Interview / JD Walsh / Shy Layers

JD Walsh`s debut as Shy Layers was one of Pitchfork`s Top Twenty Electronic Albums of 2016. His new long-player, Midnight Marker, has just been released on Tim Sweeney`s Beats In Space. It finds JD crafting modern Pop, that moves to the rhythms of Reggae, Funk, and African Highlife. Mixing machines with Telecasters in the manner of Secret Circuit and Eleventeen Eston. Mixing an `80s melodic sensibility, with a sound palette that could be mistaken for Visible Cloaks. 

Where are you based?

Atlanta, Georgia, USA.

Where are you from?

Delaware, just south of Philadelphia.

When did you start making music? What inspired you to do so?

I started playing guitar when I was twelve or thirteen. It’s kind of a perfect age for learning an instrument. Before jobs start, and you have some time to devote to it. I was always interested in creative pursuits so it just seemed like a natural evolution for me.

Shy Layers Video 3

Which artists were you influenced by?  

Back then? I don’t know. Iron Maiden? When I was very young it was probably stuff like that. But my parents were into Neil Young, Gordon Lightfoot, Paul Simon, Steve Winwood.  60’s music in the 80’s. Stuff that I swore I’d always hate. Until I liked it.

What instruments do you play? Are you self-taught?

I’m best at the guitar, and I can get by on keys and drums. I never took lessons but my Dad taught me the basics of guitar, and I owe him a great debt for that. In a way I’m glad I was able to learn it on my own terms, and wasn’t made to take lessons. I’m debating this very decision regarding my own son now. I think I’m going to wait and see if it’s something he has an interest in.

What are your favourite pieces of gear?

Certainly my modular synth. It’s just such an individualised instrument. Built up slowly and always in flux. It’s like a portal into the unknown and I like to use it to generate ideas, phrases, melodies, etc. I recently got an Elektron Digitakt that I like a lot. In the studio I often return to the Arturia Microbrute. It has a limited palette of tones but that’s what I like about it. It’s just a great sounding analog monosynth. And of course my various telecasters and amp. I’ve also got a fake Steinberger bass that my friends like to make fun of.

Shy Layers Video 2

Have you released music prior to Shy Layers? Were you in any bands?

Yeah, I was a bunch of bands throughout the years. None ever got to the point of touring or anything like that, but band practice was always a lot of fun. I miss that. Mainly it was Rock & Roll type stuff. But I’ve always made songs on my own, in the studio, most of which haven’t been released. The most recent one was an E.P. called Pluxes, that’s sort of proto-Shy Layers. All instrumental, self-released.

Your first album was released on Growing Bin. How did you hook up with Basso?

I’d been following Growing Bin for a while, mainly as a place to discover weird, lesser-known music. I think Growing Bin Records was just beginning to get going at the time. So, when I made the first Shy Layers E.P., I thought I’d send it to places, blogs, and people that I respected, and that might “get it”. So I simply emailed Basso, not expecting much. But to my surprise he got back to me and we did the vinyl edition. Basso is great. He’s a dude that loves records and seems to have total faith and confidence in his eclectic tastes – as he should!

How did that record do? It deserved to do really well. 

Thank you! I was shocked that anyone paid attention to it, but I’m totally grateful to everyone that did. Critically speaking, I think it did really well. Commercially, it probably did as well as you might expect from a limited-run, boutique, vinyl-based imprint. I’m pleased with it.

How did you hook up with Beats In Space? 

I`d been interested in what Matt Werth of RVNG INTL. and Tim Sweeney were up to for some time. And I think they were already familiar with the first Shy Layers LP. So it just seemed like a good fit. We got connected and it’s worked out great. Part of it is that those two are super supportive of the intersection of art and music, and a big part of what I do is visual art. So it’s just a general sensibility that we share, and I’m happy that we’re all on the same page.

Did you approach this album differently, set out to do something different?

Yes and no. This was a much harder record to make. On the first one, the songs just seemed to fly out, easily and quickly with little resistance. I think I was more self-critical during the making of Midnight Marker. I wanted to be a little less obvious about my influences this time around, and to try more things vocally. The modular synth has a bigger presence on this record as well. But, it’s still a Shy Layers record, and my songwriting process is largely the same as the last one.

Both records seem influenced by African Highlife. Is this the case? 

Yes, for sure. Probably more so on the first one than the second.

Shy Layers Video 4

You use a vocoder or voicebox? Do you have any favourite vocoder / voicebox recordings?

I use a variety of hardware and software vocoders, and I built a DIY talkbox. You can hear that on Gateway and Lovers Code. As far as recordings, I think Herbie Hancock’s Sunlight album has got to be my favourite. Kratwerk is an obvious one, but I love that stuff, especially Radio-Activity. I also like the vocoder part of ELO’s Mr. Blue Sky.

Where do you currently go to chill out? To dance? Buy your records?

Ha, I’ve never been much of a dancer. To relax I’ll go for a bike ride with my kid, or hang out with my wife or my friends. Or I’ll spend time in my art studio. Nothing too crazy usually. We have a great record store near my house called Wax N’ Facts. I bought my first Can record there, some Twenty years ago. I don’t think it’s changed at all since I first visited.


Which contemporary artists are you listening to?

Mind Over Mirrors, Heiroglyphic Being, Kelly Lee Owens, Bitchin’ Bajas, Eleventeen Eston, Fabiano Do Nascimento.

Do you have any plans to play live?

Yes! I’m doing a couple shows in NYC in June, with hopefully more to come. I love playing live. It’s something I’ve been practicing intensely. I feel like that’s all I’ve been doing for the last few weeks.

Shy Layers` Midnight Marker is out now on Beats In Space. You can order a copy directly here. 

Shy Layers Midnight Marker Art


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