R.I.P. Scott Walker | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Wednesday, October 16th, 2019  

R.I.P. Scott Walker

Influential Musician Dead at Age 76

Mar 25, 2019 Photography by Jamie Hawkesworth
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Scott Walker has died at age 76, his label 4AD reports. No official cause of death has yet been given. Walker was born in Hamilton, Ohio as Noel Scott Engel in 1943, but found his initial success in the British music industry in the 1960s with the orchestral pop trio The Walker Brothers, before having a later career resurgence in experimental music. Walker is survived by his partner Beverly and his daughter Lee, as well as his granddaughter Emmi-Lee. Tributes to Walker have already been posted online by Thom Yorke, Nigel Godrich, Priests, Xiu Xiu, and others.

The Walker Brothers weren't actually brothers. Engel met singer/guitarist John Maus who had taken the stage name John Walker via a fake ID to allow him play at clubs when he was still underage. Scott and John formed The Walker Brothers and were soon joined by Gary Leeds on drums. Leeds' father paid for the trio to travel to the UK to try their luck in the British pop scene, arriving in early 1965. Initially John was the main singer, but when they had success with their second single, "Love Her," with Scott's deep and distinctive baritone at the helm, Scott became more of a vocal focal point. Their next single, "Make It Easy on Yourself," which was written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, was a #1 hit on the UK singles chart in August 1965. They had further hits with "My Ship Is Coming In" and "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Any More" and at one point in 1966 their fan club membership numbers were higher than The Beatles'. The Walker Brothers released three albums in the UK in the 1960s (1965's Take It Easy with the Walker Brothers, 1966's Portrait, and 1967's Images) before calling it quits in 1968.

Scott Walker went on to have a successful solo career, retaining his stage name, and releasing various well-received studio albums (including 1967's Scott, 1968's Scott 2, and 1969's Scott 3 and Scott 4), continuing with the orchestral pop, wall of sound vibe and often including English translations of songs by Belgian singer/songwriter Jacques Brel (such as "Jackie" and "Next"). After a string of solo albums in the early 1970s that failed to do well on the charts (including 1972's The Moviegoer, which was made up of covers of songs from movies), albums that Walker later blocked from being reissued, The Walker Brothers reformed in 1974 for three more albums (1975's country music-influenced No Regrets, 1976's Lines, and 1978's Nite Flights). It was Nite Flights and its single "The Electrician" that would give a hint of the more experimental path Walker would take with his later solo work.

Walker's lone album of the 1980s, 1984's Climate of Hunter, was his first full on avant-garde work, even if it featured '80s pop stars Billy Ocean and Dire Straits' Mark Knopfler. It took 11 years until his next album, 1995's critically praised Tilt, which further cemented his status as an experimental music legend.

Walker spoke about this period in an interview with Matt Fink for Under the Radar in 2012: "I was literally out of the game, because I had done an album called Climate of Hunter for Virgin, and this is record company jargon, but the sales were disappointing. They said, 'Look, can you make a more commercial thing for us' and I said, 'No.' And I just left the business and forgot about it. Then suddenly people like Julian Cope and Jarvis Cocker and David Bowie started talking about me, so I got a call from another company, and, of course, this built and built and built. And this was Universal again. I went to Universal, and I did an album for them [Tilt], and, once again, the same story. The sales were disappointing, so they said, 'Can you do something more commercial for us?' [Laughs] In the meantime, I was getting all these other people interested in it, so I said, 'No. No. Nothing commercial.' So I got out of there, and I got into a recording company [4AD] that was really supportive, and now the audience has grown sufficiently enough that I can make these albums which, even by major label standards, are quite expensive. But I can make these albums now because I can sell enough to justify the costs. But it was around the '80s that people started talking about me again."

There was thus a long wait again for his next solo album, 2006's The Drift (one of that year's most acclaimed albums. The gap to his next album was relatively shorter, with the challenging Bish Bosch being released in 2012. Soused, a collaboration with metal band Sunn O))), followed soon after in 2014.

"What I'm always trying to do is avoid cliché," Walker explained in our 2012 interview, in regards to his more experimental music. "Unless I'm being ironic about something, why would I want to write to a blues riff or a country riff or something I've heard before? I'm trying to construct the music and the lyrics so that it's a marriage. Hopefully, you're hearing a lot of things you haven't heard before. There are times when you're driving a narrative along that you can't avoid it, but mostly I try to do that. People say, 'Why don't you rhyme a lot?' Well, I don't rhyme because it cuts down your choices a lot. There are only so many things that will rhyme, and then the song's over."

Walker's last two releases were soundtracks to films by director Brady Corbet, 2016's The Childhood of a Leader (Walker's score was released the same year by 4AD) and 2018's Von Lux (the soundtrack featured Walker's score alongside songs written by Sia and performed by star Natalie Portman).

Walker's 1960s work was a huge influence on such mid-'90s Britpop stars as The Divine Comedy's Neil Hannon (who would send all his finished albums to Walker), Blur's Damon Albarn, and Pulp's Jarvis Cocker (Walker produced Pulp's final album, 2001's We Love Life), but his more avant-garde was equally influential on a different crop of musicians. The 2006 documentary film Scott Walker: 30th Century Man included interviews with Walker, as well as Cocker, Albarn, David Bowie, Radiohead, Brian Eno, Richard Hawley, Marc Almond, Alison Goldfrapp, Sting, Johnny Marr, and others all singing Walker's praises.

When asked by Fink in our 2012 interview who Walker perceives as his audience when working on an album, the musician responded: "Once again, I'm going to namedrop, but it's something I remember [Russian-born novelist Vladimir] Nabokov saying. He said that his audience that he has in mind is a lot of hims. [Laughs] It's himself. So the only audience that I'm thinking of, if I'm getting it myself, I think, well, there must be someone like me or close to that mindset who will be able to appreciate this at some level."

Of course, there were many of the same mindset who have appreciated Scott Walker's 55-year career in music.

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