From legends Agalloch to “acoustic doom metal” outfit Dolven to Snares of Sixes to Self Spiller, Jason William Walton has proven himself time and again to be one of the most forward-thinking, multi-faceted, and engaging musicians in the heavy metal realm, period.(Seriously, check out his personal Bandcamp for a treasure trove of enlivening, challenging metal and metal-adjacent mind-expanders…)
Lately, however, Walton has branched out hosting the killer I Hate Music podcast — think of it as smart, revelatory conversations on smart, revelatory music — and now a fully authorized line of classic underground metal T-shirt and hoodie reissues, launching this week with a sick Disharmonic Orchestra design.
Why, Decibel wondered aloud, is T-shirt culture is so strong in underground heavy music?Is it a signal flare? A kind of declaration of separation and subversion? Something else?
“I think it is all of those things,” Walton replied. “It’s a badge of honor, it’s a way to connect with the artists, it’s a statement. It can mean rebellion, or inclusion, depending on who you are around. It can be very powerful. I think in underground music it is a statement of love and independence. Metal music — and I think particularly underground metal music — becomes the listener’s identity to a large degree. This happens with some other genres as well of course, but I feel that with metal, it can become a very overt and even aggressive form of fandom. As a metal fan, my identity is metal — and I want everyone to know it. I once had a Tomb of the Mutilated shirt back in the ’90s and it was the brightest, ugliest fucking shirt ever. It was like wearing an American flag of colors, and I wore it with pride often. It fit like a sleeping bag, and the print was as big as possible. If you look at it now, it literally is red, white and blue, like the American flag. The fact that someone would wear that, is a huge statement, especially with that album cover.”
Walton was kind enough to fill us in on the origins of the T-shirt project as well as his current musical pursuits earlier this week…
When you recently announced you’d be adding a line of authorized classic T-shirt/hoodie reissues to your Earth in Sound production company — launching with the mighty Disharmonic Orchestra no less! — you wrote you’d been “toying with this idea for around 15 years.” I want to get to the details in a sec, but since you’re clearly tapping into a longstanding passion here I first I wanted to ask where that comes from? Was there a certain T-shirt design or era of design that really captured your imagination back in the day?
I’ve been wearing band shirts for as long as I can remember. In elementary school, even as far back as third grade, I was wearing shirts from Van Halen, Ozzy, Yes… the list goes on. I had this awesome Yes longsleeve that I wore out; I had a glow in the dark Ozzy Bark at the Moon tour shirt as well. Even at that young age, music had consumed me, and my parents were happy to help me collect band shirts. By the time I was 13 or so, I started ordering band shirts through places like Blue Grape when I was completely immersed in death metal and its culture. For me, it’s just an everyday part of my attire — and at my age, I don’t see that ever changing. I can’t really point to a certain era of design that speaks to me, but I have always had a soft spot in my heart for the art that goes into metal shirt design. It’s an extension of the music and image of the band. Wearing a band shirt is the only way to physically become part of the band’s image and vision, and I think metal fans especially just want to be a part of their favorite bands somehow, and I think wearing their shirts, or attending their concerts, is the best way to achieve that.
So you’ve been thinking about this for fifteen-ish years. Why now? Did the pandemic open up space for it?
No, I don’t think the pandemic had anything to do with it. It’s just something I’ve been pondering for a long, long time. Honestly, for years now I have been frustrated with the quality and designs that bands I love have to offer. Cheap shirts, big ugly designs, they are too boxy, many designs felt like they had little thought put into them. I would buy a shirt at a show and wear it twice before it shrinks or gets stretched out. Frustrating. Plus, many bands I love don’t have readily available shirts. You have to find a bootleg, or pay $100 dollars on Ebay, or have it shipped from Europe. I’ve just been unhappy with the selections available to American customers. I want to change that. My goal is to make high quality, eco-friendly shirts and hoodies for underground bands that are not only official, but in cooperation with the bands themselves. I want to offer designs that are not big, bright and an eye-sore. I want simple, elegant, classic designs that fit well and have as much thought put into them as the records themselves. I also want to help bands fight bootleggers and offer American fans more options when it comes to buying shirts and avoiding overseas shipping rates. I think there is room to improve and elevate the band shirt from being just a money maker for a band, but I believe it can be a functional work of art as well.
I’m just catching up on your excellent and eclectic I Hate Music podcast. Did the show make the T-shirt line a more viable project?
Thank you for listening. No, the podcast is fairly erratic, and does not bring in much money. It’s kind of a weird beast and experiment. It is constantly growing and evolving, and I am consistently gaining more listeners, but I think of the podcast as being a toddler. It has lots of room to grow.
Why Disharmonic Orchestra for the first shirt?
I’ve loved that band since the early ’90s and felt they would represent my vision for this apparel line in a way. Unique, always evolving…..
Was the band psyched and/or surprised when you reached out?
I think they were to a degree, but I think they were just happy to have some shirts available in the states for American fans.
What do you envision for the line going forward? Any hints to what might be in the pipeline?
As of this week, I am thrilled to announce that Earth in Sound have also launched pre-orders for an I Hate Music Podcast shirt, as well as a pre-order for shirts and hoodies for the legendary Confessor! I am very excited to work with Confessor as they have long been a favorite of mine, and on a personal note, I have always wanted a Confessor hoodie! At this point I am looking to do a few designs a year, depending, and just take it from there. If I have opportunities to do more than a few and it makes sense, I will. Time will tell. For me, this is all about quality, not quantity.
You mentioned producing shirts from your own bands. Which has me wondering what you’ve got cooking musically these days.
Most people know me from Agalloch, but actually I’ve been busier than ever since Agalloch disbanded. At this point I can count four albums that I am a part of coming out this year, and for some of those I will be making shirts. At this point I can not divulge details about the shirts, but I do have new albums from Sculptured, Snares of Sixes, Dolven and a few others coming in 2021.
Anything else you want people to know about the line or the podcast?
Thanks for the support and you can find the shirt and podcast links below. I Hate Music Podcast is also available on Spotify, Itunes, Stitcher and just about everywhere else.