By Zachary Swickey
It’s been ten years and I still find myself regularly listening to Humanistic, the beautifully crafted debut album from Abandoned Pools. The band is actually singer-songwriter Tommy Walter with rotating musicians filling the gaps in the studio and live settings (think Trent Reznor – Nine Inch Nails). Walter is a former bassist and founding member of The Eels, who were one of the first signees of DreamWorks Records. Walter eventually left the group to focus on his solo efforts, which would eventually turn into Abandoned Pools.
Recruiting some fellow musicians to lend a hand in the studio – including drummer extraordinaire Josh Freese of Nine Inch Nails, A Perfect Circle and Devo fame – Walter concocted 12 infectious electro-pop songs that hold up just as well in today’s modern music scene. Humanistic is a soundtrack for the ups and downs of everyday life – full of dark reflections on society (the aggressive “Monster”) – but contrasted with optimistic gems like “Sunny Day” that will have you gladly wearing a smile. All-in-all, a spectacularly solid debut that managed to wax philosophical in an atypical music scene.
The group soon hopped on some high profile tours, opening for the likes of A Perfect Circle, Lenny Kravitz and Garbage. The band achieved some notable success thanks to the music video of their first single, “The Remedy,” which helped the band get some much-deserved attention. In 2002 they got to do the charming theme song for the hilarious MTV animated program “Clone High” (the witty cult classic show featured voice appearances from Jack Black and Marilyn Manson but was canceled after just one season).
Soon after, Walter’s label (Extasy Records, an imprint of Warner Bros.) dissolved, but Abandoned Pools was then picked up by Universal. Going through a rough time personally, Walter would use the trauma as his main inspiration for his sophomore effort. Walter first teased fans with The Reverb EP that included a jaw-dropping cover of Bjork’s “Army of Me” that the Icelandic queen would have to adore (yeah, it’s that good). A few months later in September 2005, Abandoned Pools finally released their follow-up album, Armed to the Teeth, which has the same sensibility as their debut, but a little more on the rockin’ (or perhaps angry) side.
The set opens with one of its best and most aggressive songs, “Lethal Killers,” which is unlike most pop-rock tunes in that it questions religion (“Is it not enough for you to be alive? / Did you have to create God to survive?”) and takes a stab at its place in politics (“The church and state are lethal killers”). “Waiting to Panic” will have your hairs standing on end as Walter emotionally exclaims, “I’m busting at the seams / To tell you everything.” There is a very real, emotional intensity on every song and it comes as no surprise that Walter was going through personal issues, as you can clearly hear in his voice.
Despite the quality of the album, Abandoned Pools eventually had a falling out with Universal, who did little to promotion for Armed to the Teeth. Walter then focused on his production efforts working with the likes of Sara Bareilles and Graham Colton. He also started two side projects, one of which (known as Glacier Hiking) got some love from OneRepublic singer Ryan Tedder, who appeared on a track.
After a five year absence, in 2010 Walter decided to lay his side projects to rest and began the process of once again working on new Abandoned Pools material. When I asked the singer what took him so long, he discussed the bad experiences he encountered in the industry. “I needed a break from the music business. Many people don’t get into the music [business] because of an appreciation for the art or fulfillment of being creative,” he told MTV News via email. “Their hearts are not in the right place. I needed to get away from that.”
But thankfully Walter never stopped writing, and it appears he’s retained his electric pop charm sensibilities. The catchy new singles “Marigold” and “In Silence” have been self-released this year and tease what is to come with Abandoned Pools third official album, Sublime Currency, which Walter is currently wrapping as he contemplates how to release the effort.
“Things are different now from when I first started on my own. Now deals are like joint ventures, where both the label and the artist work as a team to promote and market the album and because there isn’t a huge advance, the artist keeps more ownership in a lot of deals, which can be better in a lot of ways,” he explained.
Walter hopes to make a formal announcement soon regarding details of the release. In the meantime, you can check out the newest iteration of Abandoned Pools testing their new material at local shows in Los Angeles before they take on the masses later this year.