Drew Walker's polyphonic spree
The Sacramento musician-artist brings his massive, interactive tour exhibit home
Local musician Drew Walker remembers the fear that filled him while driving to Mexicali, Mexico, last April to play in an art gallery with his sample-based solo project DoofyDoo. It wasn’t that there was something particularly frightening about crossing the U.S. border, he says—he had his older brother riding shotgun with him, after all.
Rather, it was the unusual set he’d planned—and imagining how strangers might react to it—that made him apprehensive.
“I was scared shitless. I used a lot of samples about NAFTA and drug trafficking and human trafficking. I was like, ’How are these people going to react to this white suburban dude coming down and remixing their trauma?’” Walker remembers.
The show was a stop on The Tourist, a tour through 18 West Coast cities. Mexicali was the fifth. For each location, Walker tailored his music to include audio samples specific to that city. The samples generally featured everyday people discussing issues pertinent to that city, with some current and historical news clips thrown into the mix.
Remnants of that tour will go on display starting Sunday, December 6, as part of a new exhibit at the Blackbird Kitchen + Beer Gallery.
Before the tour, Walker researched each city on the stop, reading up on the region and pulling audio samples from YouTube and other sites. He says he viewed those audio fragments as representing the regions’ good and bad aspects—as well as everything in between.
While onstage, Walker also improvised music, playing along with the sample track, using guitar, drum machine, keyboards and any other instrument he could get his hands on to craft a strange anti-music audio art. He calls this experimental style “plunderphonic psyche-beats.”
The tour comprised more than music. Walker snapped photos throughout and tried to get a group photo of the crowd when possible. He also left a notebook where audience members could jot down thoughts or draw cartoons as he performed. At the end of each night, Walker would retrieve the notebook and add his own thoughts to the pages.
Now, all of this material is on display as part of an interactive exhibit called, appropriately, The Tourist. It comprises multiple stations, leading viewers on a virtual tour of 15 of Walker’s 18 stops. The stations will be set up in chronological order and, in addition to photos and notebooks, will include music recorded at the shows. The music can be accessed through the viewer’s own mobile device, using his or her own own headphones. The opening night of the exhibit will also mark the release of Walker’s latest record, a massive opus also called The Tourist.
Like the exhibit, it includes live tour recordings as well as photos. The album will be sold on a USB drive and includes a poster collage. There’s also an abridged version, The Tourist: West Coast In Audio, a single album-length compilation of select cuts. Walker’s one-man band, DoofyDoo, will perform at the exhibit’s opening night.
Because Walker tailored each set to the city in which it was performed, all are distinct. In San Francisco, for example, the topic was hypergentrification. In Seattle, he sampled chatter about the Occupy Wall Street movement there. The Vancouver set included several minutes of audio about a specific street where the city’s heroin addicts hang out.
The audio is often unsettling, but Walker says crowd reaction was positive—even in Mexicali. Marco Vera, founder and director of the Mexicali Rose Media/Arts Center where Walker performed, says he was impressed with how the artist took such creative risks.
“It blew people away that Drew had really done his homework,” Vera says. “People were talking about it for a while. Drew brought a lot of social commentary, but with humor.”
Mexicali was an important stop on the tour because it’s the place that kicked off the entire idea. In December 2014, Walker deejayed a set at the Crocker Art Museum, sneaking in bits of his own self-described “weird” material here and there. Mexican artist Fernando Corona was there, liked what he heard, and invited Walker to play at the Mexicali Rose.
Walker accepted the invitation and then figured he might as well stop in San Diego, Long Beach and Tijuana, too. Eventually, the whole thing turned into a massive DIY expedition with gigs in galleries, basements and other atypical performance spaces.
From the start, Walker says, he had an idea that the tour would be detailed and all-encompassing, with photos and notebooks. It wasn’t just about bringing art to an audience, but about receiving something in return, too.
“It’s this story within the story of the people that were actually there. I have photos. I got all this material from people I met on the road,” he says.
The Tourist yielded a massive amount of music for DoofyDoo, but that’s nothing new. Before this, he’d already self-released 15 albums, primarily through Bandcamp, but a few on CD, too. Walker also plays in other various bands, including bass in Gentleman Surfer.
Walker first started playing under the DoofyDoo moniker more than a decade ago. The music started out along the lines of offbeat psych singer-songwriter stuff, but over time has evolved into something less traditional, mixing provocative samples with experimental electronic-meets-psych-rock improv.
In recent months, his live shows have centered around a theme. For Valentine’s Day the theme was love, obviously—albeit in offbeat vein with samples that were funny, dark and unsettling.
Whatever the theme, Walker says his music isn’t necessarily made for the masses.
“It’s not a moneymaking endeavor. … It has nothing to do with conforming to expectations and that’s probably why I keep doing it,” he says. “It’s weird and off-putting, but the people that I respect seem to get it. It’s going to be DIY and weird as hell until I die.”
The scope of the tour and exhibit, Walker says, has proven to be a bit overwhelming—but in a good way. After spending hours researching each city, then visiting and meeting people in each town, it’s the little details that have stuck the most.
“Now that everyone travels more and you can virtually go anywhere now, I feel that cultural exchanges across cities are interesting and farther away than we feel like,” he says.
Despite the rigorous time and planning that went into the tour, Walker says he really doesn’t like to think that far into the future. Instead, he just follows his muse to satisfy his immediate artistic musings. There’s no big-picture plan.
“I guess I’m a hedonist in that way. I’m not future-oriented. This whole project is the past. It’s done. I’m waning interest in it already,” Walker says. “I can’t wait for this shit to be done with, so I can do something else.”