Duff McKagan of Walking Papers: Surviving the Executioner

By Jeb Wright

There is much more to Duff McKagan than meets the eye. While he is best known for being a member of the bands Guns N’ Roses and Velvet Revolver, he is also a real life economist, a songwriter and a journalist. Still, music is his first love, but he is not content to be in just one band. In fact, he has now joined a Seattle band called Walking Papers that has recently released their debut, self-titled album on the Loud & Proud record label.

Walking Papers had life before Duff, as originally, they were a duo consisting of Barrett Martin of ‘Screaming Trees’ fame and Seattle songwriter Jeff Angell. When Duff heard the music that was being made by these two creative juggernauts, he joined the group, as did keyboardist Benjamin Anderson, bringing the one-time two man crew to a foursome.

One may wonder how such a diverse group of musicians could ever end up together, yet, as McKagan explains, the music business can be rather incestuous, “Seattle is a rather small, insular, and tight music community. Always has been. I first got to jam with Barrett in the mid-90s, as I had met him through Mark Lanegan when I had played on his record Field Songs, at the time. It began with Barrett and Jeff Angell. They started to call a bunch of us different guys to play on the record. It felt so good playing in a rhythm section with Barrett that I stayed.”

One of those ‘other guys’ Duff is speaking of is none other than Grunge hero and Pearl Jam guitarist Michael McCready, who makes a guest appearance on Walking Papers lead single “The Whole World’s Watching” and on the song “I’ll Stick Around.”

It is not just the huge names on the album that make this one special however, it is Jeff Angell’s songs. Jeff was a relatively unknown songwriter outside of his home area of Seattle. His songs can be described as bluesy, rocking, and often dark and foreboding, give Walking Papers their unique musical personality and persona. When asked how Jeff has remained in the Grunge Capitol’s shadows all of these years, Duff simply states, “I think everyone in Seattle has been asking that same question since 2000.”

Walking Papers have their own sound, yet there was no formula that they attempted to follow while the songs were being created and arranged. “It wasn’t an intentional thing,” says Duff. “It's a real and honest record and I think the honesty of these songs, as a body of work, just somehow strikes a chord with the ups and downs of us human beings.”

One of the best examples of the music striking a chord is the Angell penned “Already Dead.” “Jeff had written that song years before we even started this band,” admits Duff. “I always just hope to add a little piece of my ‘thing’ and hopefully make something better or more interesting.”

Walking Papers music works together as an entire album of music, yet the styles range from upbeat, to morose, to really freaky, as in the tune “The Butcher,” “[That is a] true story of the often-time macabre, morose, and sometimes scary childhood of one Jeff Angell,” Duff says with a smile. Perhaps the most interesting and creative tune on the album is “Leave Me in the Dark.” Duff agrees, “I love this song, and it is journey, emotionally, every time we play it live.”

At the end of the day, Duff is more than just a rock star. He is one smart dude, so much so that when not rocking his ass off onstage, he is an economist… Really, he is an educated guy, could even become an Econ Professor one day. In fact, one wonders if he negotiated the band’s record deal with Loud & Proud President Tom Lipsky himself…“I’m not quite an economy Prof,” exclaims Duff. “I fully understood the deal with L&P, but we let an entertainment lawyer take care of this one.”

Before leaving, we asked Duff a two-part question. First off, is Walking Papers a full time gig, or a side project?” Secondly, if he were writing a review of the album, how would he describe the Walking Papers vibe? The rock star, musician, economist and reviewer thought about it and answered the first part of the question by saying, “[This is] full time. I’m not quite sure that I have ever understood ‘side-project.’ Everything I’ve ever done was full-on, full-time, full-tilt.”

That just left the second part of the question, which upon reflection, record reviewer McKagan said, with beautiful simplicity, “I would call this band brutal, honest and beautiful music for modern times, done by men who have somehow survived the hands of the executioner.”