“Let me play a song for you,” Joseph McMurray calls up from the back seat of the van. It’s a Saturday night and I am with my friends of Walter TV, a lo-fi rock band hailing from Montreal, Canada. The three members purchased the van on a whim for $4,000 before starting their U.S. tour, which is now coming to a close and finds the floor littered with empty coffee cups, weed, and spilled beer. We’re about halfway through the drive when McMurray’s Samsung Galaxy connects to the Bluetooth and sweet, high-pitched voices fill the car. “Drip, drip, drop, little April showers,” goes Disney’s Bambi classic, which we listen to not once, but twice before we arrive.
At 7 pm we pull up to the Santa Ana observatory for the Halloween-themed Beach Goth Festival, the last stop on their three-week stint.The artist area is packed with youngsters dressed to theme, black lipstick and thick eyeliner on every other one. We join a crowd to snag a Bud Light and free cheeseburger before weaving through a maze to find the green room. The boys take a few swigs from a bottle of Bulleit before someone comes up to tell them that they are on in fifteen.
The set is short, with just enough time for about 5 songs, though the energy is electric. Crowdsurfers run rampant in the mostly teenaged group, and in the course of twenty minutes we see a cross-dresser, a sailor, and a pilgrim all climb to the stage and catapult themselves into the horde for 15 seconds of glory. The antithesis of “Little April Showers,” lead singer, Pierce McGarry’s vocals are warbling and high-pitched, hitting that sweet spot between singing and screaming. I’m struck by the vast difference between this onstage persona and that of Mac DeMarco’s bassist (his other, high-profile gig). Where he strums and jokes to his heart’s content with DeMarco, tonight his emotions are palpable. Though his lyrics are unintelligible through the heavy effects, they resonate through his raw performance and unrestrained commitment.
Walter TV is comprised of McMurray, McGarry, and Simon Ankenman, who play drums, guitar, and bass respectively. Childhood friends and musical comrades, McMurray and McGarry have seldom lived apart, bouncing around from Vancouver to Montreal,and now reside in the City of Angels. They rarely stand still for more than a week though, as their main gig consists of touring the world with fellow Canadian oddball DeMarco. And while “Mac DeMarco’s other band” has become their unwelcome catchphrase, the boys don’t complain, as DeMarco’s rising popularity has lent itself to the solidification of Walter TV. The heavy touring allows McMurray and McGarry to play sporadic Walter TV shows around the US where DeMarco will often step in on bass.
It was McGarry and Ankenmen, though, whose collaboration was first dubbed Walter TV. They met at the skate park at eighteen and were fast friends. “Pierce was wearing lots of yarn around his neck and some huge corduroy pants and I said hello.” Soon after, they moved into Ankenman’s grandpa’s multi-acre home that neighbored a halfway house, and “started jamming together,” says McGarry. They played with random drummers at sporadic house shows around B.C. and picked up McMurrayas a permanent member along the way. Since then they have composed and recorded nearly three full-length albums as Walter TV, only one of which has been officially released in 2012 and recently re-released by their label, Sinderlyn. “So now we’re just sitting on other albums. We have like two albums pretty much recorded,” explains McGarry.
The night following the observatory show is filled with too much booze and I arrive at McGarry’s Echo Park home around noon the next morning with a headache and a fistful of Advil. I find a kindred spirit in McGarry, who lies in bed while Ankenman sprawls out on the floor beside him. They’re easily rallied, though, encouraged by my promises of sushi and cold brew. We make a pit stop to scoop up McMurray at his warehouse on skid row, and he is in the worst shape of all. “I was so drunk last night. I’m sorry for acting like that guys,” he says, mostly joking. And we’re off to sushi.
Fresh off the road, though, a night of drinking is all in good fun. In the countless hoursdriving between venues and gas stations, the three, along with their touring companions Andy and Edwin White of Tonstartssbandht, found various ways to pass the time. On one particular twelve-hour drive from San Francisco to Portland, McGarry and Ankenmantook enough mushrooms for five people, and had a disturbing trip. “I heard Pierce from the back seat like, ‘dude the world is going down hill,’” recounts McMurray, chuckling to himself.
But many hours were less frantic and saw McGarry working on one of his various video projects while McMurray and Ankenman tindered. “I’ve heard through the grapevine that Simon gets more tinder love,” I remark,a claim McMurray is quick to dispute. While Ankenman has success in the Southern states – “you should see his tinder profile. He’s shooting a shotgun in one, paddling a canoe, he’s got a giant beard in one” – McMurray says he is more of a metropolitan man. “Tinder is super regional,” he explains.
Though the app has not always proven fruitful for McMurray even in the most bustling of cities. McGarry urges McMurray to tell the Isaac Brock story, a request he obliges aftera bout of uproarious laughter from all three. While touring with DeMarco the boys met Brock of Modest Mouseat a festival in Mexico. A longtime hero of theirs, McMurray ended up swapping numbers with him and a tinder fling in the same night. A few days later, in Portland, McMurray was texting with the tinder prospect. He sent her a long and involved text, that began with “we have a bit of a dilemma,” and went on to break down his plans for the night and ask her if she’d like to hang out for a “date type thing.” The only problem – he had been texting Brock instead. “He was like, dude, I’m pretty sure I’m not your type,” says McMurray as they all burst into laughter once more.
Their distinct tinder pursuits are a nod to their immensely diverse personalities, each with a different niche. McGarry cannot be taken seriously, an attitude that spills over into his work. Today he is unkempt and nursing a hangover. His beard is rarely shaven, and on this particular afternoon he dons a signed Weird Al Yankovic shirt,a decade-old gift from his sister’s then boyfriend. His Jurassic Park cap that he sports on the daily matches the pinball machine he just purchased off of Craigslist. Though this silliness is not to discredit his talent or drive. He directs and shoots many of the Mac DeMarco music videos, and writes all the lyrics for Walter TV. Ankenman, on the other hand, is sited to have dispersed from his comrades to “pursue an outdoors-inspired lifestyle”. He leads summer canoe tours in the Yukon and has been known to hunt his own dinner. And McMurray comes across the most introspective and intellectual, eager to debate about the superiority of a vegetarian diet and Pauly Shore’s relevance (or lack thereof).
After 30 minutes our name is called from the wait list, and we shuffle into Sushi Go 55 in Korea town. McMurray, ravenous, grabs the first plate he sees from the revolving belt and has his chopsticks in his mouth before the rest of us sit down. On the verge of setting out again for another three months, we talk about touring and life and how the two have become one in the same. In just three years Mac DeMarco’s rider has gone from fish filets and beer to champagne and berries, McMurray and McGarry explain to me. Luckily, though, they are still able to enjoy the simple things in life -thrifted game machines, tinder flings, and revolving belt sushi.