“Let It be a Dream,” Walters’ third album as Silver Torches, is his darkest (and strongest) solo work to date. Walters plays a vinyl release show Friday, Jan. 12, at the Tractor Tavern.
Erik Walters wasn’t alone, even if it might have felt that way. The songwriter behind Silver Torches watched the 2016 presidential-election campaign in varying degrees of horror as American politics was upended one all-caps tweet at a time.
Away from the barrage of perturbing social-media headlines, Walters, who performs as Silver Torches, was going through a particularly rough stretch many Seattleites can relate to. Priced out of the city he had called home for a decade, the 29-year-old moved back in with his parents in Enumclaw to regroup and save money.
“Lost and hopeless and pissed off. … I wasn’t feeling too great,” he recalls, laughing nervously at a Ballard cafe. “Being stuck in a situation you don’t want to be in and having the outlook of everything is pointless — it’s kind of nihilistic.”
9 p.m. Friday, Jan. 12, Tractor Tavern, 5213 Ballard Ave. N.W., Seattle; $10, 21+ (206-789-3599 or tractortavern.com).
Those feelings eventually set the tone for the record Walters didn’t know he was making at the time. The Americana ace, who came up playing with buzzy but short-lived prog-rockers the Globes, was writing songs in bursts and recording them whenever he could come up with cash for studio time. Occasionally, this meant leaning on friends and family for rock ’n’ roll financial aid.
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Over the course of a year, Walters piecemealed a bank of 17 songs, about half of which encapsulated the stagnation, loneliness and post-Trump despair that left him perpetually bummed. The resulting “Let It be a Dream” LP, Walters’ third as Silver Torches, is his darkest (and strongest) solo work to date. Walters plays a vinyl- release show Friday, Jan. 12, at the Tractor Tavern.
“There’s just a heaviness to everything,” Walters says, staring out the window at Ballard’s rainy streets. “Even if there’s something good happening there’s this elephant in the room.”
But the beautiful downer of a record isn’t political per se; rather it’s a collection of despondent, third-person stories inspired by Walters’ anxieties. Shimmering synths accent “At the Lantern,” a teary-eyed, after-bar reflection on going nowhere, while the stripped-down title track is about poverty cycles and “feeling stuck in this honey trap of the American dream.”
Walters’ brand of synth-brushed Heartland rock, first realized on 2016’s “Heatherfield,” hits an expansive high with “Keep the Car Running,” an upbeat piano rocker that sprouted from a simple guitar-and-vocal tune he fleshed out in the studio. Still, the album’s biggest-sounding track might be the least cluttered. On “Nothing to Show,” the simple arrangement, as wide open as a prairie sky, gives Walters’ harmonies with country-folk chanteuse Courtney Marie Andrews room to soar (here’s hoping for a live duet Friday).
Despite its somber themes, making the cathartic record helped pull Walters out of his funk. (“I was feeling sad and now I’m not,” he says chuckling, “so it’s all good now.”) Establishing himself as an in-demand sideman likely hasn’t hurt his mood either. After playing with Perfume Genius’ band and David Bazan, Walters was invited to join Bazan’s recently reformed Pedro the Lion — one of Walters’ high-school favorites. Following a trio of comeback shows at the Tractor last month, he’ll hit the road with the indie-rock heavyweights in February.
“Playing in that band, it feels like I’m connecting with this part of myself from 10 years ago,” Walters says. “It’s kind of a trip and it’s really fun.”
2018’s looking better already.