Yeah, Whatever: Waymon Boone of Splender
Waymon Boone, 28-year-old lead singer/songwriter for New York-based modern rockers, Splender, recalls the circumstances of his unusual childhood in a very matter-of-fact manner. “My mother was a touring musician, an R&B and disco singer. She would tour lounges and clubs throughout all of North America — all over the world actually.” His mother’s busy career made a stable home life impossible, so Boone was sent to live with grandparents. When they passed away, there was no choice but for the youngster, at age seven, to join his mother and live, basically, on the road. “I spent a lot of my youth in recording studios, in vans and buses, living vicariously through my mother and the experiences she was going through,” Boone says. “I didn’t think of it as being good or bad; it was what it was. Later on, I realized that [my mother’s career] was the reason I got into [the music business]. I think I have a burning desire to somehow do more than she was able to do. To somehow to it better and further and faster and bigger.”
Years of practice and fine tuning an art he was literally “born into” are set to give Boone the opportunity to see what better and faster are all about, as Splender’s debut, Halfway Down the Sky (Columbia), hit the stores in mid-May. In their present incarnation, Splender (Jonathan Svec on guitar, James Cruz on bass, and Marc Slutsky on drums) have been together for over two years, though Boon and Cruz have played together for eight years, at one point touring the European festival circuit with the likes of Korn — a band whose hardcore, angst-driven music is about a million miles away from Splender’s almost pristine, dreamy, guitar rock. Harnessed by Boone’s soaring, expressive vocals, Halfway Down the Sky is an extremely tight, effortlessly beautiful album of passion-infused, flawless pop that will appeal to fans of groups as varied as Oasis, Tears for Fears, and Duran Duran. From the opening staccato guitar riff of “I Don’t Understand” to the day-tripping reverie of “Spaceboy,” Splender sustain a vibrant soundtrack perfect for driving along the coast on a sunny summer day with the top down. No contrived gimmickry, no off-stage tabloid antics, no bells or whistles: just great rock music. Oh, what a relief it is.
Halfway Down the Sky ‘s crystal clear production is owed to the legendary studio wizard, Todd Rundgren; a fortunate choice that began as a pipe dream. I spoke with Waymon Boone from his home in Brooklyn about Splender’s meeting with Rundgren, his own impetus for songwriting and the band’s unwillingness to compromise their artistic vision for quick success. “We are,” says Boone, “on our fighting quest to win one fan at a time.”
Splender seem to have come from nowhere to suddenly release this great record on a major label, to snag Todd Rundgren as a producer, and tour with cool buzz bands like Kula Shaker and Buckcherry. How did this whole thing come about?
Waymon Boone : Our big break, I guess, if you want to call it that, was when we signed a publishing deal with Hit and Run publishing, maybe five years ago. They basically came down to a show and they saw something [in our performance] that no one else had seen, ’cause we’d been trying and playing and really diligently sticking to our guns and getting nowhere. So, they came down and gave us the slap on the back that we needed, as far as someone actually giving us some form of approval and telling us that we were doing okay. Through them we got a lot of opportunities to tour around the states and around Europe. We hooked up with different producers and we were one of the few bands that actually had time to develop. I know that nowadays it’s a very disposable world, and with bands, either you do it or you don’t. But with us, we were one of the very few bands — and I’m quite acquainted with the entire music scene — that actually got an opportunity to develop and see results at different levels.
How did you get hooked up with Todd Rundgren to produce the album?
We were sitting around in a room and talking about producers: [asking questions like] what does the band need and what are we looking for? Todd’s name came up as being someone whose main [attraction] is the ability to pick and choose [to] work with good material. We kind of just thought, well, there’s no way that he’s going to work with us — because he hadn’t really [produced an album] in almost a decade, other than his own. So, our A&R guy sort of went away and made it his own secret project to see what could happen, but we didn’t pay much attention to it. After a couple of weeks, he came back and was giving us little hints that he had spoken to Todd and it seems like he really wants to do this. And we were like ‘Yeah whatever.’ After a few weeks, it turned out that [Todd] was really serious about it and we had some conversations with him. The final deciding point was [when] we took a trip to Connecticut to see him perform. He was doing his With a Twist tour, which was his Bossa Nova versions of his catalog. We went down to Toad’s Place, which is an awesome venue. We thought, “How many producers can you really say [that] you can go and check out their show?” It was incredible, it was like hands-down, this guy’s got the job. It was an honor, really, for us. You know “Todd is God” and who the fuck are we? And he did a great job.
I have to ask, why do you spell the name of the band wrong?
We get asked that a lot. When we finally came up with the name, James, who is particularly into art work and drawing — he’s always drawing and painting something, somewhere, all the time — had written it out on some paper and the first person he showed it to said “Splen-DOR!” It just sounded real gothic. We didn’t want that to happen, so we spelled it wrong to pronounce it right.
What songs on the record are your favorite songs?
I like performing songs like “Monotone.” I think I like certain songs that sometimes conjure up [laughs] old memories, and there’s a nice bitter-sweetness with performing something like [that]. “Monotone” was written on the edge of a bed after sort of a really bittersweet argument that I’d had with a girl. It just worked out that way, sort of a continuing conversation after the door was closed. I think I enjoy doing that one. Also, I like the trippiness of doing a song like “London,” which I just enjoy playing. I wrote that after we got back from London.
I think “Spaceboy” has a good catchiness to it.
Yeah that was one of those last minute songs, the last one written for the record and the last one that we tracked.
One of the songs on the album is called “I Think God Can Explain.” How does your personal spirituality figure into your songwriting?
I definitely believe in a higher power and I believe there is something else up there, other than us down here. I’ve always believed that [faith] will, in one way or another, influence my song writing in general. It probably is a common theme for me to, in some way, bring in a spiritual element, because that’s just part of my everyday life. I’m not overly religious — I don’t practice anything in particular — but I am very spiritual.
Do you have any good road stories to share?
This is definitely one of our crazy road stories. There was a time when we were touring in probably the most northern, coldest tip of Canada, playing for the local twenty people. We had no tour bus so we used to tour in this big, giant yellow school bus that was packed to the brim with lights and gear and all of us. [We were] driving on one of those ‘Wile E. Coyote’ type of cliffs to get to this venue. There was no heat on the bus and while we were trying to make an attempt to sleep on this frozen tundra, we were driving down this cliff. The sound man, who was also the driver, woke us up in a calm but frantic manner to explain that we were going down this mountain — which two feet to your right is just a drop off a cliff — and we ran out of brakes. [Laughs] So we all woke up, panic-stricken ’cause we looked down and it was nothing but gray, you couldn’t see, and it was freezing…nothing but frozen ice everywhere and we’re about to fall off this cliff and he was trying desperately to stop this giant school bus.
And he was screaming at you while he was driving?
He was screaming “There’s no brakes!” [laughs] That’s when I knew I was more spiritual, because we were all praying to God then. Eventually he was able to steer us down this cliff to safety.
I guess you don’t want to die before you have enough history to get a Behind the Music episode on VH1.
Exactly. I love those. I love every one.
Me too, but my favorite one is Def Leppard.
I think my favorite one’s got to be Milli Vanilli.
“Yeah Whatever” is the first single release from Halfway Down the Sky .