“I won’t be caged to the status quo. I’m not afraid to stand and say what people won’t.” -Rhett Walker, “Get Up Get Out”
Now there’s an understatement. Rhett Walker is not like any rising Christian musician you have met before or will meet again soon. The outspoken 25-year-old son of a preacher was born and raised around the South, his mellow yet animated voice a sure mix of Georgia and the Carolinas. In that drawl, he tells an intense wild oats story tempered by God’s grace, a testimony that fuels the deep-fried rock found on Rhett Walker Band’s debut, Come To The River.
Indeed, Rhett is a shining example of faith, family, and country values today—an experienced man who teaches that grace comes with a calling.
I caught up with Rhett and band at a summer festival earlier this year. I have to admit that the interview was more laughing than actually talking, I was challenged by what these guys have been through.
John: Be honest. How did you come up with the name?
Rhett: Funny thing. It's actually Joe; his last name is Bande, B-A-N-D-E. I'm Rhett. Kenny, his third middle name is actually an Indian name, was Walker. We just kind of put it together. Kevin is not a part of the band.
Kenny: I'm not in the band.
Rhett: So it's Rhett Walker Bande. We figured, make that "Band." It looks cooler.
John: I love it. Why don't you give a little bit of background: Where did you guys come from?
Rhett: We all come from different places: Kenny's from Texas and Joe’s from Oklahoma and I'm from South Carolina and Mr. Kevin's from North Carolina. We all come from different areas, but I'd say about ... How long ago was that? Probably about three years ago? Three or four years ago, when me and you met? How long have we known each other?
Kenny: Dude, almost six years ago.
Rhett: Oh wow.
Joe: No way.
John: As a band you've been together for six years?
Rhett: No. About six years ago, me and Kenny, we met. I led worship at a church and he played drums there, so we started doing music together, and that's where we met Joe. Joe has his own studio and we were doing some demos. Nashville's a big city, but it's actually pretty daggone small. So we all kind of got in that middle circle and met everybody, and we just all clicked, man.
It takes time to do anything. We played shows and ... Slowly, but surely, we kind of played shows, and about a year, exactly almost a year ago we put out our first record. We haven't been playing long. We're a new band, but we've known each other for a long time. We kind of, more or less, knew each other at first because we were all in different bands. It kind of all happened.
John: The record's been out for about a year. What was it like to, all of a sudden, go, "We're now playing on a national level?" Before, you guys were playing churches, bars maybe, whatever. And now you guys are there.
Rhett: It's cool, man. We were just talking about this. We just got back from the West Coast last week, and we were playing in clubs and stuff and churches last year, and we were thankful for 80 people were showing up. It's kind of funny to see what a year does and what radio does, and becoming on the, like you said, the national level, because now we're pulling eight hundred to a thousand in a room by ourself. And it's like, man, last year we were thankful when the first two rows were filled. This year we got people standing around, so ...
It's just cool, too, because then you're playing shows and people are singing your songs and it's more of just a Rhett Walker Band thing. It's like, we're all here playing music. We love music, that's why we do it. These people love music; that's why they're here. It just becomes kind of a big party and we're all just hanging out doing our thing, you know?
John: What do you guys play live? Do you basically play through the whole record, or do you try to incorporate some other songs in there as well, that aren’t necessarily Walker songs?
Kenny: Well, sometimes we like to play songs off of Joe Kane and the Buttercream Gang record, solo EP. There's songs that we play off of the record. We've been playing a lot of new songs. And every once in a while, we'll get the hankering to do some covers: maybe some Skynyrd, maybe some CCR or John Fogerty, kind of a mix of good old time music and partying and fun and hanging out.
John: You guys like playing live? Is it fun?
Kenny: Oh yeah.
Kevin: Yeah, playing live is great.
Joe: Except for Kevin. As long we can, we get a lot of experience.
John: Playing live experience?
Kenny: His name is Mr. Kevin.
Kevin: I'm Mr. Kevin.
Kenny: Aka, the principal.
Rhett: The principal.
Kevin: That's what I've been called.
John: Why's that?
Kevin: I got my degree in education and I used to teach ...
Kevin: Do you want to know anything about the live shows specifically? Or just …
John: No, just talk about the live shows.
Kenny: Your experience. Your favorite part.
Kevin: My favorite part is that it's a band dynamic on stage. We'll switch the set list up every night. We'll play different songs in different orders. Sometimes we'll drag out solos. Sometimes we'll add stuff. Take it away. I don't know, man. It's just like, we don't have a laptop computer that we plug in and press "Play." We all play our instruments and all sing.
John: You're a real band. You're not playing the tracks.
Kenny: Exactly, yeah.
Kevin: I take a lot ... I'm not ashamed to take pride in that, I don't think. I mean.
Kenny: Kevin also has a tendency to yell and scream out of joy and excitement at points. And beat his chest, kind of like a gorilla. Real low.
John: So Kevin, what do you play?
Kevin: I play the bass.
Kenny: Joe Kahn and the Buttercream Gang.
John: That's what the EP came from?
Rhett: And I play the microphone.
John: Any obscure live experience so far?
John: Like falling off the stage? People diving off the stage? Mosh pits?
Rhett: No. I mean, we've had some mosh pits.
Kenny: You climbed some ...
Kenny: Some truss once.
Rhett: I, one time, climbed a rafter and a raptor. One time I climbed a rapper. I climbed on top of LeCrae and Kanye West.
Kenny: One time Kevin threw his bass up in the air and forgot that it was a low ceiling, and threw it into the ceiling. Remember that?
Kevin: Oh, yeah, I forgot about that.
Rhett: One time we got kicked out of a church.
Joe: And got the pastor fired.
Rhett: I mean, just good days of getting shut down by the police, you know? Just because we're too loud or something like that.
Kevin: Sometimes Joe just takes off into the crowd and plays a guitar solo. I still don't know why he does that.
Joe: There's usually food out there, and I'm so freaking hungry.
Kevin: Going for a hot dog, man.
John: So if the record came out last year, what's on your bucket list for this year?
Rhett: Well, we've just been playing a lot of shows. But we're getting ready ... We're writing right now. So we're kind of looking forward to November. We're going to record a new record.
John: So a new record early ‘14?
Rhett: Yeah. I would say about summertime.
Rhett: We're kind of dialing them songs and doing that number and mailing them out.
Rhett: You know, just trying to figure out exactly what we want to say on this record, because the first record, you just write a butt-load of songs and then you pick the best. This one, we're all writing together on this out on the road, so we're singing a lot of ... There's some love songs to our brides back at home, there's songs about our faith on the road, and there's songs that are just feel-good songs. It's coming out in the summer. We're writing this in the summer, so it's just American music. I wouldn't say it's any type of thing other than just we got instruments and we play them and sing about life. And that's kind of what we want to do on this record.
John: You guys book readers?
Kenny: Yeah, sometimes.
John: What are you reading, Joe?
Joe: What do I read? Currently?
Kenny: I can tell you what Joe's been reading right now.
Rhett: Ask him what he's been reading right now.
Joe: I was this close to not turning to this. Okay, normally I enjoy the classics very much.
Kenny: But now ...
Joe: But currently ...
John: It's a Harlequin Romance.
Joe: Currently, I'm reading this sweet series called The Animorphs. And I've read two books today, and I'm probably going to finish two more before I go to bed. They're short.
Kenny: Short tales about ...
Joe: But I read them when I was a kid, so it's a nostalgia thing.
Kenny: There you go.
Kevin: Bring back good memories.
Rhett: I'm reading what I read as a kid, what I always read: The Bible.
Joe: That was good.
Kevin: Good one, Rhett. I've been reading this book by a rabbi. It's called Yearnings. I don't know the name of the author. I've only gotten a few chapters into it.
Kevin: I love stuff like that.
Kenny: Don't put me in on this, because after that, I would seem like an idiot.
Joe: Man. I find obscure things to read.
Kevin: On the spiritual side, I actually just finished, again, The Ragamuffin Gospel.
John: Yeah, great book.
Kevin: Yea. I read it a long time ago, and after his passing thought I'd pick it up again. But, then, I also finished, because of nostalgia, Where the Red Fern Grows.
Joe: Oh, you just finished that?
Joe: That's a good one.
Kenny: I remember that.
Kevin: It's in the van. You can read it if ...
Joe: You going to read Summer of the Monkeys now?
Kevin: I could.
Joe: I wasn't making fun of you. I was genuinely asking.
Kevin: Genuinely serious.
So of course, the interview ended in laughter. These guys are a lot of fun to hang out with. They are a lot of fun to see live. In the meantime, make sure that you check out their debut album, Come to the River.