Black women in rock: interview with Eva Walker of The Black Tones
By Sound Check
August 16, 2017
By Sheila Dianne Jackson / Nice And Rough*, AFROPUNK Contributor
A few years ago, I was invited to be a part of a new, oral history archive on Women Who Rock, established by the University of Washington. The archive holds powerful stories of how women have used music as a tool for activism – and I was there to talk about Black Women In Rock. Every time I have an opportunity to travel to Seattle, I am introduced to sisters in the punk-grunge scene. And it was on one of those occasions, a colleague introduced me to Eva Walker, lead singer of The Black Tones. As a filmmaker, I would describe Eva as Awkward Black Girl meets The Jimi Hendryx Experience and the Energizer Bunny. Her love and passion for this music, is as real as it gets.
SHEILA: Tell us about the evolution of your musical taste – and the band that turned you on to rock?
EVA: I love rock ‘n’ roll with everything in me. I love grooves, soul and the inspiration of blues that comes with rock ‘n’ roll.
My first real rock hero was Alanis Morrissett, I would listen to Jagged Little Pill every day for hours and hours. As I got into high school, I was introduced to more classic rock artists like, Led Zeppelin, Rolling Stones, etc. At this time, I didn’t see very many black rock ‘n’ rollers. Sometimes it was discouraging to even think about being a rock ‘n’ roller. I was told things like, You’re so white; Black people don’t play guitar; You’re like the whitest black person I know; or Oreo – all because I liked rock music. Not seeing myself reflected in the rock world, I thought all of this was accurate. I thought I was a “wannabe white” person – which made me upset, and really socially awkward. I didn’t think there was a place for me in that world and I felt bad for liking rock. Then I discovered Jimi Hendrix and immediately I said out loud in a whisper “black people DO play guitar!”
From then on and as I left high school and went to college, and was introduced to old American blues folk artists – like Robert Johnson, Blind Lemon Jefferson and a lot more. I learned the Rolling Stones got their name from a Muddy Water’s song, “Catfish Blues” and that Led Zeppelin gave so much credit to their writing and style to Robert Johnson, and Jack White being a huge fan and heavily inspired by Son House.
It was unbelievable the amount of influence black people have on the rock world. You really wouldn’t have rock n roll without Blues, Gospel and Black People. I realized that I was not “white” for playing rock music, but in fact, me playing rock n’ roll was one of the blackest things there is.
What motivated you and your brother to come together and start a rock band?
Photography by Stacy Honda
I did a solo performance at a Seattle festival called Folklife. By that time I had been playing guitar and singing for maybe 2 years. It was Cedric’s (my twin brother) first time seeing me sing and play. He told me later, tears came down his face because he had no idea I could do that. He said, “Someone needs to back her up!” So that same summer he asked me to teach him drums. I had been drumming for about 2 years as well. So I was able to teach him some beginner stuff and get him started. We did a lesson as often as possible at the Seattle Drum School. The owner was so great about giving us a space free of charge, when no lessons were going on – since we didn’t have our own drums. We are forever thankful for that. At the end of that year, 2011, The Black Tones were born in my grandma’s basement.
What can audiences expect when they see you perform?
The Black Tones is all about rock ’n roll. We are a rock ’n’ roll band. That is because of the heavy influence Blues has on my writing. We tell stories, make points, protest etc. We do it through rocking out. Our sound, from what I’ve heard, is classic yet original. We aren’t trying to be anything we’re not. We are a pretty laid back group of folks, I have no problem rocking out to the same three chords for 4 minutes, and it’ll be one of the best songs you’ll hear all summer at a live show. I am sure about that (she laughs).
How does Seattle – as the birthplace of punk-grunge, influence your music?
My siblings and I are full blown Northwesterners. But being raised by full blown Southerners created this sort of half-breed of soul and rebellion. I associate my grandparents with soul, warmth, and tradition. And that definitely is reflected in our music. We don’t like to use a zillion chords in one song, we like to keep it simple and soulful – quite similar actually to my grandma’s kitchen. The northwest grunge gave me inspirations for songs I wrote like “Eddy and Cherry” which is about Cedric and me. Our sound and everything we are made up of – our childhood environment, from the cloudy northwest weather, the tan van full of tools and no seat belts my grandpa drove us to school in every morning, the quietness of Seattle before millions started moving here, to the wood paneling on the walls of my childhood home. These experiences and scenes are the inspiration behind our sound.
You write all of your own music. What is your fav, most empowering lyric?
Our songs are 100% originals. We rarely do covers. My favorite lyric, is probably from our song “Too Many Times.” The chorus starts with “You’re sitting on top of the world, while I’m lying on the universe.” You hear the term “the sky’s the limit, but how so when there’s astronauts?” There’s just about an infinite amount of things you can imagine, and the universe is freaking huge and possibly infinite. This phrase means there are no limitations to what I want to do with my life. There’s a lot I want to do, no matter the obstacles thrown at me.
Courtesy of Band in Seattle
And being a person of color, a woman, there are obstacles. However, I think the limit is at the edge of the universe, which is where you’ll find me lying down, waiting for it to expand to see what else I can do.
You can learn more about The Black Tones at theblacktones.com
*This post is in partnership with Nice And Rough