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Interview: Josh Kaler [Butch Walker, Slow Runner]

09 Feb Interviews | Comments
Interview: Josh Kaler [Butch Walker, Slow Runner]

For those of you who know me, you’ll know I’m a huge Butch Walker fan. Maybe that should be capitalized. HUGE fan. When I saw his most recent tour come through Chicago (HoB), I noticed he had a new band, and more specifically, an incredibly talented multi-instrumentalist. That would be Mr. Josh Kaler. He was switching between guitar, lap & pedal steel, and keys. I was really impressed by the performance, so I asked him if he’d be interested in sharing his musical journey, and he was kind enough to oblige.

What bands do you currently in (or working for), and what bands have you been in previously?

My main creative project for the last ten or so years has been with Slow Runner. The band is fronted by Michael Flynn, my dear friend who is an incredible singer/songwriter. We’ve made 5 records together. I’ve also toured as a multi-instrumentalist with Butch Walker (my current hang), Dar Williams, Denison Witmer, and William Fitzsimmons.

What is your primary instrument?

I’d say guitar? I think this will change when I am 40 as I am on the path to making lap steel my primary focus.

What instruments do you play?

Drums, Bass, Guitars, Keys, Banjo, Ukulele, Dobro, Pedal and Lap Steel guitar.

How long have you been playing guitar?

Since I was 13…21 years?! Holy crap I ain’t stopping am I?

Did you take any lessons growing up? (guitar or other)

No formal lessons during this period. I had a couple older guys in town (St. Cloud, MN) that were more like musical mentors. We would get together on occasion and hang out, play records, jam, etc. They definitely helped but it wasn’t til college I was taking formal lessons.

What is your level music music education (college major?)?

I did two years at Berklee College of Music. My major was “Professional Music”. It was good for people like me who wanted to play the musical field rather than concentrating on being the next Yngwie Malmsteen.

What impact did that have on you as a musician?

A big one. The best thing by far about the school is that you meet and jam with so many people from around the world that are WAY BETTER THAN YOU. I can’t express enough how important this is when you want to evolve as a musician. I learned how to be a pretty good sponge in that environment. The ear training classes were also huge. Never heard music the same after 1 year there.

Who are some of your biggest musical influences?

In my formative years Siamese Dream by Smashing Pumpkins was the record that made me freak out and want to be a guitar player (and also a drummer). Nirvana and Weezer were also big at this time. I was a 90’s kid.

Nowadays I always look forward to the next Spoon and Radiohead record.

Do you still have a practice regiment, beyond when you’re writing for/working with your band(s)?

Not really. When things slow down I practice hawaiian music on my lap steel for at least an hour a day. My day job is making records at my studio so when I’m done for the day I usually just come home and do non-music stuff.

Do you still attempt to push forward by learning new instruments or applications?

Not so much anymore. I’m very focused these days on making better records and evolving as a steel guitar player. There’s an endless amount of knowledge to acquire in both endeavors. Think I’m set!

You were playing lap/pedal steel/guitar & keys on Butch Walker’s most recent tour.
How did you land that gig? Was there an audition process? What was that like?

My buddy Jake is in the band and he got us all in the same room. Got to know each other…jammed/recorded a little bit. I think BW also dug my Slow Runner background. It all happened very quickly!

Was your role limited to live performances, or were you in studio as well?
If you were in studio, What was that experience like?

Both for sure. I am now working out of a space in his studio in Nashville. It’s been fun getting the knock on the door and asking if I wanna lay something down for whatever he’s working on that day.

He works very fast which for me is a refreshing change of pace. I’m still very new to his studio world but it’s been nothing but aces so far!

Any advice for students who hope to be a ‘hired gun’ musician?

Definitely learn more than one instrument. It adds value to your brand.

Any advice for students who are trying to find success in the music industry?

Know your role. Focus on what you do best and do that. If you’re a songwriter and are also trying to be a really really good engineer/producer/mix master/engineer yadda yadda…your craft will most likely suffer.

If a student were to pursue a college degree in a music field (per, what advice would you give them?

Just know that you don’t need a degree to be successful in the music world. You just have to be really really good and you can be really really good without being in debt for 10 or 20 years.

Any Advice for life on the road?

Be invisible. Be on time. Be really really good.


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