodies would be too easy, but not far from the truth. And yes... these are all female vocalists.
When the Pittsburgh, PA native arrived in New York City at the turn of the millennium he immersed himself in the dance club culture -- it was after all the allure of the emerging house music scene that inspired Walker to risk pursuing his dream to become a vocalist in the big city. He was singing in church choirs since the age of four and because of his particularly higher range he identified with soulful female artists. Rummaging through his mother’s enviable collection of 45 (those are records for our digitally savvy readers) Jason would practice his craft pairing himself alongside the songs of Patti La Belle or Aretha Franklin -- at least in his imagination, and from the comfort of his living room as the music played from the family stereo system.
Working with Junior Vasquez
Arriving in New York City at the height of the city’s club remix culture; at any given night in any of the big room mainstays of the time whether it was the infamous Roxy or Twilo, the most popular and renowned music producers held court at the center turntables playing out remixes from Mariah Carey to Kristine W. Walker found himself emulating the divas of the era. Deborah Cox was a favorite, and her classic anthem "Things Just Ain’t the Same" was among the tracks on his original demo. He sent that demo to the casting folks at the Showtime at the Apollo -- and much to Walker’s surprise they summoned him to perform at the legendary venue that made icons of Michael Jackson and the Jackson 5. He stole the show singing his rendition of songstress Oleta Adams "Get Here". He made the rounds of the open mic circuit, building on his repertoire until landing the attention of none other than the ultimate remixer/producer of the time! After hearing Jason’s demo of the track for his single "My Life" Junior Vasquez jumped at the opportunity to collaborate with the emerging talent and Vasquez wasted no time signing him to his new label.
The two collaborated on the debut album project This Is My Life and it’s follow-up Flexible but working on that sophomore effort with Vasquez and his camp proved anything but, and eventually Walker and Junior amicably parted ways, leaving Walker to navigate the open sea of the independent artist.
With the Junior Vasquez imprint since dissolved Walker was inspired to approach his music more genuinely, paring down on the electronica that had taken over the scene and allowing his own voice to flourish amidst real instrumentation and more organically produced music. "I’ve heard too many people say that dance music had become overly produced," he says of the current pop trends. "I knew what kind of record I wanted to make and everything just kinda happened... I wanted to tell a story." This is especially refreshing amidst the sea of pop notes that have been churning their way across the charts at the moment. Jason Walker himself is no stranger to the music charts. He’s had two #1 dance hits and 6 top 10, and on his new album Walker has hit new highs that will easily cross him into the mainstream market. "That’s what everyone of the songs on Leave It All Behind is... a story -- no bells, no whistles. Just me and some instruments -- I wanted people to pay attention to my voice." The result is beyond magical, ambitious and completely honest.
The title track and lead single off of Walker’s Leave It All Behind gently initiates the listener into the artist’s new territory; it’s an up-tempo track given a rock edge with some very profound guitar licks - but at the core Walker’s vocal is what delivers the most punch. The song was written and dedicated to a close friend of Walker’s who found herself in the midst of a divorce. "She left her business, her marriage... everything to start over. She left all the drama and the negativity behind her. That was the main idea." And yes, he admits that perhaps there were some parallels in his own experiences that he found relatable. "The main idea is leaving anything that is negative -- or dirty -- and look towards the future; being true." Appropriately positioned on the album is the powerful ballad "Sad Eyes". "I worked with Rami Ramirez on that song -- and it just felt right. It came so easily." With it’s almost lullaby quality, the song’s melancholy lyrics are only more present and deeply resonant as expressed through Walker’s performance.
"Quicksand" is Walker’s ode to disco. The song is anthem-like and a throwback to the productions of the dance-divas who popularized the 70’s - it’s reminiscent of Donna Summer or Vicki Sue Robinson - and is Walker’s homage to that era. It’s also easily a perceptible wink and a nod to his club music fans. It’s a reminder that he hasn’t forgotten the style and genre that made him a stand-out vocalist, but proving that he has the versatility to venture into more lush acoustic instrumentation and elaborate song-writing melodies with r&b harmonies.
"Now that I’m able to spread my wings, I had a clear vision." He says about the experience of working on this new album: "Surprisingly, everyone I worked with was excited about me doing this type of music. Everyone wanted me to sing a ballad... even my dad had asked me, when was I going to sing a ballad. Everybody grows. You evolve as an artist -- this is what was next. It was nice to work with people who got it."
"This past year has been work, work, work," Jason admits. Elated to be able to pour so much of himself into his music, Walker is prepared for his audience to hear these new tracks. "I’m nervous... in a good way." And understands the challenges of shaking things up. "When you put your shit out there you are subject to comments good and bad," he says. "I want people to like what I do, but I know not everyone is going to. I wanted to do more -- something different... but it’s just another side of me."
Jason Walker’s new album Leave It All Behind and available on all digital download stores. The remixes to the lead single Leave It All Behind featuring re-workings by Chad Jack, Joe Caranno and Quentin Harris are also available.
For more on Jason Walker including upcoming appearances goto www.jasonwalkermusic.com.