7 Walkers’ Papa Mali Talks the Walk
Photo by Dave Vann
BR: What’s the process like?
PM: Well, the way it started was Bill introduced us by e-mail, and then Robert began sending me lyrics. I’d take them from there and put the words to music – sometimes make a demo, sometimes just start the recording process. I’d send out what I’d started to Billy and to Hunter to make sure that they liked the direction I was taking it in. And every time, I got nothing but positive responses, which was cool. At some point I realized that not only was I living up to their expectations, but that Robert was beginning to write for me, you know? The songs began to take on more of a Louisiana-southern-swamp kind of vibe.
BR: Oh, yeah – when I first heard “Louisiana Rain” …
PM: Exactly, man.
BR: You can’t tell me that Hunter wasn’t writing that for you.
PM: Exactly. And when I finally did meet him face-to-face a few months later, he told me that he had checked out my music.
I really couldn’t be more honored than to be writing with someone of that caliber. There are only a few songwriters in this world that I even hold in that high of a regard and he’s definitely right at the top of the list.
BR: Well, now I’m going to admit something to you: I didn’t realize that “Someday You’ll See” is all yours – words and music – until I read the album credits. It nestles right in there with those Hunter tunes, sweet and pretty.
PM: Thanks, buddy … I really appreciate that. As a producer, I had to weigh out whether that would fit in with the other songs, but my instincts told me it would. I actually wrote that song a few years ago before I met either Billy or Robert … but I really think that somewhere in my subconscious, it was influenced by my love for the Grateful Dead’s music.
BR: One more question about “King Cotton Blues”: who’s playing the banjo I hear in there?
PM: (laughs) That’s me.
BR: Nice touch.
PM: Yeah, I forgot to credit myself on the record – but as producer and songwriter and whatever, I get enough as it is. No need to put everything under the magnifying glass, you know?
The basic lineup is Billy on drums and percussion; Matt on keyboards, harp, horns, and vocals; I’m playing guitar and doing vocals, along with a little synth and some percussion; and then you have Reed on bass for everything except “Chingo!” with George.
BR: A “Chingo!” question: who’s playing that cool little melody line that sounds like pipes?
PM: (laughs) That’s Matt playing an old antique wooden recorder that I had. We double-tracked it to give it that sort of “Pan pipes” sound, like you say.
BR: It’s a cool tune – the whole band just turns into a rhythm machine. The vocals, the swirls on the keys – everything – it’s one big rhythm piece.
PM: You know what’s really cool? When my son – who’s 18 years old and really into music of all kinds – heard “Chingo!” for the first time, he said to me, “This is something that my friends will really like.” (laughter)
BR: Now that’s rewarding, right? To have your kid think that Dad’s music is cool …
PM: Oh, yeah. (laughter)
BR: And there’s a neat little acoustic guitar part underneath it all on “Chingo!” that ties everything together.
PM: You know something? That’s an old Martin that I bought the same day we recorded that track – an old D-18. I brought it into the studio and said, “Let’s see how this thing sounds on the mic – and it was, “Wow …” (laughs)
BR: Who arranged the Dixieland horns on “New Orleans Crawl”?
PM: Matt and I did that together. We brought in a friend of ours, Steve Johnson, to play saxophone on that one.
BR: People should be listening to him.
PM: Yeah, isn’t he great? And he surprised us at the very end of the session. I’d said something like, “Too bad the trumpet player couldn’t make it” because the guy had to cancel at the last minute. Steve says, “Oh, well, I play trumpet, too.” And we all go, “What?” (laughter) And he says, “Yeah – I got it out in the car.” So he ended up putting the trumpet part on there, too.
But, yeah: when Matt laid down his trombone part, it really took it into that Dixieland tailgate thing, you know?