Artist Interview: Walking Guy – Art’s Fishing Club
There are a few crazy musicians doing a walking tour right now. Marking out a pace of fifteen miles per day, these intrepid musicians are calling themselves The Walking Guys and they’re making quite an adventure of it. Their journey has taken them from the tall trees of Maine to the Music City itself. As soon as I heard about their story, I got in touch with Art’s Fishing Club, the stage name for the pride of Appleton, Wisconsin, Christopher Kessenich.
From the beginning of our conversation I could tell that Christopher, or as his friends now call him, “Art,” is a legit singer songwriter. His debut self-titled EP shows off the songwriting chops of a man who desires adventure and his story with the Walking Guys is further evidence of that personality. As I talked with him, I was able to unpack the starry-eyed wonder of a songwriter eager to “make it” in the industry. We have a focus on featuring emerging artists around here and Art fits the bill to a tee.
So first of all, the name. It’s where the authenticity really shines. It’s a name derived from his grandfather Art’s attitude while fishing. Of course you go out there trying to catch the biggest fish you can, but you make sure to have fun along the way. Enjoy the lake, the trees, and the breeze. Sometimes fishing is about what you catch and sometimes it’s not. Art wants to have that with him as he goes about this music business and I think it’s absolutely a perfect attitude. It comes through in his songs, really, with some that talk about heartache but others that lock in on the promise of the future. It’s impossible to listen to Art’s music without enjoying the scenery. I think he’s doing his grandpa proud.
I had to ask him about this walking tour. Color me cynical, but initially I thought it was just a publicity stunt. But man, talking to this guy, there’s not an ounce of gimmick in him. This was a challenge that he dared to accept. I asked about the decision and he said, “I couldn’t think of a reason NOT to do it.” Just a few I thought of (off the top of my head): sore feet, no food, exhaustion, death, not having a place to sleep, getting mugged/hurt, and did I mention death? Well, none of those occurred to these guys. Instead, they pressed on. I asked about logistics and he explained how he and Ben Butler sat down to plan a route. Then they used the awesome service at Indiegogo to find gigs that helped them make the most of their time in each city. Some gigs were small, some were decent sized, and some were festivals (way to go Philly Folk Fest making room for some hard working artists). My favorite quote from the conversation about the tour was, “90% of mornings we leave without knowing where we’ll sleep.” That’s pretty much hard core right there.
Partway through the trip Art came up with a pretty simple idea; he made a sign “The Walking Guys: Google Us!” The curiosity killed the passersby on the highway, resulting in some helping them along the way, even giving them places to stay. Hope for humanity packaged in little invitations of provision here and there. It’s a great story. Speaking of great stories, I couldn’t just take this guy’s music at face value. I had to know what was behind such an engaging songwriter with such devotion to get his music out there for listeners. What would motivate someone to do this? Well, it seems Art was born for it.
He explained to me that he started playing guitar in high school as a self taught musician. Deep down he wanted to go pro, but looked at it like a fantasy. But what made it successful was that he didn’t seem to seek the spotlight or the fame. Rather, as he explains, he wanted to “impact other people with my music.” That’s the winning motive there. He moved to playing some in college, but not shows yet. After a songwriting course at Vanderbilt, he found the motivation to push himself in Nashville. Somewhat ironically it was not Nashvegas that fueled his songwriting, though. Rather it was a study abroad trip to Vienna, Austria where he wrote constantly. He came home confident, ready to share his songs with the world.
The longer I talked to Art, the more I realized that travel is his muse. It’s not surprising that this tour is so energizing for him. Instead of acting like he’s been walking miles and miles every day for weeks on end, he sounded engaged and excited for his career. Moving from Wisconsin to Tennessee, travelling to Europe, and now walking from Maine to Nashville are all the iconic moments in this songwriter’s life that push him to write more, to write harder, and to do incredible work. There’s probably a lesson here for all of us creatives. Move it!
He told me a bit about his songwriting process, starting with guitar and adding his lyrics. His “free singing” technique sounds like a lot of fun and it helps him come up with some pretty addictive hooks for his characteristic pop Americana sound. I’d be comfortable putting him in conversation with some other killer songwriters right now like David Ramirez or even, if I may, at times even a little Ray Lamontagne. What impressed me about how he talked about the creation of his songs, though, was that he has a mature understanding of how the songs live and breathe on their own. He explained how “Ground She Walked” helped him get over a past relationship and “Roarin’ to Roam” explains being in his “moment” in life right now. These sonic snapshots show a man wrestling with his reality in honest terms.
When I asked him what’s next, I expected Art to say that he was going to find a nice place to sleep it all off. Instead, he explained his plans to edit a documentary, busk to pay his bills, and get as many gigs as he can. He’s the kind of Nashville story we hear about as mythical, but Art is really living it. Give his EP a spin. There’s a lot to like, especially on his bluesy jam “Take a Walk.” I guess he’s been thinking about walking for a while now. Oh, and lest you think Art is all about his own career, when I gave him a chance to plug his work he turned the spotlight on you (yeah, you, reader). He wants you to contact The Walking Guys. Say hi! He loves you. Also, he wants you to go out and start moving. Do the thing that you’ve been meaning to do. “Take that leap of faith,” he says, because if you don’t no one can help you. And as his grandfather advised, enjoy being in the boat with the people you love. Maybe you bring in a great catch, or maybe you’ll just have a lot of fun on the fishing trip.